Monday, September 29, 2014

Peace, His Destiny

Per written about me on the right side of this page, I see myself as an optimist. Well, optimist may be too strong a word; I am a person who likes to see my glass as half full. This positive attitude of mine is the simple result of my strong faith in society and in God. Seldom do I stress over the little things in life because my faith in people is greater than my doubt for their ability to do the right thing most of the time. Also, seldom do I complain about my present life circumstances because I have faith that God has written a much more beautiful story arc for me than I could ever imagined.

When I first started on my journey to become a student of political science, I honestly could not answer to those inquiring about my plan once I was conferred with a piece of paper that has BA in political science written on it. All I knew was that I had a really strong desire to study power structure and ways for goodness to permeate throughout society especially to those at the bottom of the power pyramid.

In Pittsburgh, the first class I attended was not a course on political science, but a history course on Islamic civilization. I decided to enroll in that specific course because I thought—wrongly—that it would be an easy A to me, a Muslim who grew up in a Muslim-majority nation. More significantly, my decision at the eleventh hour just before class actually began to enroll in that specific class became the stimuli that evoked my interest to better understand Islam and Turkey (as successor to the Islamic Caliphate). Since then, every project, every paper, ever class presentation that I did at Pittsburgh revolves around issues affecting the Muslim world.

That was what I wrote in the essay that got me accepted to the London School of Economics and Political Science to do my MSc.

Now, roughly 5 years later, I am a PhD candidate and Fellow at the International Islamic University of Malaysia. The first month I am here, almost everyone I met, from fellow classmates to professors, have asked me the simple question of why would an LSE graduate come to IIUM? Honestly, I had also asked that question myself.

But at the end of the day, as much as these all seems to be my doing, it is actually not—it is His doing. Of course I would be lying if I said I did not wish to do my PhD at another prestigious university in the UK or maybe even go back to the US. But as He had planned for me, I got pregnant the minute I touched down from London, and my priorities changed upside down. As a consolation, I applied to the best university in Malaysia and was accepted, with one of the best professors around agreeing to supervise my thesis. But again, as He had planned, the professor got politically entangled and my employer wanted me to familiarize myself with the school that I am going to eventually teach in one day.

Now, here is the irony: never in my youthful days had I ever consider applying to IIUM, because I felt it was too Islamic for my liking. But now, after a quarter of a century under my belt, I am neither lying nor being defensive when I say that I am very excited to be a part of IIUM.

First of all, I am excited to be part of IIUM because I can’t wait to become a better Muslim holistically. One of the issues I have always had was in term of dressing Islamically appropriate. I remember divulging to my husband and roommate in London how I envy those who are comfortable dressing according to the Shariah in a non-Muslim country. I envy them. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be confident displaying my religion unapologetically. Yet I was weak. I succumbed to the fashion world as marketed by the industry while ignoring my inner desire to be a better Muslim. At IIUM, I am expected to conform not to ‘their’ rules, but to God’s rules, and I am more than happy to abide. The happiness and contentment within me, I believe, is part of God’s plan to bring me closer to Him.

Secondly, I feel like IIUM fits my long-term goal to be an expert in Political Islam with as much an emphasis on Islamic knowledge as well as on political science. See, I used to question every day and every night, why has God written ‘political science’ on my destiny card, and not medicine, law, mathematics or even psychology. Now I have the answer. It is because of my desire to study Political Islam that I acknowledged the need for me to have substantial knowledge on the religion itself if I am to speak about politics according to the religion. As a result, I have learned so much more about Islam. More importantly, I feel so much closer to God.

Who would have thought political science will be that which brought me closer to Islam. If the purpose of life is to submit, I am happy to say that I am on the right path.

Sunday, August 3, 2014


A lot of people today value achievements over morality, a phenomenon that is widely witnessed by over-eager parents wanting to raise the next Albert Einstein. While there is nothing wrong in having big dreams for your little ones, my husband and I decided to take a different approach even way back when we were yet to get pregnant. We both agreed that the most important value we want to instill in our child is kindness. Even though no parent wants to raise a monster, the emphasis is put on the words ‘most important’.

One of my favorite anecdotes on an Islamic figure is about Imam Malik and his mother. When Imam Malik told her of his desire to learn from a religious scholar, she put him in his best clothes and turban, and told him to learn from his teacher manners (adb) before learning from him knowledge (ilm).

The simple reason this little insight on one of the greatest Islamic scholars left a huge impression on my consciousness is because of my personal experiences meeting people who are categorically smart but are despicably horrible human beings. I have been around quite a number of people who are clever by virtue of their level of education or them receiving academic awards. However, only a handful of these smart people deserved to be called decent human beings, while the rest are blinded by their good fortune that they fail to recognize the need to be respectful and humble towards everyone. It is not too difficult to understand why this is so; as anything else in life, intelligence is a test from God. One’s increase in knowledge can either lead to a greater sense of empathy or arrogance, with the latter usually being the case. For all these reasons, I am more interested in my child becoming well-mannered, mindful of other people, animals, and the environment, and not worry about avoiding sweets and sodas in fear of raising a ‘dumb’ kid.

I have wanted to write about this topic since we first found out I was pregnant, but decided against it. After all, I too am constantly on a journey to improve my behavior and relationships. However, I felt it is a good time to briefly mention this issue following the road rage incident by a female driver during the month of Ramadhan. It is incomprehensible how someone could be so rude, especially after the other person has obviously waved the white flag by apologizing. To repeatedly scold someone—even if the person is guilty—is not only annoying, but also shows there is an empathy deficiency in our society.

In the said road rage incident, there were comments on the abuser’s religious attire. Although we should not judge a person by his or her fashion choices, I do see a problem in the fact that, again, we are focusing on imparting the wrong values to the next generation, and in this case and many other, the physical need to wear a hijab over being nice. Rather than stressing the need to uphold one’s religious image, it is essential to teach responsibility, gratitude, and courtesy. Along that line, being proud of going to religious seminars do not mean much if our demeanor does not reflect our knowledge, thus creating an opportunity for others to question the validity of our knowledge, or worse, our religious belief.

Rarely have I heard someone being castigated for their lack of knowledge (except by some holier-than-thou acquaintances of mine who think it is somehow a fault to be unlucky in education), but as the road rage incident shows, Malaysians from all walks of life came together against an impolite person whose only defense might be that she does not think she was being recorded, regardless of the fact that Muslims know they are being watched all the time by the Creator. Therefore, no other logic is needed to justify my obsession to raise a child that is aware of other people’s rights and feelings over her own selfish needs to rise above in this dog-eat-dog world that is just a blink in the eye compared to a lifetime of happiness or wrath on The Day.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Malaysia's State

* First published on The Malaysian Insider on 19 June 2014.
To those still wondering, Malaysia is not a secular state.
Does that mean Malaysia is an Islamic state then? I’m not sure, because there has never been a clear definition of an Islamic state, be it in the Quran, classical Islamic writings, or modern political science publication.
Malaysia is definitely not a theocracy as are Iran or Saudi Arabia, because in those countries, Islam prevails over all state institutions. Here in Malaysia, however, the constitution is the supreme law of the land.
Having Islam as the official religion of the state does not make Malaysia an Islamic state, similar to England, a country which is considered to be secular even though Anglicanism is the official state religion.
Even though Malaysia is not technically an Islamic state, neither is it a secular state.
Unlike the way secularism is commonly understood in Malaysia today, secularism does not mean Westernisation. Secularism actually means the separation between “church” and state as two distinct institutions that do not and are not influenced by the other. It does not mean that religion is entirely absent in politics, as that is impossible given a county’s demography.
For example, even if America is a famous secular nation, the nation’s official motto, “In God We Trust”, still mentions God. What secularism means is that religious organisations are independent from any other institution in the country such as the legislative, executive, and judiciary.
Is that the case in Malaysia? Is Islam, as an institution, free from any vertical or horizontal interference? The answer is of course a resounding no.
Where do mosques and suraus get the fund for maintenance? The government. Who appoints and pays the salary of our imams, muftis, and qadis? The government. Who dictates how Islamic studies should be taught to students? The government.
These are just some examples pointing to the fact that Malaysia is not a secular state as there is no separation of religion and state in this country.
In contrast, if we were to look back at Islamic history, religious institutions have always been separate from the government. The ulamas in the past are independent from the government, namely the caliphs. In fact, the ulamas were so powerful that they can indirectly influence the person who will take over as caliph. This is not surprising given that ulamas, and the institutions that produced them, were not bound by the government.
Sure, Shariah was the reference of these ulamas in their capacity as jurists, but not all laws can be found in the Quran or Hadith. There was a science to it whereby it requires an autonomous institution to produce these laws properly.
The take-away point is that these ulamas were independent in coming up with judgments, free from the influence of any caliph. Does this make the Islamic caliphate secular? I’m not sure, but the structure of the institutions do point a certain way.
Tunku Abdul Rahman may be right when he declared Malaysia a secular nation many years ago. But with the rise of Islamisation in the country’s institution in the past three decades, it seems ridiculous to continue calling Malaysia a secular nation.
If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like Jakim, then Malaysia probably is not a secular country.
Should non-Muslims be worried then if Malaysia is indeed not a secular state? I would say, no. Muslims are the ones who should be worried, because their religion, however sacred a personal experience it is, is currently tainted by the dictation of those in Parliament and Putrajaya.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Rejab, Is It?

I remember when I was in London – and previously in Pittsburgh – I wrote about my fear of jeopardizing my Islam and iman when I am back in this “Islamic state” called Malaysia. Seven months along and here I am, waking up every morning considering which western country I can move to in order to save myself and my unborn child from the horrendous non-Islamic behaviors of supposedly pious Muslims around me. Some may see it as an irony; some may see as me talking nonsense, but the more I surround myself with these Muslims with a holier-than-thou attitude, the less I see Islam in this country. When Islam first spread during Prophet Muhammad's time, it is the religion of the few -- Muslims were a minority. I believe that is why the great Prophet had so much respect for others in the community, and that is probably why I love being where Muslims are a minority because I feel a great connection to the religion and how it is meant to be understood in all its purity.

Since I was young, I always consider myself to be a relatively positive person. I try to see the good around me. It may be hard to believe since I seem to vent a lot on this blog, but it is better to do it this way than to personally rant to the people I find annoying. Whenever I face these annoying Muslims, I try to remind myself of a hadith where the Prophet said, “Whoever gives up an argument when he is in the right, a palace will be built for him in the middle (of Paradise).” I am not saying that I am right each time I find myself rolling my eyes at a claim made by a fellow Muslim, but at least I try to bite my tongue in hopes of something better. It is of course easier said than done, as I still find myself from time to time regretting the things I said to prove a point. After all, it is pointless arguing with those who are already set in their ways.

See, after seven months, I have come to a preliminary conclusion about the problem with the Malay-Muslim community around me (not the entire community, as I am against inaccurate generalization) is that we talk…a lot. And the saddest part is that we try to find justification in our nonsensical babbling. We call it a conversation filler so definitely it can’t be harmful. But we forget that as Muslims, our every action, however silly in our eyes, are judged by God – do we dare standing up in front of God on the Day of Judgement justifying our backbiting as part of an innocuous discussion of people? The more conversation I hear among the Malay-Muslims around me, the more I sympathize with them and the stronger my resolve to just get out of here. Since Malay-Muslims in this country have always had power by sheer number, we face a deficit where we think that we are always right. How can we be wrong; we are Muslims after all, adherents of the correct religion. If we are right, then the rest are definitely wrong. Therefore, everybody out there is, without doubt, determine to take on Muslims and see the downfall of Islam.

If a fellow Muslim does wrong, it is never his fault but caused by the environment around him as created by the Zionists and Christians. I scoffed at these ideas because I cannot comprehend how there are still people out there who believe Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and everyone else, wake up every morning thinking how best they can topple Islamic states and the Muslims living there. Sure, I am not denying that there are elements out there that have made themselves the enemy of Islam, but isn’t that what shaytan – the devil – promised he would do until the end of day? Regardless of whatever the non-Muslims might or might not be scheming, we are accountable for our own actions and repentance after succumbing to the devil’s wishes.

I have always reiterated that before we point our finger to others, maybe we should do more self-reflecting. Sure, maybe someone – dajjal perhaps – is plotting for the chaos that is to come before Qiyamah, but if we find our iman shaking and our ibadah lacking, maybe – just maybe – it has more to do with our relationship with God and not much with others. And maybe, if we find more Islamic countries getting into wars, maybe it has nothing to do with the Americans and the Zionists but because we have no respect for the lives of our own brothers and sisters in faith (whatever denomination they may belong to). And maybe, if we stop believing every single thing we read on Facebook (which by the way is 80% lies and rumors), we can start using this akal that we so proudly proclaim differentiates us from other species in the animal kingdom.

Stop blaming everyone around you (the government, Americans, Jews, etc) for everything that is wrong in your life. If they are not good enough excuses for the hereafter, they definitely make a lousy excuse in this life. If it is a situation you can change, make that change happen; but if you find yourself in a hopeless position, start praying more. Most importantly, stop blaming other people or events that are of no benefit to you or the ummah. If you are out of ideas on how to make the world a better place, maybe you should follow the Prophet’s path and be a man of few words and start pondering on ways to improve yourself without creating a void between us and them.

Malay-Muslims in this country has been so well-fed for so many decades that they feel entitled to have everything provided for them on a golden platter, and when that platter does not arrive, everybody else is apparently at fault. It is sad to see how they don't even try to make a better living. They complained that their meager salary is not enough to support a living. Have these people actually try living on their own to make such pathetic statements? Have they tried paying their own bills and have the discipline to cut unnecessary spending? On a bigger scale, they also complain that the global economy is sick because every Jew out there somehow wants to see Muslims begging for food. Have they tried befriending a Jew? Have the tried discussing with a Jew the sorry state of Muslims in the Middle East?

One of the things I love about the Prophet is that he always makes excuses for those who abused his rights, but when it involves the rights of others, he would be the first person to defend the victim. We Malay-Muslims on the other hand are the opposite; we would be the first to cause a commotion if we feel our rights are compromised, but when others are facing, say, a husband who kidnaps his children from his estranged wife of a different religion, somehow we don’t find anything wrong with that. Funny.

Finally, the reason why I think spending a lot of unnecessary hours talking as detrimental to the state of the ummah is because I don’t see any hikmah in them, even if we are “sharing” Islamic quotes. I understand that the intention is in the right place, but if you are serious in da’wah you will realize that dropping random Quranic quotes (i.e. talking for the sake of talking) is not the way. Have you ever heard the story of a person who read something on Facebook or Whatsapp and decided to start praying five times a day? I haven’t. But I have heard and read many stories of reverts who chose the path of Islam because they are impressed by the good manners shown by a Muslim acquaintance. That’s why they say the best da’wah is your manners, not sharing random posts on Facebook or Whatsapp. Personally, I find that to be true. The two people who I look up the most among my extended family members are a maternal uncle and a paternal aunt. They are both among the most pious people I have come across. How do I know this? I certainly am not aware of how many hours they spend praying at night or how many days they fast in a year, but I definitely know that they have the best manners I have ever witnessed. I have never heard my aunt gossip and whenever I had a discussion with my uncle it is always about sharing ideas. I also know that they are knowledgeable about the religion, but they never force them on others by posting random hadiths or ayahs online. And I try to emulate them every single day.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Pray for Us

As a Muslim living in Malaysia, it is common to observe elders instilling fear of God’s wrath in our children. While it is not entirely a fable, I call for fellow Muslims to think before speaking and scare our kids into submission. Fear may seem powerful to our limited understanding of the human psyche, but God is al-‘Alim, or all knowing. As al-Khaliq, the Creator, who knows everything in the heavens and below, God starts every surah of the Quran except for Surah at-Tawbah by reminding us of His compassion and mercy. How then can we still doubt God’s love for us when he is also al-Gafur and al-Wadud?

Lately Malaysia has been hit with what we like to call ‘tests’, and as is heard frequently, people began pointing fingers to those they believe to be responsible for these challenges. We have been taught since young that any obstacle we face is the result of some actions we commit that God disapproves of. We need to stop anthropomorphizing God. Regardless of our perception, God is not some 15 year old teenager sitting in His bedroom begrudging everyone who defies Him. He is not looking for ‘opportunities’ to put us is a difficult situation. Again, he reminds us all the time that he is the most merciful and the most compassionate.

It truly irks me when concerned elders try to help a sister or brother in distress by implicitly suggesting that they are themselves the cause of their hardship. Take for example sisters who are yet to find their perfect match in this temporary life, i.e. get married. An aunt told me about an ustazah, or learned female scholar, who posted on her Facebook page how unmarried sisters can’t get good Muslim men as their husbands because they themselves are not worthy enough. Do I need to remind this ustazah that Maryam never married, and God raise her rank as the best of all women, according to a Hadith which translates as “The leaders of the women of Jannah, after Maryam bint Imran will be Fatimah, Khadeejah and Aasiyah the wife of Pharaoh.” [Tabrani]

Personally, when I was trying to conceive in the last year, I’ve had people telling me maybe there’s something I did in the past that is preventing me from getting pregnant. I was not enraged by the suggestion because I know I’ve sinned many times, but I feel embarrassed for them because it demonstrates how these people fail to connect the stories of the Prophets in the Quran with God’s mercy. Nabi Zakaria had difficulty conceiving a child, but as a prophet, can we assume God withheld a child because he committed a grave sin? At an old age, God finally fulfills his prayers and his wife gave birth to Nabi Yahya, a prophet respected by the people of his time.

Furthermore, God does not find it a thrill in exposing your sins to the whole world. If challenges are a reflection of your action, we could easily segregate the good from the bad. But remember, as a human being, as an insan, none of us escape from sinning. In fact, if Muslims truly believe that challenges will befall those who have sinned more, than all non-Muslims would be in misery. Is that the case? All of us have sinned, and we will never stop sinning, but God is so merciful that he covers up most of our sins. All those scholars you look up to? Yeah, they’ve sinned. We continue to look up to them despite knowing this because of God’s mercy. Therefore, stop speculating on God’s actions and take God at His words, that He is the most compassionate and the most merciful.

Besides the danger in seeing tests and challenges as God’s retribution for a sin, there is a bigger danger in failing to recognize ease and pleasure also as tests from Almighty God. Again, running the danger of anthropomorphizing God, we accept pleasure as God’s reward to us. That is how we, simple-minded human beings, think. But God says in the Quran,

“Do people think that they will be left alone because they say: “We believe,” and will not be tested.” [29:2] 

A true believer would see every circumstance, good or bad, as tests from God, because that is God’s promise, and are we to doubt God’s words? If you are doing financially well, is that not a test by God to see how you manage your wealth to benefit you fellow brothers and sisters? If you are blessed with many children, is that not a test to see how you raise your kids to continue the struggle and pleasure to spread God’s words? Remember, the wife of Nabi Lut was married to a prophet, but she was punished for her arrogance. Never take the bliss in your life for granted as they are to test you just as much as any misery you may face.

I remember years ago there was a post on Facebook that went viral among Malaysians. The title was translated into English as “I don’t pray, yet I am fine…” An acquaintance pointed to me how arrogant that post was. I was ignorant then (and still am), so I could not understand arrogance in that post when it is basically telling Muslims who don’t pray to not be arrogant with all you have. But now, after years of contemplating Islam, I see clearly now how that post was arrogant in its tone. People were conflating level of piety with their life circumstances, as if they can read God’s mind. But they can’t. No one can. All we can do is try to find the goodness in others because that is what Islam actually is all about.

In conclusion, stop scaring people away from this beautiful religion. If only more people are made aware of God’s mercy and compassion I am sure there will be less incident of Islamophobia. Before you point your finger at others, remember four other fingers and pointed at you. Before we try to correct others, look in the mirror first.


Friday, February 28, 2014

Bigotry in Peace

One of the many things I love about my religion is how inclusive it is. However, I’ve always had this problem of reconciling what Islam means and what it has been in the past, with current Muslim rhetoric that goes against the teachings of the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad. It’s a paradox I DON’T wish to resolve.

In my view, Islam is an inclusive and tolerant religion because of what it stands for: submitting one’s self to Almighty God. This definition alone speaks volume to the beauty of this religion. A Muslim is not defined by his daily rituals, but by what he or she ultimately believes in. But to be the best Muslim that deserves to enter God’s Jannah, one has to abide by the rules set out by the Creator, and I am far from dismissing their importance. What disturbs me is that Muslims today forget that these rules and rituals were taught by Prophet Muhammad in the early 7th century. What does that make of previous prophets? What about Adam, Ibrahim, Musa, and Isa? Are they less of a Muslim because the rules and rituals were different from what were taught to us?   

Islam in theory is the most tolerant of all religions because unlike others that view Prophet Muhammad as a false prophet and Islam as a false religion, Islam acknowledges the status of Judaism and Christianity as revealed by real prophets that are also revered by Muslims worldwide. When we think of a Muslim today, we think of shahadah, five daily prayers, fasting during Ramadhan, zakat, and Hajj. In the Qur’an, however, the usage includes followers of Prophets that came before the Qur’an was revealed, precisely because they submitted to God. Furthermore, if we choose to focus on them, there are actually many similarities between Islam and these religions. For example, similar to Judaism, Islam is staunch in its concept of tawhid, or the oneness of God, and similar to Christianity, Islam was revealed as a universal religion that is not limited to a Chosen People.

Unfortunately, our fixation on modern political history has caused us to overlook how our beloved Prophet treated the Jews in Medina, with their rights clearly stated in the Charter of Medina. We forgot how the Caliphs treated the Jews and Christians they encountered during the Islamic expansion. We forgot about God’s command to be kind to those who have received the revelation before us. Some would argue that God’s command to respect the Jews and Christians is invalidated by the fact that their books have been distorted, thus no longer are they the ‘true’ People of the Book. Take a moment to reconsider this oxymoron – the Taurat (Old Testament) and Injil (New Testament) have been ruined by the hands of men centuries before the Qur’an was revealed. If they hadn’t, there would have been no reason for God to send the Seal of the Prophets to correct what has been wronged. Yet, rather than chastise the Jews and Christians for corrupting God’s laws, the Qur’an calls for us to acknowledge the truth-seeker among our Jewish and Christian brothers. 

"Verily, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians — all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds — shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve." [2:62]

“Say, ‘We believe in Allah and what has been sent down to us, and what was revealed to Abraham and Ismail and Isaac and Jacob and the Tribes, and what Moses and Jesus were given, and what all the Prophets were given by their Lord. We do not differentiate between any of them. We are Muslims submitted to Him’.” [2:136]

“They are not all the same. There is a community among the People of the Book who are upright. They recite Allah’s Signs throughout the night, and they prostrate.” [3:113]

"And, behold, among the followers of earlier revelation there are indeed such as [truly] believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon you as well as in that which has been bestowed upon them. Standing in awe of God, they do not barter away God’s messages for a trifling gain. They shall have their reward with their Sustainer — for, behold, God is swift in reckoning!" [3:199] 

“When it is recited to them they say, ‘We believe in it; it is the truth from our Lord. We were already Muslims before it came’.[28:53]

It saddens me very much to see the level of hatred and misunderstanding today. We have turned Islam into a club where one has to pay a premium to be a part of. In our zeal to protect the sanctity of Islam we disregard everything that was taught by our Prophet. I’m not only talking about the terrorists that use Islam to justify their actions, but also about the extremists who are keeping Islam away from others in fear of tainting it. First of all, Islam can NEVER be tainted; it is perfect as it is. Second of all, when the Day of Judgment comes, we are accounted for all our actions, and when God asks why we kept Islam at arm’s length from others by our intolerant and disrespectful ways, there will be no one to defend us but ourselves.

I feel that this is a good opportunity to share with those who may not be aware of it the Achtiname of Muhammad, a document ratified by Prophet Muhammad granting protection to the Christian monks of Mount Sinai:

"This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world)." [Translation by Muqtedar Khan]

Besides the People of the Book – Jews, Christians, and Sabians –, it is worth reminding that Islam does not discriminate against others who were not explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an either. As I’ve previously written in earlier blog entries, we as Muslims are required to show humility in regards to the scope of our knowledge. We know only of what God wants us to know while there are undeniably many other mysteries that God keeps away from us out of His wisdom, including the groups of people that have received revelation before the time of Prophet Muhammad. We do not have the names or the numbers, but we cannot deny what the Qur’an told us which are that:

“And as [We inspired other] apostles whom We have mentioned to thee ere this, as well as apostles whom We have not mentioned to thee;" [4:164] 

"Now every community has had an apostle; and only after their apostle has appeared [and delivered his message] is judgment passed on them, in all equity; and never are they wronged." [10:47] 

"And never have We sent forth any apostle otherwise than [with a message] in his own people’s tongue, so that he might make [the truth] clear unto them;" [14:4] 

"Verily, We have sent thee with the truth, as a bearer of glad tidings and a warner: for there never was any community but a warner has [lived and] passed away in its midst." [35:24]

These ayahs showcase the limitation of our knowledge and the beauty of this religion. Again, Islam is not an exclusive religion that was taught to a Chosen People who has the right to condemn those who do not exercise the same practices; instead, Islam has been sent to ALL of the people of the world – men were the ones who then corrupted the message. Therefore I do not understand the need to bear arms against other religious groups who may or may not submit to God, because we are only one of the many groups of people who were very fortunate to have received God’s revelation. It is not our place to judge the fidelity of a group or person when God has asked us in the Quran, 

Is not God the most just of judges?” [95:8]

Islam is not just tolerant to others who do not practice the same religion as we understand it to be, but Prophet Muhammad was also a firm proponent against racial discrimination. If any of you have been following my blog, you would know how I truly, severely, and relentlessly HATE racism. I could never understand the logic behind racism, especially if one professes to be a Muslim. As mentioned earlier, Islam is a universal religion for ALL, so when I hear racial slurs against Africans, it sometimes pushes me over the edge. I understand that we tend to fear what we don’t know, and the influx of Africans into the country is a relatively new experience, but as Muslims we need to look beyond Bilal ibn Rabah and remember that the Prophet’s adopted son and grandson, Zayd ibn Harithah and Osama ibn Zayd, are Blacks. Furthermore, Zayd ibn Harithah was an especially trusted companion to have commanded seven military expeditions in his lifetime. And what about Umm Ayman, an Ethiopian slave who was there since the Prophet’s birth until his death, and who the Prophet used to call ummi? For these reasons and more, when I see racism by Muslims I cannot help but feel bad for them because their religiosity lacks knowledge, which is unfortunate.

However, when I am in a state of rage or disbelief over the current state of religious and racial discrimination, I always remind myself that whenever someone denies the Prophet his rights, he would always make excuses for them, but when people abuse the rights of others, the Prophet would be the first to stand up for them. It is not my place to judge the actions of others, for there may be reasons I am not aware of. All I can do is to fight for those whose rights have been taken from underneath them, because I know and still remember what it feels like to be a minority in a society that appreciates diversity. I'm ending this long entry with a reminder especially to myself to treat others, regardless of their religion or race, the way you want to be treated, for the Qur’an says

"For, [true] servants of the Most Gracious are [only] they who walk gently on earth, and who, whenever the foolish address them, reply with [words of] peace;” [25:63]


Friday, January 3, 2014

Knowledge of Knowledge

I dread having to write this post, or what I have called it in my mind as an open letter to the related persons. My dread is based on the fear that this post will compromise the sincerity in my heart to reach my goal. After all, I have always believed that you can never please everyone, and that you cannot control what others think of you. However, I am nudged to finally write this open letter after reading and listening to a few scholars and realizing the severity of the situation than I first comprehended.

A few months before I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, I went to meet a trusted professor of mine. We talked about my future plans, and the ways forward. I articulated my doubts of doing a PhD directly after my three years at Pitt and my ability to become an academician. Therefore, he advised me to do a Master for a year while I figure out what I want to do for the rest of my life. I did as advised, went to a prestigious university to obtain my Master’s degree while I contemplated my future. Being who I am, I have always put my trust in God. Bit by bit, God showed me while I was in London that opportunities for me in academic seem brighter. After praying for the best direction, my heart finally decides that I am ready for a life in academic.

That’s when it started.

I started getting comments on how I’m going to be a “lecturer je” (just a lecturer), from family members, no less. It went on for a while, getting the same comments from different people. But I make up excuses for them in my head. I told myself that their ignorance is not their fault. They grew up in a society that looks up to doctors, lawyers, accountants, and engineers, while failing to realize that before there were doctors or lawyers, there were university lecturers under the tutelage whom they studied under. It thus baffles me when they say I’m going to be just a lecturer. How can you admire the head without the neck or shoulder? I understand that I may not be teaching important courses, but knowledge is knowledge, regardless of our limited human appreciation of them.

The second excuse I make up for them may sound a bit arrogant, but it is nonetheless an excuse I can think of to wrap my head around their comment. Most of these people who said I’m going to be a “lecturer je” graduated from Malaysian universities, and I’m not even talking about University of Malaya or the National University of Malaysia. What is my point of bringing this up? If you went to a university where most of the lecturers only had a Master’s degree, and their job appears to revolve around teaching in class, you may put them on a lesser pedestal than they really deserve. But I have been to two amazing research universities. The professors that I’ve had are amazingly knowledgeable and are respected with awe by their students, including me. These are people who don’t only take what’s in the textbook and projected them on a wall, they are the ones who wrote the textbooks. They write books, articles, present at conferences, and many more.

How did I come to this seemingly spurious conclusion? The only direct support I have gotten from an extended family member is from an uncle whom himself graduated from a foreign university. He understands the value of committing your life to knowledge. When I first told him of my plan post-LSE, his was the only positive response I received. Not only was he supportive in the sense that stroke my ego, but he also shared with me ways to reach my full potential. He didn’t say I’m going to waste my time as just a lecturer; he actually encourages me to write books, and become a professor one day, inshAllah. He is someone who understands that besides revealed knowledge, the whole universe is open to discovery, and the people who make those discoveries deserve our utmost respect and gratitude, not because of some imaginary hierarchy, but because without these people we would still think that the atom is the smallest particle and that Communism is the future. Where do you think these people are? Do you think the Nobel laureates sit at home constantly working out some mathematics equation? No, their research is usually funded by a university!

When I met a few professors from the local universities here, discussing my future in the respective university, my first question was always, “How much research can I expect to do here?” In the end, that is what I aspire to do. I want to dedicate my life to learning. I want to become a social scientist. But most people don’t understand the value of that because the only value they see is money. The only measure of success to a modern man is how big his house is and how many cars he own. This is a very sad predicament for us. During a recent Islamic conference I attended, the speaker mentioned how when we ask our kids today their aspiration, their answer is usually the typical “doctor, lawyer, engineer” mix. Nothing wrong with that, except that we don’t hear our future generation says they aspire to become the best Muslims in order to enter Jannah.

Now this is the hardest part for my write. To those who actually care enough to sit with me and to talk to me, rather than talk of me, would know that my specialization has always been on political Islam. I pray to God that my work, how insignificant they are, may have a tiny impact on the general perception people have on Islam’s role in politics. It may not be a big deal to those who have to work 9-5 to provide for their family, but it is a passion I’ve had for a while. As a Muslim, I can’t stand the misconceptions (including by Muslims) on Islam and politics. I wish to be part of a group of academicians that would one day rectify this. My plan is bigger than success in this dunya. I don’t wish to work to accumulate as much wealth as possible; instead, I wish that my work would count for the progress of the ummah, and as my key to enter Jannah. On a separate note, the idea of just a lecturer is ludicrous to me because I have a few friends whose parents are lecturers, and they live in big mansions, travelling the whole world, every year. I can vouch that the same persons who said I will be a ”lecturer je” don’t even have half the assets of these professors, even though that is beside the point. Why is this difficult for me to write? Because I never want others to know my heart’s desire. I have always said that the reason I want to become a political scientist is to gain God’s grace. For me, it is good enough for God to know my intention. At the end of the day, I want my niyah to be that of fi-lil-Allah-i-taala.

Undeniably, it breaks my heart a little when they say I’m going to be just a lecturer. But they also brought up the point that I had big dreams when I was younger. The funny thing is, those dreams are still with me, but they never bother to ask me how I want to achieve those dreams. See, I am someone who believes it is important to walk the talk. What is the point of having dreams without a concrete plan to achieve them? You can’t just wish something and expect one day to find yourself owning a private island. If you want something bad enough, you work for it. And working for it is what I am doing right now. Believe me, all those wishes I had plastered on the walls of my childhood bedroom, they’re still plastered in my heart. The difference between the older and younger Syaza is that I now see my future clearer than ever. But the one thing that has stayed constant in my life is that when others doubt me, it drives me crazy to prove them wrong. Not because of some egoistic desire, but because I believe—I know—that the ummah would be better off if we change our perception and aspiration, just a little bit, inshAllah.