Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
Mine is filled with fragrant flowers. Welcome.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

As he stood on a podium facing a delegation of thousands of adults in half-slumber and heedless chatter, the man in blue, with his trusted songkok firmly in place, began reciting the contents of his heart--word by word--in every sentence ingrained mindful reminders for the most beloved subject of his ailing struggle. The adults were stunned to silence, moved. Hearts started to inflamed with a long-forgotten aspiration and shame ran down the faces of those who knew, deep down in their soul, how every word pierced through their shallow mindedness and greed like daggers. 

...Sejarah bangsanya yang lena

Tanah lahirnya yang merekah berdarah 

In perhaps one of his most memorable speech as a politician, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed recited a poem that later produced a staple phrase that captured one of the essence of modern Malay struggle--'Melayu mudah lupa'. Anyone who watched his presentation during the Umno General Assembly 2001 would remember hearing the sound of the former Prime Minister's voice breaking and his eyes tearing up as he recite, 

Wahai bangsaku 

Jangan mudah lupa lagi

Kerana perjuanganmu belum selesai

This post might put some ideas into your head--that I am a Mahathir-loyalist or someone who subscribed to the 'Mahathirism' philosophy. Well, both are not true. But a chance of stumbling into this classic political gem from our nation's rich modern history resonates with my frustrations, hopes and belief in this country all at once. Tun's chuckle towards the end was the soft kiss at the back of a perfumed envelope that contained his love letter to the utmost loved subject of his soul--more than his political career and wealth--the nation. 

It is a frustrating time to be a believing Malaysian. To be a citizen who still believe that the nation and its people can still be saved from what seemed like a downward spiral of our nationhood through the abandonment of the most pertinent issues affecting our society--racial intolerance and wealth inequality. It is more frustrating for those who have tried, are trying and wanted to try to address these issues when they realized that those who we seek to represent us do not put the interest of the nation above anything else, in fact, most of them, if not all, put their own self-interest--money, power, position--far above the nation. Our politicians rather bicker with each other pointing which of them is more racist, corrupt and while doing that forget to do what they were voted in for in the first place. This has been our 'tradition' for the longest time but for a while it seemed more restrained compared to now. 

We also have a group of people who rather thrive at highlighting, passing judgement, creating unnecessary uproar over the comments of low-minded people than to actually go to the ground and address our society's problems. We might jump to the roof at every sentence uttered by some of the bigots in Perkasa and Dong Zhong (and others behind closed doors and media's coverage) but we lack the courage to cross our own backyard to see that there are still children to Malaysian parents, pribumis in the rural areas of Borneo, who do not have birth certificates and are unable to receive education like the rest of us. We chant loudly and proudly for the rights of people to cross dress and we forget to look at the back alleys of our streets to see that human trafficking is a bitter reality that also involves the LGBT community, as well as at risk women and children. Getting ourselves embroiled in these issues, guided into our minds thanks to relentless media coverage and the social media are tiring and merely reducing us to manipulated subjects of political rivalry among those in power. Don't get me started on how hypocrite our society has become. Some of us  pretend to tolerate one another when we do not, only acting as passerby who happen to share the same environment and interact with different races when needed to. Most of us, won't admit that we are racist but tell me if you truly believe that 100 per cent. 

It pains me to admit that Tun's love for this country and his refusal to back down, even after his retirement, is a breath of fresh air. Somehow I wonder if this nation will ever see a true statesman as a leader again or do we have to learn the hard way that the stability of the nation, safekeeping our peace and prosperity must triumph over anything else. Hard to admit that the people who are going to face the consequences of our action (or lack of it) now would not be us but future generations. Maybe they too would one day look at Tun M's video of this poem recital and wondered what happened to this country--blessed with wealth, potential and sovereignty. I still keep some hope to myself--that change will come even if its going to be a long winding road for some. As it is, for the Muslims, god has said persistently in the Quran that those who seek to enjoin others to goodness and speak the truth will be met with resistance, ridicule and hardship, but none of the struggle will go to waste. The Malays, they are a forgetful lot and Tun was right. However, now I'm starting to believe that not only the Malays 'mudah lupa'...perhaps the disease has find its way into the rest of us. We are beginning to forget how it feels like to live together in harmony, our youth are shaped to be individualistic in nature, becoming victims to fault policies and corrupt leaders, our children are growing up segregated, not knowing the beauty of celebrating our diversity as a nation.

Wahai bangsaku 

Jangan mudah lupa lagi

Kerana perjuanganmu belum selesai

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A reflection on 'I Want To Touch A Dog' controversy

As soon as news about an event that targeted Muslims participants to touch and cuddle with dogs hit the mainstream pipeline, it sparked heated debates among the various strata of society, each with their own contention of what the event represent, should and should not be. The flame that 'Touch a Dog' caused erupted out of control and reached a point where its organiser, a social activist by the name of Syed Azmi Alhabshi claimed to receive "severe death threats" and islamic authorities such as MAIS was called to make a statement. According to media reports, Muslims were said to be "outraged" at such an event that provoked their longstanding tradition of abstinence from contact with dogs, though I beg to differ at the word use as the reports, in my view, were highly exaggerated. However the real war, in a spectacle that reminded me of one too many in the past couple of years, was fought online. To the unseeing eyes, it was utter chaos. But was the truth entirely what it seemed?

First, to understand the nature of reaction from the Muslims, one need to know that an overwhelming majority of Malaysian Muslims subscribe to the Shafie mazhab--which prescribed dogs as 'major filth' (Najis Mughalazzah) and puts it in the same category as swine. It would require those who made physical contact with the creature to wash the contact surface with water 7 times, with one part infused with soil. In particular, major filth in the mazhab is a level higher than the medium filth category that includes alcohol, human waste and blood. For those who might wonder what exactly is the fiqh concerning keeping dogs, I suggest you read this short explanation first (this) and (this). The tradition of keeping a safe distance from dogs has been ingrained for many generations for Muslims here although this does not make them develop hatred or destructive behaviour towards the animal.

Hence, the so called 'shock' reaction from average Muslims when pictures of the events were distributed was expected and not surprising. What made the Touch A Dog event controversial was the media coverage that created a false sense of panic among the Muslims, an absolute abomination of Syed Azmi and pinning the two against each other, with the organiser eventually triumphing as an underdog versus the society. The international media was also quick to pick up on the sensation surrounding 'Muslims outrage over touching dogs event' with emphasis on the 'death threats'. Try googling 'Touch A Dog' event and you will find stories from TIME, NY Times on top of the list, followed by articles from TMI or TMMO, while news piece from other media organisations who might not have hyped up the event as much are not as easily accessible.

In a matter of days, the unknown social activist from TTDI was hailed as a hero, 'revolutionary' Muslim who was trying to change 'society's negative perception and treatment of dogs'--though he might not been aware of it himself. The events that unfold were nothing short of comical at times especially with a special appearance from social media lawyer extraordinaire, Syahredzan Johan who took it upon himself to defend Syed Azmi from the various backlash. According to the lawyer, 'Syed Azmi has been drowning under thousands of death threats and other hateful messages within hours of holding the controversial event' though a recent news article revealed that only one report was lodged by Syed Azmi's father on online harassment his son received throughout the incident. This makes me want to revisit Syahredzan's statement on the actual meaning of 'drowning in death threats' and whether most of them were just hype.

MAIS, the state religious body that issued a permit for the event to be held claimed that it was misled into granting permission when the activities and objectives lined up by the organizers in their proposal were different from what actually took place. An ustaz invited to talk at the event also posted in his personal Facebook page of the confusion that was started by the organizers and his shock over what took place at the event. There is dishonesty in its implementation from the very on set and my question is 'why should there be a need for such tactics in the first place?'

As the issue prolonged, it was becoming more clear that the objective of the event and forced sensationalism were never really about the position of dogs in the Shafie Mazhab nor ending the so-called prejudice against the animal. Those who questioned or criticized the event was immediately labelled as a 'conservative' and 'narrow minded' while  a band of Muslim apologists started to appear (there's no harm to it, why should it be considered wrong? why should the event caused discomfort as touching dogs is only considered 'najis' and can be washed afterwards? I'm sure that the organizer only meant well...etc ). Some of these self-appointed spokesperson of Malaysian Muslims fail to realize that most of them have no actual training in addressing Fiqh issues in the first place. Maybe its time for the Muslims, community leaders and activists to start looking into the mirror and reflect whether we know the religion enough before trying to change Islam and engage the public. Personally, I think what the event managed to achieve was igniting confusion among Muslims on matters concerning their own Fiqh and for them to rethink and eventually accept certain lifestyle choices in spite of the ruling in the sacred law.  I can't help but think that it is a suspiciously familiar theme being brought up in this country these past few years and I don't know how long can the Muslims be pushed and pulled into similar situations in the future.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Shake the dust

The women who made news this year are not the usual list of celebrities and models, the sexiest and richest or scandalous, but more than anything else, they are the women who survived, fought through and are living in spite of wars and conflicts.

Malala Yousafzai, the girl who was shot by the Taliban for going to school and survived two years ago, won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize at age 17. She became the youngest person to ever win the award. Some received the news of her win with hope for the reconstruction of Pakistan's education system, that, despite the continuous threat of Islamic militants are in complete rupture mainly due to corruption and almost non-existence enforcement from its government while others worry that she would end up a 'manufactured icon', a puppet for invisible hands to infiltrate their agendas into the people's minds. Unfortunately if the latter case is true, Malala would be the one with most to lose.

While the latest US-led strikes in the middle east, this time is to battle the group dubbed by western media as 'the most sophisticated, well-funded militant group', ISIS, in Syria and Iraq, also produced an unlikely 'icon' for women in the likes of Mariam al-Mansouri, UAE's only female fighter jet pilot. Irony is perhaps the best word to describe what took place after she was discovered by the world, when western media networks like Fox news took on Mariam's gender as the butt of jokes, completely downplaying and veiling her contributions to the military. The comments made by Eric Bolling were horridly laced with misogyny and sexism despite the popular contention that such vices are inherent in the society which Mariam comes from -- Arab Muslim.

Earlier this year, during the latest Palestine-Israel conflict that erupted during Ramadhan, saw the plight of the Palestinian womenfolk highlighted by the media. The women, who manouvered domestic economy by producing homemade products, operating kitchens and providing heat in the midst of rubbles before and after every deadly rocket strikes by Israel. Close to 70% of Gaza's male population are unemployed. The supply of sufficient goods and services rely mostly on the tunnels, heavily regulated by their rich owners and highly risky for the men tasked to smuggle the goods and services. But it was the women who plough through the hardship, by raising and feeding victims of the war, especially traumatized children, who deserve admiration.

In another case that highlights the plight of females caught in the destructive cycle of religious extremism are the schoolgirls in Nigeria, kidnapped by Islamic militants Boko Haram has yet to return home. Even more saddening, was the recent development that some of them are being forced to be on the front line with the military while the rest had to stay as 'wives' or 'comfort women' for the militants. Their abduction had sparked a viral movement  "Bring Back Our Girls" in other countries, even NATO had sent their troops to rescue the girls, the leader of Boko Haram had recently died in an attack launched by US. But the girls are still with the militants. Perhaps scared and scarred for the rest of their lives. Imagining their condition send shivers to my spine.

I'm sure that the stories I've listed above represent only a fraction of the experiences of women in modern times, especially those caught in conflict and wars. There are destruction and grievances in this world but I am also sure that there are women living as normal beings who do not have their access to basic rights restricted by others. I'm living such a life and every time I read the news about the plight of other women in the darker side of the world, I can't help but feel very grateful for my destiny. Regardless, it is not enough to just feel gratitude to god, He had promised that the world will always be enough as a sustenance for all of us and grabbing, robbing, killing are not needed for people to enjoy the world. Then what are the responsibilities of those who are living in the more peaceful side of the world, who doesn't have to risk their lives going to school or abducted to become child soldiers?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Prophet Muhammad was recorded addressing his companions:
“You (the companions) are in a time when there are many learned people in this religion who truly understand the religion, there are few orators (those who ask questions), those giving are much more than those asking, action in this time is better than knowledge. But there will come a time when the Fuqaha (those who understand the religion) are few and the orators will be many, many will be asking and few will be giving and in that time, knowledge will be greater than action”

The crisis that we have... this morning I was having breakfast and the man who served us, I asked him, “Are you from Senegal?” and his jaw dropped because for a white person in America to know a Senegalis , that always shocks them. Then I said are u Wolof?  He was even more shocked. He said, “Yes”. I said I studied in Mauritania and he said “that’s true Islam, all of our teachers studied in Mauritania. All the problems today are because people do not know what Islam is," This is a man who is working as a server. His knowledge is basically at the essence of the problem, that we have a crisis of knowledge. I want to mention something that one of our greatest scholars said, Imam al-Shatibi in his work ‘Al-Muwafaqqat’ said in that book, in a hadith, the prophet SAW said,

“The best of generation is my generation, and then comes those who follow them and those who follow them”

Imam al-Shatibi says “In this tradition there is an indication that the status of each following generation with respect to what went before it will be like this. It is related from the prophet that he said that at the beginning of your religion will be prophethood and mercy, followed by domination and mercy, and then by domination and coercion and then by cruel domination.

 And then Imam al-Shatibi says that this is not possible unless good become scarce when evil competing with it gradually gaining ground, what we are discussing is in included under this absolute meaning, the creeping villainy, as Kierkegaard mentioned, that is so indiscernible when it first emerges and yet continues to creep until villainy becomes a norm.

He says there is no year that is followed except by one that is more evil, I did not say that it rain more in the previous year or that there was more fertility in one year than the other or that one ruler was better in one year compared to another, rather I mean by it, the disappearance of the best among you, the disappearance of your scholars. Finally, a group will rise up who settle things according to their personal views thus attempting to demolish Islam and defiling it.

In another hadith the prophet said, “Knowledge will be snatched away by the taking away of scholars along with their knowledge, leaving behind ignorant people who will be asked to settle matters and they will do so in the basis of their personal views. Thus being misguided and misguiding others,”

The prophet SAW said, “Islam began as a strange  thing and it will revert to estrangement, of which it began, blessed be the strangers,”. It was said, “Who are those strangers, oh messenger of god?” And he said, “They will be the strangers from all the various clans,” In one narration they said, “There are those who set matters right when things go wrong with the people,”

It is related that Abu Idris al-Haulani said, “Islam is bare without people attached to it and it will be torn away, thread by thread “, In other words, Islam is a ‘naked’ thing and it’s the beauty of the people that adorn its nakedness. If you strip away those beautiful people, you leave it, naked.
We’re living in a time when people associate Boko Haram with Islam. We’re living at a time when people don’t think of Imam al-Ghazali or Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi or all these great giants that went before us. They think of the ignorant people and too many people believe that this is Islam.

The words above were uttered by the co-founder and president of the Zaytuna Institute, the first Muslim liberal arts college in the US, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf during the Zaytuna College Commencement ceremony three days ago.  

How close to home does it feel to hear the quotes by Imam al-Shatibi on the nature of society facing a decline of the people of knowledge? And the hadith by prophet Muhammad that has somehow precisely described the kind of people we look up to as celebrities, leaders and decision makers in this country, "Knowledge will be snatched away, leaving behind ignorant people who will be asked to settle matters and they will do so in the basis of their personal views. Thus being misguided and misguiding others"

With this Muslims in Malaysia have to ask ourselves, whether those given prominence on our news outlet and social media, whether done deliberately or coincidently, actually represent the truth of our religion and at best, representing us. Organisations like ISMA, Perkasa and Aswaja to name a few, and personalities such as Ridhuan Tee and Ibrahim Ali, and popular Ustazs that narrated doubtful hadiths and rulings, in the likes of Ustaz Azhar al-Idrus, are the entities that grace the society's discussion on Islam. We also have to ask ourselves whether prominence given to these people were done deliberately to achieve a sinister objective of defaming the religion and portraying it as a religion laden with bigotry, corruption, falsehood and injustice. 

I believe that a majority of Muslims in our country are not properly represented with the current line up that we have above. Even so, the number of actual scholars who can set the ground firm on the true representation of Islam in our country is too few to actually make an impact. Former Mufti of Perlis, Dr. Maza is one of the few scholars who can represent a middle path and rationality when addressing the conflicts of Muslims in our time. But how much of an impact can a sole man make, compared to the voices from the heavily-funded ISMA/Perkasa and the highly-connected Aswaja? 

Even so, the blame of our demise should not be loaded on the shoulders of leaders only but also the community itself that is barren of knowledge and tradition. As Muslims, it is wajib upon us to seek the truth, especially during a challenging climate such as now, when information can be retrieved at the tip of everyone's fingers and yet people can be so far from the truth. 

Dear Muslims, the day of reckoning is not far from us as we are the living proof of an ummah suffering from the crisis of knowledge. But as long as we are breathing, there is still time for retribution. Wake up. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Not another Hindi movie

Jessica Laal was working as a celebrity bar-maid in one of Delhi's crowded, underground club when she was shot in the face, twice, for refusing to serve drinks to customers. She was packing up the bar with her colleagues as it was about to close, when three young men dashed in and demanded to be served. A quarrel lead to one of the customers pulling out a loaded gun from his pocket and fired the fatal shots in front of Lall's colleagues and customers. He was none other than Manu Sharma, the son of a wealthy, influential politician from the state of Haryana, whereas his friends were young, successful members of the corporate world. At the time of the shooting, more than 300 people were still in the club, some cited hearing gun shots and were able to identify the suspects as they fled.

Laal was declared dead upon arrival at the hospital while Manu Sharma and friends managed to evade the police for about one week, when one by one of his accomplices were arrested that lead him to eventually surrender. The case was brought to court one year after the murder happened and due to lack of cooperation by key witnesses and tempering of evidence, which includes a missing murder weapon, Manu Sharma and friends were acquitted.

The court's ruling soon caused a huge uproar in India, especially considering the manner of Laal's death. But her tragedy was not the main reason for my entry today. It was the sensational Bollywood homage to the case, that starred Rani Mukherjee and Vidya Balan in one of the best performances in their career that moved me to finally update my blog tonight. 

Rani played Meera Gaity, a no-nonsence journalist from an investigative TV station and Vidya, as Sabrina Lail, Jessica's younger sister who fought against the tyrannical and corruptive legal system in India. It was the portrayal of two strong female characters in a mostly patriarchal and sex-dominated industry such as Bollywood, the cracking open of centuries old wall that had prevented such roles to be celebrated in the industry for fear that it would trampled box office results. There was no conventional Indian hero in the film, no thick moustached, Ray Ban-wearing policemen who can split bullets and lift cars, nor was there a need for him given the two strong heroines. 

Meera, the go-getter, can easily be misunderstood for being rude and snobbish, but is a woman who can go to the lengths of assembling a fake interview session to reveal a deception of the court, a journalist who climb on her editor's car to convince him and let her pursue the potentially explosive story about corruption and bribing of witnesses in the case. Sabrina, did not look like your average Bollywood heroine: be-speckled, unkept and always seen in blouses too big for her size, she dwells in her sadness of losing Jessica and eventually other people she loved. She is an average citizen, with no special contacts of high standing nor financially capable to bribe any, continuously disappointed by the government and the system by which it functions. An average citizen, like the rest of us. 

It was evident that Bollywood is shifting its ways and over the years, slowly, have taken the shape of a mirror to reflect the modern and traditional Indian society today. 

I can't help but wonder when will our so called 'Malaysian film and television industry' (the term is debatable according to a friend) venture into such path instead of serving up cliche, uninspiring, masochistic, abusive relationship-ridden stories without proper thought into how their works could affect the viewers. 

Here, almost everyday our viewers are laden with TV dramas depicting masochist male characters, with utterly no respect for women (but good looking and rich) and female characters who would bleed, cry, fall and fight a bear to win their heart despite continuous abuse, whether physical or mental (and sometimes both) by the their counterpart. Is this what we are trying to show our women what they worth in the eyes of the society? Always craving for love and only...that? what happened to respect and other stuff...like going to space for example?

Anyone who have seen a local drama (especially Malay dramas) would be able to relate to the plot given above. It is unacceptable for female viewers to be forced fed masochist storyline just because SOME part of the viewing community adores such writing. What about the young generation who also watch TV? Will they be influenced to fantasize the life of a 'poor, abused leading lady' or be encouraged to follow their own dreams?