When I first found out that there was an ACT OF TERRORISM being committed at two mosques in Christchurch New Zealand on Friday resulting in 49 Muslims killed and many others injured, I was devastated.
I had to stop my studying for awhile and just devoured the news that were spreading like bushfire in my Facebook newsfeed. I wanted to cry. But I couldn’t. My eyes just refused to cooperate to tear up. So, I was left with deep heaviness in my chest instead. I know that the heaviness will go away if I just cry. (This is my problem. It is always difficult for me to cry. I think if I could just cry, I can relieve this ache in my chest.)
I have been to Christchurch when I was a medical student. I went there with my housemates for a holiday during the first semester break of my 4th year of medical school. We enjoyed our New Zealand trip very much because New Zealand is just such a beautiful country. I never thought that this tragedy could happen in New Zealand because my impression was New Zealanders were much more tolerant towards ‘other’ people compared to their Australian counterparts. They are more progressive in terms of giving their indigenous people (the Maoris) their rights and privileges. The rights of the Maoris in New Zealand are better preserved and protected than the rights of the Aboriginals in Australia.
So when something heartbreaking like this happened in Christchurch, I just could not process it!
And then I found out that the evil perpetrator behind this massacre was an Australian who has a Neo-Nazi political leaning.
Well…. I love Australian people. Most of them are lovely and kind. But some of them can be such racist rednecks! Five years in Australia taught me all I need to know about white supremacy and racism. My experience in Australia shaped me into the kind of person I have become now. I am a person who is super-sensitive to any form of racism or supremacy or ‘budget bagus’ group. You can judge anyone as an individual if you are so inclined. But don’t overgeneralize the whole group because of any mistake done by some individuals in that group. I COULD NOT tolerate that EVER. Muslims living in the West post 9/11 would understand the kind of suffering we had to endure when we were all painted with the same brush. To them, either we were evil terrorists or oppressed Muslim women! Either way, we were treated with suspicions and being looked at as inferior just because we wore the hijab outside the house.
I remember how I felt like I had to prove myself as a Muslim medical student in Australia. I had to do MORE to get the same kind of respect or esteem that the Australians effortlessly enjoyed. As an introvert, it took some adjustment for me to push myself to be extra-friendly, to be outspoken in tutorials, to join group discussions, to mingle with people (now doing these things is much easier for me these days… especially the outspoken part. Haha) I had to do all these extra efforts in an attempt to contradict the degrading narrative of what being a Muslim woman was perceived to be (when actually, I really preferred to keep quiet and just went home and read my books). Whenever I couldn’t answer any question in the tutorial group, I felt so embarrassed (more embarrassed than I would have been if I were in Malaysia) because I felt like I was feeding the stereotype that Muslim women are stupid by my inability to come up with a sensible answer. I felt like I had to say something (anything!) in the tutorial even when I had nothing to say. I felt like I had to fill up my speech quota of the day in order to appear fully switched on and involved in the tutorial discussion. I felt that way after finding out that some tutors had complained to the admin that “the Malaysian students are too quiet and not participating in the tutorial discussion”. So during each tutorial session, I doubled my effort to appear extrovert because apparently, the more you talk, the more intelligent people think you are. *rolled eyes* (And yes, Australians are very extrovert! And so, people who are too quiet would be thought of as less intelligent or less capable) So, I strove harder in order to contradict the stereotyped image of what being a Muslim woman was. My sweetest moment was when my assignment on Health Equity Selective was being put up on my uni website (in our students blackboard page) as an example to the juniors in the batch below mine on how to write a Health Equity Selective project in the category of Psychiatry. Me, an International student whose English is only a second language, got the opportunity to display my assignment as a guidance for the juniors to emulate when doing their psychiatry Health Equity Selective… I was over the moon! (Yup, I had chosen Psychiatry for my Health Equity Selective project. I have been interested in Psychiatry since I was a medical student and had chosen that field for my elective.) I was over the moon because I felt like I had proven a point. It was like, I was saying “See… a Muslim student is not that stupid. If we don’t talk as much in our tutorial session, it is because some of the things are obvious already… that it is not even worth mentioning. And English is our second language… it takes more energy for us to come up with any sort of conversation compared to you guys. If we are a bit slow in articulating our thoughts, that is only to be expected, isn’t it? Besides, we just don’t feel the need to stand out all the time.”
My Malaysian juniors were like “Kami bangga sangat tengok Health Equity Selective Kak Afiza masuk dalam blackboard. Malaysia boleh gitu!”
I am proud of my juniors too. I was proud whenever I see my Malaysian juniors were more well-adjusted and had assimilated better with other Australian students compared to us, the seniors. The juniors learned from our own mistakes and put more effort in making Australian friends. They experienced less criticism that “the Malaysian students do not mingle with people. They like to keep to themselves and don’t put in any effort to assimilate with the whole batch”. As the years progressed and we started getting more Malaysian students among our junior batches, I thought, we were doing such a good job of portraying that Muslims were not as bad as what were shown in the media. Slowly but surely, I felt like the stereotype against Malaysian students were eroding. My heart burst out with pride when I saw how Malaysians were very heavily involved in our university Islamic Society (I myself was the treasurer of University of Newcastle Islamic Society at one time) and we were always the front-liners when it came to interacting with non-Muslims at the Islamic booth during Islamic Awareness Week. Compared to the Saudi or other Middle Eastern Muslims, Malaysian leadership shone bright in the Islamic Society. (Perhaps because our command in English was better than them). We could answer controversial questions about Islam quite well while guarding the booth. All in all, we were making pretty good progress.
But it could get pretty tiring. Always having to prove yourself over and over again is tiring. Whenever there were new incidents of terrorism and bombings in the Western world, I felt like all our hard work to prove that Muslims are good people were completely undone. And we had to do it all over again. Prove ourselves all over again. It was exhausting. Mentally and physically draining.
But I never regret any of it! Because the struggle that I had gone through made me who I am today. There is beauty in the struggle that we have to face in order to live up to our Muslim identity and Muslim ideals when we are living in a non-Muslim country. Looking back, I was my best self in spirituality when I was a medical student in Australia. Because of the struggle I had to face in Australia, I was more conscious of God and more connected to my religion than I ever was in Malaysia. I invested more time to learn about Islam properly (partly because I had to prepare answers for the questions that non-Muslims liked to ask). I was my most patient self when I was in Australia… because I was carrying the image of a Muslim and I did not want my bad behaviour to tarnish the name of my religion. In Australia, I had a purpose GREATER than my own self because I had to be a small ambassador to my religion! So despite all the struggles and the difficulties, I was very motivated. Our social support were the usrah-attending seniors who kept reminding us to be good, to do good, to strive for the hereafter and not just the dunya. (This is the part of myself that I miss the most, now that I am in Malaysia. I miss the Afiza who was nice. Because the current Afiza is not so nice! Hahah. Somehow, after coming back from Australia, I have retained my outspokenness but have not retained being nice. Perhaps because Malaysians are not always nice too….they are not always ethical…they don’t have values of respect or punctuality or cleanliness or efficiency…. they can be lazy… they can trample on your rights… and if I am too nice and not outspoken enough, I will be oppressed. And I don’t want that.)
Allah had planned my life so beautifully, Alhamdulillah.
At 18 years old, I was grieving the death of my friend. Looking back, maybe I had an existential crisis at that time because I was so shocked by the fragility of life. That my friend could die at such a young age! I wondered, what was this life all about? For two years, I was wondering to myself about existential stuff, but afraid to vocalize them out for fear that they would label me “tak kuat iman”. And then Allah sent me to Australia where I met religious people who could answer all my questions. Alhamdulillah, my existential crisis resolved then. I became a firm believer. I came across someone in Melbourne who answered my questions patiently, systematically… scientifically, even! Suddenly, I felt a sense of spiritual awakening that I had never experienced before that summer, which was my first summer in Australia. I knew then that Islam is logical; that it makes sense! If things do not make sense, you must double-check whether it is truly religious in the first place. I was ecstatic and grateful for all that I had learned that summer. It is nice to have real faith! (I was so relieved! Finally, the horror of the Israilyat stories I had to swallow in KMB can be vomited out once and for all without feeling any guilt. That’s why I will always love Australia, the place where I had experienced an exponential growth, mentally and spiritually! There would never be a time when I think of Australia without a sense of nostalgia. It’s just not possible. Some of the things I had learned in Australia STILL influence my behaviour until now!)
I believe, some Muslims would have an existential crisis after witnessing this current heartbreaking incident. Some of the family members of the deceased might experience what I had experienced during the period of grieving. They would start questioning… why are there so many dreadfulness in this world? Why do people do evil things? Why didn’t God do something about it? Why didn’t He intervene? Why is this world so unfair? Why was I even created? What am I supposed to do in this life? Is Islam really the right religion? How do I know that? What if I am in the wrong faith… what will happen to me when I die, then?
They might have all these questions as they deal with the death of their loved ones. And hopefully, they will go through the cognitive process of finding the answers… and finally be at peace in their faith. You cannot bury these questions and silence your conscience. Repressing your doubts will not help you find peace. You must actively engage with your intellect and answer the questions that you have about the religion, about faith, about life after death. Otherwise, you will always be in doubt. And it won’t be real iman. You will not experience true peace that comes with firm belief. You will not feel confident to take any action, to speak up, to do what you believe is right… because you are not even REALLY sure if God is real and that He will help you out of any trouble.
So, don’t bury your internal existential crisis or your philosophical conflict. Answer them! Seek and you shall find! And believe me, what you find will be beautiful and priceless!
I have been busy preparing for my CASC exam these days. As usual, I am at my most neurotic self while preparing for exams, LOL. I would start thinking about how much money will be lost if I fail my exam. I would start thinking about “ah, aku dah tak larat nak study! I just want to be a chronic MO.” Hahha.
Sometimes, I mourn my lack of time for fiction reading. It is ridiculous how much I sweat the small stuff.
I forgot that there are other more important things in life other than being a nerd and passing your exam. I forgot that my fiction-reading are trivial, picisan stuff! Stuff of amusements and ‘main-main’.
In other parts of the world, people are fighting for their lives!
On the same day that the mosques in Christchurch were attacked, Israel had also launched series of airstrikes across Gaza! We have thousands, if not millions, of our Muslim brothers and sisters in various parts of the world undergoing physical and mental suffering… all at the same time! And I am worried about exams? And about reading fiction? Gosh, Afiza… you are preposterous!
Sometimes, I have to admit, I can be really stupidly ridiculous. I am done worrying about trivial stuff! Because there’s more to life.
For as long as I can remember… everytime I was overwhelmed by my study, some sort of tragedy would be breaking news and made me realize that my struggle was not significant at all in the general scheme of things. For example, in 2010, while I was preparing for my final General Medicine exam, the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, which was a civilian ship bringing aid to the Palestinians, was attacked by the Israel Navy in May 2010. The attack by the Israel Navy was bravely resisted by the civilians on the ship; nine activists died and many were wounded. I was worried sick about my exam at that time. But after reading about what had befallen the Mavi Marmara ship, I had felt similarly ridiculous as I am feeling now for being too worried over small stuff when people are fighting for something greater than even their own lives!
I composed a poem for Mavi Marmara at that time entitled FORGIVE MY SCOWL which I had uploaded into the poetry section in this blog. I composed that poem after taking a pause from studying my General Medicine notes in order to clear my muddled head and to lift up the overwhelming heaviness in my chest.
This is also why I am taking a pause from my CASC studying and writing this post today. To clear my head. To lift up the heaviness in my chest. Because I just couldn’t cry. Because to compose a poem, it would take a much greater mental strength than I possess. Because I am too mentally exhausted by all the bloodshed.
I pray, that all Muslims would unite together and peacefully respond to this sad calamity in a positive way. I hope, there will be no revenge bombing by Muslims because it would only make matters worse for our brothers and sisters in the West. Trust me, I had enough experience of how terrible it is to be in the West when so-called Muslims commit an act of terrorism somewhere. (Nak masuk lecture hall keesokan hari pun rasa nervous! Rasa malu! Belum lagi rasa takut kena attack bila terpaksa jalan berseorangan.) Please, no revenge bombing targeting innocent people, be it Muslims or non-Muslims. Please, no more bloodshed.
I leave all my readers with a reminder to live in this world like a traveler or a stranger. Because, really… isn’t that what we are? Until we reach our final destination, we are only a traveler along the path of life. Hopefully, we will find something precious and beautiful along the way.