Celebrating Eid During The Covid-19 Pandemic

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Eid Mubarak to all Muslims in the world. May Allah accept all the good deeds from us and from you.

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Dear readers,

I am so blessed and so lucky that I was able to celebrate Eid at my parents’ house this year even though we are still under the conditional movement control order. There was a time, not so long ago that I thought I would not be able to come back to Alor Setar for Eid and might need to remain in Johor Bahru where I was doing my clinical attachment. Alhamdulillah, things worked out quite beautifully in the end, the details of which I wouldn’t bother you guys with. But it did involve going to the police station and getting the head of the police station to sign a letter of approval saying that I had a valid reason to come back home to Alor Setar. So I was able to make the journey home without much trouble once I had obtained the police’s approval. I made the journey on the very last day of Gerak Malaysia which was on the 10th of May 2020, on Sunday.

Eid while dealing with Covid is a unique experience that hopefully will never be repeated in our lifetime.

So, I thought it would be nice to just have a record of how the Muslims celebrate Eid with Covid-19 in our midst. If this is something you are curious to know, keep on reading. Otherwise, please do something more productive with your time as what I am going to write below is just my own personal experience and I am not going to be imparting any kind of thoughts or opinions on any current issues or any matter related to medicine or psychiatry. I know some of you who read my blog are medical students or HOs or MOs… and you are busy people who lead busy life. It is very important to prioritize in how we spend our time.

So, now that I have written that disclaimer, proceed at your own risk. LOL

Breaking Fast With Mom’s Delicious Cooking

Upon arriving in Alor Setar, I did self-quarantine in my own house before seeing my own parents and other family members (because I came from JB which used to be a red zone and Alor Setar was a green zone at that time. Now sadly, Alor Star is no longer a green zone.) It is really convenient that my parents and I, even though we live in the same town, keep separate household. It comes in handy during the time of pandemic because there will be times when my job as a healthcare worker might involve me having to limit contact with my parents and the rest of the family members, so as not to put them at risk. But my mom, being a loving mother that she is, always came over to send me food for iftaar ever since I got back to Alor Setar. (Ah… one of the best reason to be in my hometown when there were still some days left of Ramadhan was the opportunity to break my fast with my mom’s delicious cooking. Seriously, after staying in a nursing hostel for 6 months when I was in JB, I have had enough of Grab food.  I actually missed doing my own cooking, would you believe it? I don’t even LIKE to cook most of the time.)

Being an adult who is still able to enjoy the presence and the support of her mother and father during this trying time of Covid-19 Pandemic is one of the many blessings I have in my life. There were many times when I had found myself wondering how do other people cope without their parents support? Does anyone ever get used to losing their parents even  though they are already an adult? Alhamdulillah, thank you Allah, for still allowing me the blessing of having my parents with me.

In The Memory of My Tok Wan…

One of the many things I did after being done with self-quarantine was visiting the grave of my paternal grandfather… my Tok Wan. Heartbreakingly, I lost my Tok Wan while I was in JB in the first few days of Movement Control Order. He passed away on Friday afternoon, 20th of March 2020.

I was not able to pay my last respect to him and most of my siblings were also not around at that time and could not cross borders. The fact that my father had to hasten the funeral because of the Covid-19 pandemic made it impossible for me to reach home in time for the funeral to pay my last respect. I checked out various airlines websites, and I found out that even if I could make the arrangement to travel home, the funeral would be over before I could even board the plane. He was buried on the very same day after the Isya’ prayer.

I will always remember him in all my prayers.

I have always known that I was his favourite grandchild. Because he made it so obvious that all my siblings could not fail to notice it, even when we were just young kids. Initially when they first accused me of being the favourite, I had denied it because I felt like he surely loved us all the same. But after some time, we all accepted it as a fact and I didn’t bother denying it anymore hahaha.

He bought me  a piece of gold jewellery to reward me for my UPSR result… he never bought any of my siblings any present for their exam results even though they scored straight As too. He never asked my father where my other siblings were if they didn’t turn up to his house. But if I didn’t turn up to his house (well, I was abroad for my medical study and could not make it home for Raya or for some family events sometimes) he would notice and ask about me. It was me that my parents would ask to persuade my grandfather to be compliant to all his medication. It was me who would teach my grandfather how to use his puffer and when I noticed he could not use his puffer properly I then convinced him to use a spacer with his puffer.

With my parents, none of us knew which one of us is the favourite. We could speculate, but we couldn’t tell for sure, as our parents would treat us mostly the same, and any variations in their treatment of us was not obvious Hahah. I would say my Kak Long is the favourite but she would deny it and cite some other occasions and references in which it appeared as though it was I, or Wani or Izati or Alida who were the favourite. Really, we have no idea who is the favourite child and it remains a mystery for us until now.

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With my Tok Wan

But with my grandfather, I was clearly the preferred granddaughter. I think my grandfather loved me best because I had once stayed at his house for a few weeks of school holiday when I was 7 years old. None of my siblings wanted to spend their holiday in a kampung at that time. But as a child, I was fascinated by the rubber trees, the rubber fruits and the process of turning the rubber liquid into rubber sheets that I didn’t mind being the only one spending the holiday with my paternal grandparents without the rest of my siblings. I made some friends in the kampung too and I was spoiled rotten by the kids in the kampung because I was this young city girl who was having a vacation in a kampung (not that Alor Setar is REALLY a city haha… but compared to Baling, of course lah! Haha). They gave up their hammock for me whenever I wanted to sit on that hammock, I still remember. After awhile, I felt like that hammock was mine and it was my due to sit on it whenever I felt like it. And they allowed it too. Hahha. I was so bad but they were so nice to me; perhaps because I was the youngest among them. I had a great time in my grandfather’s house even though it was a modest house in the middle of a huge rubber estate.  Until now, I love being amidst a lot of trees and quiet nature … one of the reasons I love hiking was because there were a lot of trees. It was calming to my mind to be in nature and greeneries.

I was really sad that I could not be with him in his last moments. This wasn’t how I envision his passing would be. I wasn’t able to write about this a few months ago when I was still dealing with the grief. But now that I have visited his grave and paid my respect, I feel like writing a tribute about him is how I properly put a closure to this. He was the last grandparent we had…. for a long time, he was  the ONLY grandparent we had (because my other grandparents on my mom’s side had passed away since we were little kids).

And with his passing, I have no grandparents left.

I visited his grave a few days before Eid. A lot of Malays like to visit the graves of their loved ones on the day of Eid itself. Actually, this is not advisable and very much discouraged in Islam. Eid is the day of happiness and victory. It is SUNNAH to be happy on the day of Eid. And therefore I made it a point to NOT visit his grave during Eid and wanted to do it before Eid. All sadness must end with happiness. Eid is for us  to be happy and jovial. Not for us to be sad and disheartened.

But this was our first Eid without our grandfather.

May Allah forgive the sins of my grandfather and bless his soul with mercy and love. And may Allah grant him an abode in paradise. Amiin, Ya Rabb.

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إنَّا ِللهِ وإنَّا إلَيْهِ رَاجِعُوْن  *Innalillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un*
اللَّهُمَّ اغْفِرْ لَهُ وَارْحَمْهُ وَعَافِهِ وَاعْفُ عَنْهُ  *“Allahumma firlahu warhamhu wa`afihi wa`fu`anhu”*

First Day of Eid : The Eid Prayer

As you guys well know, because of the conditional MCO, congregational Eid prayer in the mosque was banned and the Muslims were encouraged to pray at home with their family members.

For Eid, there were only my parents, and the three middle sisters (me, Izati and Alida) as well as my two brother-in-laws (Izati and Alida’s husbands) and Alida’s three children (Ammar, Arissa and Alana) who would be celebrating together. The eldest and the youngest sister were not around as they could not cross the state borders to balik kampung (Kak Long and Wani, you were in our thoughts as we were eating ketupat, rendang and nasi arab. But never fear, our appetite was not affected by your absence regardless of how much we DO miss you. Heheh)

My father is not used to leading any congregational prayer. I think he has some form of performance anxiety about any kind of public speaking or public performance haha. So, he volunteered to perform the post-prayer doa, instead. Zul (Izati’s husband) also refused to lead the congregational prayer and volunteered to read out the khutbah (religious preaching after prayer) instead. So, it was left to Fairuz (Alida’s husband) to lead the congregational prayer because he was the last one to arrive at our makeshift praying area and did not yet volunteer for anything. So we told him that it was his job to lead the prayer because he was late. He was nervous but he did it. (Being late has a pretty dire consequence in the culture of my family. We are all pretty punctual people. But before Covid-19, none of the consequences involved having to be an Imam hahaha)

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But I must admit, it was really FUNNY having someone other than the usual and experienced Imam leading our prayer. We had to bite our lips and suck our cheeks hard to prevent ourselves from laughing hysterically during prayer. It was obvious that Fairuz was NOT used to leading a congregational prayer. It was the shortest Eid prayer I have ever had as Fairuz had only chosen very short Quranic surahs to recite LOL. Understandably, he was quite nervous for suddenly being given this responsibility just because he happened to arrive late at the place of prayer. Adeh.

And my dad’s recitation of the doa were not without some hitches and pauses too. My mom was red in the face as she tried not to burst out laughing. The khutbah however was not bad as it only required Zul to read the text off his handset but a real Imam would have performed it with more calibre, of course.

But all in all, we did it! We completed our Eid congregational prayer on our own well enough for the first time.

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Us praying…. Fairuz leading the congregational prayer, my dad and brother in law in the next row. At the back, from the left, there was me, Izati and my mom in our prayer clothing. Alida could not pray and was taking our picture while we were praying.

I was proud of the men in my family that they had stepped up and were able to perform the task of an imam, bilal and preacher eventually. Unfortunately, I think they knew that us the girls were finding it hard to control our amusement at the back. Alida who could not pray had taken our pictures while we were praying… and was it her voice I heard sputtering with suppressed mirth? She made it so difficult for me to NOT laugh while I was praying. So, I just smiled instead while simultaneously biting my lips hard. Needless to say, it was not a very khusyu’ prayer. Forgive me, oh Allah.

I remembered learning many years ago that smiling or grinning does not invalidate our prayer but I still experienced some niggling doubts about the validity of my prayer (because of my excessive smiling with intermittent lip biting while praying). So, afterwards, to REALLY calm myself down and settle the doubts, I googled whether or not smiling or grinning could invalidate your prayer. Haha. Good news! It didn’t.

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My instagram story Haha

 

First Day of Eid: The ‘Beraya’ Session

In our Malay culture we have what we call as ‘sesi beraya’ in which we would kiss the hands of our parents and hug them while asking for their forgiveness. And then we will repeat the same process with everyone in the family.

I am not entirely sure whether this practice is in the sunnah or not. I am pretty sure it wasn’t something that was specifically done for Eid during the Prophet’s time. I couldn’t recall learning anything like this in the sunnah. But I do know that during Eid, it is Sunnah to greet each other by saying Taqabbal Allahu Minna Wa Minkum (Meaning: May Allah accept the good deeds from us and from you). So that is how I always say in my Eid Mubarak wishes to others. It is easy pahala to follow this sunnah, right? Just say the words as it was said by the Prophet.

(However, the beraya session is not exactly against the Islamic practice. It is just cultural and it happens to be good practice to always ask forgiveness from each other. However please note that asking for forgiveness should be done whenever we make mistakes and this practice should not be allocated only for Raya time as it was not really done this way during the Prophet’s era. Allocating a specific practice for a specific time when it was NOT done by the Prophet could be construed as an innovation in the religion (Bid’ah) and it is very much frowned upon. Just to clarify that! Muslims should practice based on evidence.)

Below are the pictures of our Beraya session, which is also the time we would usually receive our Raya money. As they are my own family members and we have been living together for one week already, we do not practice social distancing with each other in this session because it would be pointless to do it. We have been inter-mingling so freely for many days already.

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And afterwards, we had our family Eid picture taken. We took many variations of the family picture… formal and cheeky ones of various poses were snapped in rapid succession. All of my sisters love posing in front of the camera and when I am with them I tend to get swept along by their excitement of having their pictures taken. I hardly take any picture or selfie when I am by myself but when I am with them I will play along and actually enjoy the process.

 

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As usual, me and the sisters had our indoor and outdoor photoshoot session. This is usually the time when we would miss the other sisters who could not make it for Raya the most. We didn’t miss them that much while eating our Eid food… but during photoshoot session, they were greatly and fondly remembered LOL. The outdoor photoshoot session has been our siblings’s peak Raya moments since we were small children, when we would pose in our new clothes pretending to be a model (without the height or the beauty. Hahah.) It is our siblings’ tradition! It is the pinnacle of what Raya fun is all about in the family.  (Well, this is what you get when all your siblings are girls… no brothers to put us in our place or check our sense of misplaced vanity Hahha.)

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Aggravatingly, my sisters did not think much of my Raya look this year (and ALSO any other year).

Look, I admit, I have never been much of a fashionista. Alida and Izati are the fashion enthusiast of the family. Whenever I shop for clothes, I prioritize comfort, practicality and economy over beauty or brands. If the outfit is TOO MUCH (too sparkly, too flowy, too difficult to iron) chances are I probably would not wear it again. So I won’t buy such an outfit. And as I am also not a frequent kenduri attendee and nor am I a social butterfly, I have no occasion to wear that kind of fancy clothes again. It just does NOT make sense to spend all that money for such an outfit which is only going to be worn once. Might as well I spend it on gold jewelries (I LOVE gold jewelries, guys…which are ALSO sparkly, but practical… something I can accessorize my plain clothes with. And it is an asset that can be easily liquidated should I be desperate for cash. So, I bought them as an investment… at least, that’s what I told myself. And I could never get enough #MamiJarumIsMe hahah. There was one time when I had a patient who was crying as she told me how her drug-addict husband had pawned off all her jewelries. In my mind I was like “Hmm…so, where did you hide his body after you murdered him?” LOL. Okay, just kidding. Please, don’t murder your husband if he took your gold jewelries. But heck, I would feel quite murderous towards those who stole my gold jewelries from me, guys. I am telling you!)

So below is the pic of my Raya #OOTD.

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Alida was like “Kak Ngah, why is it so grey? Why is it so dull? Will you at least wear a bright hijab with it? Wear a red hijab!” 

And then Izati said, “I thought it was cadar, at first.” (Cadar means bedsheet, guys! Bedsheet! How insulting!)

Can you believe my sisters? Hahah.

Of course I had no choice but to defend my outfit by telling them “Hey, this is in trend. My Raya concept is called monochromatic minimalist look. Google it. My sense of style is impeccable” Well, I had to say that, didn’t I? Cannot allow them to think I have a deficient sense of style.

They just rolled their eyes and continued to tell me how my sense of style is no style at all.  The nerve!

Sadly, even my mother did not really like my Raya look. But she was not as blunt as my sisters in criticizing it. I remember when she used to say how difficult it was to shop for my Raya clothes when I was studying overseas because I had so many conditions about my clothing. “No manik, no labuci, not too much flowers or patterns. Preferrably ONLY one colour without any corak. If got embroideries, the colour must be the same colour as the cloth.” My mom would be like “Susah la kak ngah ni. Mana ada orang jual baju raya macam tu. Pakai ja apa yang mak beli!” (At that time, the term “monochromatic minimalist” look was not popular yet so I  came out with all the conditions for my Raya clothes. Obviously, I was ahead of my time (LOL) and did not yet know that the ‘monochromatic minimalist look’ was the words I was looking for as I was describing my taste to my mom 10 years ago. Seriously Raya clothes is getting ridiculous these days. Like my friends had said in one of her Facebook postings “Depa ni jual baju raya ka baju kahwin?” Hahah. We are doctors… we are practical people. If we are going to buy clothes, we want to make sure we can wear it to work too. And as I don’t really wear baju kurung to work, I don’t really like to buy it.)

 

Eid Pot Luck With Beloved Friends

I still remember how sad I had felt when I thought I was probably going to be stuck in a nursing hostel in JB for Eid. Not exactly an uplifting thought that was. Even though I am not the sort of person who gets severely homesick, but I must admit that after MCO was enforced (and therefore I could not return home to pay my last respect to my Tok Wan and neither could I return home once a month as I had first planned when I decided to do my attachments in JB), I started to feel very acutely the bitterness of being separated from my family. I enjoyed the actual postings themselves and learned a lot too but at the same time, I REALLY just wanted to be home. It was a blessing that Gerak Malaysia happened just in time to coincide with my end of posting.

So I felt so sorry for my friends who could not cross borders to be with their family. It must be so difficult for them. I thought it would be nice if I could spend some portion of my 1st and 2nd Syawal with them too and celebrate with them so that they wouldn’t feel so sad or bored. (Because I could be pretty entertaining when I put my mind to it. Hahaha. Excuse my perasan thought.)

On the first day of Syawal, Hafilah organized the makan-makan first for Isma and Dayah, the two friends of ours who could not cross the state borders. We went to Hafilah’s house in the afternoon and had a great chat about how people are stigmatizing doctors and healthcare workers during Eid. I heard that some people did not allow their family members who are health care workers to balik kampung even though they are in the same home town. My God!

In the social media you guys hailed us as heroes. But at the same time, you don’t want us around you for Raya even though we are in the same home town as you? This is ridiculous. Thank God my family is not like that. And if they are like that, I have all the facts and figures to correct their stigma. (Statistically speaking, the public have a higher chance of contracting Covid-19 compared to health care workers, ok! We wear our PPE all the time while attending to patients. Whereas the public can ALSO contract Covid-19 while doing their grocery shopping without wearing proper PPE and they wouldn’t even realize it. The head of the family could return home after shopping and bring back the virus to the rest of the family members too; just like the health care workers could bring back the virus to her family. But unlike the public, the health care workers are super vigilant about hygiene and using the PPE. So in terms of risks, we are not that different. In fact I would argue that the public have even worse risk when we look at the statistics. There are not many front-liners or healthcare workers who are infected with Covid-19.  What makes you think that you are less risky to your parents than your family members who are health care workers, then?)

Anyway, after that hot discussion, we took some outdoor pictures while still maintaining social distancing. Below are some of the pictures that we took while doing our Eid visit at Hafilah’s home. Please note how we maintained our social distancing while taking our Raya pics hahha

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On the 2nd Day of Syawal, it was my turn to organize a Pot Luck party for Isma and Dayah. Hafilah and Isma requested that I cook the meal myself as I have always jokingly told them how my cooking skill is not so bad. I told them that I cooked very tasty nasi goreng and my Pek Nga is just out of this world. Haha. They were like “Prove it, Afiza. Words are cheap!” 

I told them “Takkan raya nak makan nasi goreng!” I wanted to just order something for my Pot Luck party. But they wanted me to prove that I could cook. Hahah. I regretted boasting about my cooking… because it REALLY was a boast.

So I decided to cook bihun goreng instead. And then I bought some chickens from KFC to eat with my bihun goreng. I also bought carbonated drinks (Pepsi, because I couldn’t find Coke in the gas station shop), to have with my bihun goreng, brownies and kek lapis Sarawak. (Bihun goreng with Coca-Cola have always been my favourite kind of pairing. I still remember how I had insisted that I want bihun goreng and Coca-Cola for my Majlis Khatam Quran when I was a child. My mom was horrified when she said “Kak Ngah, majlis khatam Quran orang buat pulut kuning dgn air sirap. Mana ada orang buat bihun dengan Coca-Cola. Ish, mak hairan la dengan kak ngah ni.” Hahha. But I was so adamant about getting bihun goreng and Coca Cola because I felt like they should give me what I liked to eat as this was a celebration of my achievement. My dad finally said that I should get what I wanted and so my mom gave in eventually. And really, all the kids in my surau enjoyed the meal too. They said it was the best meal they had ever had for a Majlis Khatam Quran. So, when I chose to cook Bihun Goreng for my Pot Luck contribution, I was also reminiscing my glorious childhood days in which I could get away with doing something weird and against the norm but it turned out splendidly well, anyway. Seriously, who made it a rule that for khatam Quran, you MUST have pulut kuning? Where is it written anywhere that we cannot change our menu if we don’t like pulut kuning? Hahha. But really, looking back, I was blessed to have my parents who entertained my weird ways. Even though they were pretty strict parents, in some ways they were quite indulgent.)

I hosted my Pot Luck at my own house instead of at my parents’ house because I wanted to minimize the risk of unnecessary contact with strangers for my elderly parents and my nieces and nephews. Before this, all types of Raya gatherings were hosted at my parents’ house with very minimal effort on my part as everything was cooked and prepared by my mother and we only helped out here and there. This was the first time I  entertained my own guests in my own house and prepared everything myself. It was pretty hard work, guys. After the Subuh prayer, I straightaway came down to the kitchen to prepare my Bihun and only THEN I really appreciated how effortful it is to organize a party. (I felt like such an adult hahah. And it took Covid-19 MCO for me to volunteer as a host. Without MCO, I would never have done it). 

To tell you the truth, I am not the sort of person who entertain people in my own house. When I want to hang out with friends, I find ways that we can hang out and talk with very minimal effort on my part. Let’s just go out and eat and talk. Simple and less time-consuming and more efficient, right? Minimal input that yields the best output!

For me to invite you into the privacy of my own home, you must be pretty close to me. For me to be going through all these efforts, Isma and Dayah must be feeling pretty special (Hahahaa just kidding) I don’t do these sort of things for just anyone, you know. And it might not happen again in the future LOL. So I hope they really had a good time because I certainly did. God knows when I would be hosting again. Next time, I am more likely to just ask them to choose a restaurant instead.

Izati and Alida were like, “Since when are you so sweet to cook for your friends?”

See? Inilah hikmah Covid-19! It brings out the dormant sweet nature in me into the open. Haha.

Dayah and Isma brought so much more food and they were all yummy. There were lontong, kuah kacang, ketupat pulut, ketupat nasi, daging palembang (sedap gila this one!) and a lot of kuih raya too.  Hafilah brought ice cubes because I forgot that I didn’t have them in my house (Alas, a great host, I am NOT).

Below are the pics of our Pot Luck party. In one of the pictures, you can see Hafilah and Dayah eating durian at the front door of my house. They insisted to buy Durian and eat them straightaway. I was like “Please eat your durian by the front door to minimize the smell of it in the air inside the house. After you eat, please throw everything in the bin outside the house.” Hahahaa. (I know I am a terrible host. But that is the beauty of an intimate gathering between ONLY close friends… straight talking is expected and encouraged. Me and Isma are not a fan of Durian. We could eat it occasionally, but we do not like it THAT much. The smell of Durian can be migraine-inducing for Isma. Adeh! But see how we can tolerate our friends’ habits when our friends are worth tolerating? I have my own bad habits that I am sure they have been tolerating pretty patiently all these while. They keep saying I am pretty rigid haha. Thank God for friends who are understanding and accepting of you but at the same time will improve your manners and call you out when you slack off. We all need that type of friends.)

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A trip to Poh Kong And Habib Jewels

Ah… we lose to temptation, guys. We surrendered to the lure of the Raya sales.

Dayah is a fan of gold jewelries too. And I think Isma was heavily influenced (or peer-pressured? haha) by Dayah and me to take an interest in gold too. Whereas Hafilah is more into white-gold, platinum and diamond kind of jewelries. (Well, Hafilah exists at another level altogether with a lot more money to burn than the rest of us hahah.)

So when we found out that Habib Jewels got sales, we went to Aman Central to check it out. #TheTemptationIsTooGreat

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See how excited Isma, Dayah and Hafilah were as they were looking over the jewelry pieces that were displayed so enticingly to tempt us.

Dayah and Isma bought something from Habib Jewels. And I bought something from Poh Kong. We think of it as #InvestmentDuringCov-Eid, in order to soothe the guilt and justify our spending.

Usually, I am not the type who goes to the mall on the day of Eid. But it so happened that because of Covid-19, there were no houses to visit and there really was not much to do at home. At the same time my birthday was just one day before Eid. So, my parents had given me some money as a birthday gift so that I could buy a nice handbag with it. However, since I knew that Habib Jewels got sales, I wasn’t too keen to spend money on handbags. Like I said, I am NOT a fashionista and I am NOT brand conscious. I am not going to spend so much money on branded handbags and I’d rather use the birthday money to buy gold jewelries. (There are only two things I really like as a gift: books and gold. A meal is lovely too. You know, I like practical stuff that I can use or consume Hahha). 

Some people think that it is high-maintenance of us to spend money on gold jewelries. As though we are materialistic. That is so short-sighted! Gold is the only easily-liquidated asset that is worth buying. Gold could see you through bad times. When desperate, it can be pawned off immediately with minimal fuss or paperwork and it can sustain you for quite some time. No other investment is easily liquidated like that.

I will NOT spend money on brands…. I think people who are brand-conscious are the real high-maintenance people. Not us, gold lovers. I prefer to spend money on things that are INHERENTLY and INTRINSICALLY valuable; not because the society says it is valuable… but because it just REALLY is. When something is inherently valuable, its worth will be INDEPENDENT of other people’s opinions and thoughts and its value will stand the test of time. Can you say the same thing for fashion brands? No! Brands are dependent on society’s opinions and people’s tastes and the society’s constant fickle-mindedness. And they are NOT intrinsically and inherently valuable. (Therefore when I have to spend my money on other things – that are NOT gold and NOT knowledge/travel/experience and NOT food hahha – I am very stingy and I always stick to the principles of ‘sekadar cukup’)

So when I got home and showed my parents what I bought, my dad was like “Awat tak beli handbag?” Hahaha. Maybe he also despaired of my lack of style and wanted to induce me to buy something nice other than gold. But ah… old habit dies hard, guys. I would probably buy a handbag as my father had asked me to do if there was no Habib Jewel sales. But the timing was just too coincidental… it was Raya and it was my birthday and there were sales at jewelry shops. See? The stars were perfectly aligned to induce my manic buying. LOL. And look, it was peer pressure as well…Dayah and Isma bought gold too (even though I bought it first at Poh Kong hahah. So maybe it was I who pressure them?) So the element of peer pressure was very real this time when everyone in the group is into gold. (Well… when your action cannot be justified, you blame peer pressure. Classic, am I not? 😉 )

So…anyway, despite Covid, it was actually a pretty happy Eid, guys. Alhamdulillah for the happiness of having awesome family and friends that Allah surrounds me with. After the despair of possibly not being able to come home for Eid, this was a great blessing, indeed.

Book of The Month

Of course the book of the month I will be writing about is The Quran as we have just exited the month of Ramadhan and is currently in the early days of Syawal. I spent my whole Ramadhan only reading the Quran because I did not have much time to read anything else.

This review is a simple review for the non-Muslims who may not know that much about the Quran and would like to have a general idea of what the Quran is.

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Quran is the word of God

As a Muslim kid, it was my mother who first taught me how to read the Quran. I was 5 years old when she started teaching me how to spell in Arabic. Later, I was sent to the local surau to learn my Quranic recitation with an ustazah. I was pretty good at tajweed and I was among the fluent ones who were later asked by the ustazah to teach the younger kids. It was common practice back then for the fluent senior reciters to help teach the more junior reciters especially when the ustazah was busy.

But I didn’t understand what I was so fluently reading.

Because the Quran is in Arabic.

The peculiar thing about being a non-Arab Muslim is that it will be hard for us to understand what we are reciting of the Quran without reading the translation, unless we have learned the Arabic language. (And 80% of Muslims are NOT Arabs. Arabs are the minority among Muslims). We can read the Arabic text of the Quran and articulate the words the way they were supposed to be articulated, but not all of us understand the meanings of what we are reciting.

It is like knowing how to spell and read in Hindi and knowing how to make all the sounds that correspond to the combination of alphabets in the Hindi language but you do not understand a single thing of what you are saying. Well, imagine being able to read out the lyrics of a Hindi song that is written in the Hindi language but you could not understand what you are singing.  (It is a bit like receptive aphasia. You read it and say it perfectly right because you had known how the combination of the alphabets SHOULD sound, but you cannot know what all the sounds mean without reading the translation).

This is due to the fact that non-Arab Muslims MUST learn Quranic recitation in its original Arabic language because our 5 daily worships and some of our special do’a are in arabic. Our worships are not valid in any other language. So the arabic language is the lingua franca in our prayers. Everyone recite the same surah Al-Fatihah for prayers and everything in the prayer is standardized by the usage of the Arabic language. So if I go to a mosque in Australia, or in the UK or Uganda, or Spain, or just anywhere on earth, I can just join the congregational prayer as usual because the prayer is the same anywhere on earth. All of us might come from various different nationalities, but we all pray using the same unified language of worship – the Arabic language. An Ugandan Imam can lead the prayer for other nationalities behind him and they all would know what to say and what to do while the prayer was being led by the Ugandan Imam because we ALL use the lingua franca of worship while performing our worship – i.e. the Quranic Arabic language.

That’s why my brother-in-law can be an Imam to lead our congregational prayer when we had to do our Eid prayer at home (even though he did appear and sound a bit awkward when he did it hahaha). Because all Muslims practice the same way in worshipping…. and therefore anyone can take over the job of leading a prayer if they are confident enough or when desperate times call for their lead. I can lead a prayer too when I am just praying among girls because the words in the prayer are standardized in Arabic. And anyone can do it. (In Australia, me and my housemates took turn leading the Terawih prayers during Ramadhan. Initially, we did laugh at each other’s awkwardness and choice of short surahs. But by the end of Ramadhan, we did actually improve our performance.)

At the end of our standard worship, we can later add on our own specific do’a and our own special prayer/requests to God in our own language – this is the non-obligatory part of the worship where we can have our own unique style of making the do’a and use our own words for it. This is the part where we naturally talk to God in our own way. (In the past, this is the part where I would pray hard that God let me pass all my exams. Haha)

I have explained before, that access to God is granted equally to all Muslims. There is no such a thing as an extra holy practice for the scholars compared to the non-scholar Muslims. So everyone can be an Imam when we have to… and Covid-19 Pandemic has highlighted that part beautifully. We just need to practice more to be less awkward in performing it.

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This is hilarious! Haha.

The Quran still exists in its original Arabic language word-by-word without a single alteration…because we always use it in our daily lives when we are performing our 5 daily worships… and this has been going on for the past 1400 years. The continuity of the tradition is amazing. Arabic is an alive language and is still used very widely (unlike Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Aramaic… they are no longer that frequently used in conversation or in anything academic. Language that are no longer used will eventually become a dead language. Languages that have become a dead language will not be efficient in transmitting information. So, for any holy book that has its original form existing in a dead language, the knowledge transmission cannot be widely distributed to all practitioners and thus only very few real scholars can access the message of the book and the majority of non-scholars will be left in the dark. Furthermore, translations are full of limitations… and the accuracy of any translation cannot be guaranteed. Have you tried translating any text from one language to another before? I had to do a lot of article translation as a child because that was how my father taught me and my siblings our English and Malay… it can be frustrating when you cannot translate the text just right because of the limitation that is inherent in one language or the other.)

So, understanding the meaning of what we utter in Arabic would require some extra effort for non-Arabs. We must read the translation in order to know what we are saying. But at least we do know that the Arabic language is  still a very alive language and therefore Quranic messages are still preserved in its pristine and unchanged form and the messages are accessible to all the Arabs and also to the non-Arabs who have studied the language.

So whenever I read the Quran during Ramadhan… I have to be really efficient with my time because I need to do double the work; I have to read the Arabic text first (to get the pahala of reciting the Quran in its original form) before going on to read the translation of the Quran (to understand the meaning and the message, which would also give you pahala). So I was pretty much in a rush to finish the Quran during Ramadhan, knowing that I have more work to do because I don’t know Arabic. (I become even more particular about not wanting people to waste my time when I am in the month of Ramadhan.)

When I was just a child, I only read the Arabic version without really feeling like I need to know the meaning of the Quran. I only memorized the translations of some of the frequently used surahs during prayer but I did not bother to know the meanings of the ENTIRE Quran. However while I was doing my IB study as an 18 year old teenager, I finally felt like it was time for me to know the message of the entire Quran. This sudden interest started after my ex-classmate passed away in a car accident. It made me think a bit deeper about life when she passed away. And since then, I always read the Quran in Arabic together with its translation. I started to read the Malay translation first and later on, I moved on to the English translation too (I must admit that I prefer the English one for accuracy)

It was then that I knew how ridiculous it was for any Muslim to NOT know the message of the entire Quran and only reciting them in Arabic. Sure, you will still get the pahala of reciting the Quran in its original language, but in terms of understanding the text and the context of the Quran, how is it different from me singing Hindi songs without knowing what I was singing?

Looking back, I felt like the ustazah in my surau should have insisted that all the kids use the Quran with translations included. It would have been nice to have learned the meanings of the Quran while simultaneously learning my Quranic recitation in Arabic as a child. Children can absorb language pretty fast and I wonder if I could have obtained a more intuitive understanding of the Arabic language if I was exposed to the meaning of the Quran much sooner.

When you read the Quran, you will find that it is not the same as reading a story book. The structure of the Quran is entirely unique and it doesn’t follow the chronological order of the usual book. There were no words like “Once upon a  time… in the beginning…” 

Nope! Instead, when you read the Quran you really DO feel like it is God who is directly talking to you. Because the Quran is the instruction of God to our prophet. God was instructing, advising, directing, calming and soothing Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in many different contexts and situations. God directly told our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on what to tell the masses whenever a specific question was asked. So our Prophet only repeated what God had said to him.

So when you read the Quran, you will find words that are instructive and conversational in nature. God himself taught Prophet Muhammad how to answer it when people asked him about the nature of God by revealing these four sentences from Surah Al-Ikhlas.

1)Say (O Muhammad) “He is Allah, the One and Only (Unique)”

2)Allah, the Eternal Refuge

3)He begets not, nor was he begotten

4) And none is comparable to him

So in the above sentences we knew that it was God’s own words telling our Prophet (PBUH) how to answer his audience about the nature of God. We really do feel like we are reading the words of God. So we don’t get passive storybook sentences like “One day, God told Muhammad regarding how he should describe the nature of God to those who had asked. Muhammad was informed by God to say that the nature of God is that God is uniquely One, and does not beget a son nor is He begotten. Muhammad was also asked to emphasize to the masses that none can be compared to Him….”

Do you see the difference? Storybook sentences are a retelling by someone else who is NOT God. You feel like you are reading the words of a NARRATOR instead of God, Himself. And this is NOT how Quran’s language style is. Quran’s language style is God’s own words. And we repeat them in our daily prayers 5 times a day. Amazing, isn’t it?!

So if you read the Quran expecting to read it like you are reading a story book, you probably wouldn’t get it. You would be confused at first. Take it from me… I was confused too when I first tried to read the translations of the Quran. Because my mind was so used to the usual storybook style and structure that I was quite disoriented at first. But as I continued to read it, I was blown away. I was REALLY reading God’s words… not the words of a narrator retelling a story. I was reading from the direct source; from God himself.

Now that I have passed all my exams, I am quite free with my time. I am thinking that maybe I should start learning Arabic so that my recitation will be more efficient. If I am good in Arabic, I don’t have to do double the work anymore or read everything twice in order to understand the meanings. If any of you have any recommendation of a good Arabic class nearby in Alor Setar, do let me know. Otherwise, I might need to do it online.

The contents of the Quran consisted of 114 chapters and each chapter (except one: Chapter At-Taubah) begins with the words Bismillahhirahmanirrahim which is translated to “In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful”.

In general, the Quran contained topics such as:

  • The Nature of the Spiritual World
  • The Law and Commandments
  • Historical Accounts
  • The Wisdom
  • The Prophecies

When you read the original Arabic version, you will get a sense as though you are reading an epic poem because the sentences rhymed beautifully in the end. When translated into other languages, the rhyme and rhythm are lost to give way for accuracy of meaning in another language. That is the limitation of understanding the Quran from translations. And that is why we need to learn Arabic if we have the means and the time to do it.

Wish me luck, won’t you?

I hope you guys have a sense of what Quran is all about by reading the review above. Do check it out as it is very easily accessible. Even Popular Bookstore sells the Quran.

Until next time, my dear readers.

Eid Mubarak. Taqabbal Allahu Minna Wa Minkum. Much love and may Allah bless all of us.

Ramadhan In The Midst of Covid-19

Dear readers,

I hope it is not too late for me to wish everyone a good Ramadhan (Covid-19 not withstanding) even though we are already in our 9th day of fasting (which means we have entered the 2nd week of the fasting month. Well, I guess, it IS a bit late for a Ramadhan wish LOL)

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You know, I have this ideal image in my mind of how a dedicated blogger should behave and run her blog. In my mind, a good and dedicated blogger should always write a blog post for every occasion and every celebration that is currently going on, right on time. Maybe she should publish a blog post wishing happy new year right on the eve of the new year day, and writes about Ramadhan on the first day of Ramadhan… or wishes all her readers Eid Mubarak on the eve of Eid itself. The blogger should also always be au courant with all the latest issues and write about it as soon as possible when the news is still hot.

Well…

I guess, I am never gonna be a dedicated blogger. LOL

I even failed to keep my promise to write one blog post per month as I didn’t write a single one in the month of April. Life is so hectic right now. *sigh* (One day, maybe…I will write about why April 2020 was such a bad month for me. But, Alhamdulillah ala kulli hal)

I will try to make up for it by writing twice this month, but since we have established the fact that I am not a dedicated blogger, I will not hold it against you if you find it hard to believe that I will write another one this month. I am finding it hard to believe myself. But I am thinking that maybe, Insya Allah, I will write one for Eid at the end of May and spam this blog with a lot of Eid photos of the family (even though some of my siblings won’t be around due to the banning of interstate travel during MCO. Ah… my heart breaks! I will miss playing our usual Raya games with my nephews and nieces.)

But Ramadhan is a month of blessing (even with the prospect of a less celebratory Raya in the midst of Covid-19 pandemic.) Some of my non-Muslim friends think that Muslims suffer so much throughout Ramadhan when actually, Ramadhan is not that hard. It is just like delayed gratification when you think about it. It was just about missing lunch, folks. It wasn’t THAT physically exhausting. So please don’t feel uncomfortable or apologize for eating your lunch in front of any Muslim because I don’t mind at all and most Muslims don’t either. The test of Ramadhan is not physical. And even if it is a physical test, it is a beneficial one as fasting brings a lot of health benefits as well. Intermittent fasting is all the rage and so trendy these days.

The test of Ramadhan is spiritual and psychological – which to me personally, is the same thing. (I cannot separate my psychological being from my spiritual being. Is there any REAL distinction between the two, anyway? Argument is still on going regarding this. I would argue that for religious people at least, they are one and the same. Psychiatry is translated as Perubatan Jiwa! Jiwa, ok! Can refer to the mind or the soul or BOTH! I personally make no distinction between my psychological health and my spiritual health. If there is any distinction, it is purely academic rather than practical. There’s a lot of semantics in studying Psychiatry, to those who don’t know.)

The purpose of fasting is to attain righteousness and God consciousness (taqwa). At the end of Ramadhan, it is not REALLY Eid that you get as a gift (even though Eid IS pretty awesome.) It is taqwa… having God consciousness. That is why Ramadhan is not a physical test. It is spiritual and/or psychological in nature.

fasting taqwa

The only thing that can cause you to restrain yourself from eating from dawn till dusk for 30 days straight when nobody is looking… is taqwa. That’s it.

If you VOLUNTARILY forego your food and drinks when no one is there to witness your action, it is because you truly believe that God is around and sees what you do. Otherwise why would you even bother? Young Muslim kids who first learn how to fast sometimes secretly break their fast when no one is looking because their concept of God is not perfect yet. (I admit that I also secretly ate as a child. *walk of shame* haha) As these kids mature and attain God consciousness, they believe that God sees them even when no one is around and therefore they fast properly and no longer cheat by eating secretly. Throughout the day as they experience thirst and hunger, their bodies remind them on and off to eat and drink, to disobey Allah…. But their minds tell them to hold on and wait until Maghrib, to delay that gratification. As they mature into their adulthood, they will fill up their Ramadhan not only with just proper fasting but also Quranic reading and non-obligatory worshipful acts on top of the obligatory ones. And for each subsequent Ramadhan, they continue to improve their performance and increase their worship of Allah, attaining taqwa gradually but surely throughout their lives. This constant need to improve their taqwa continues until the day they breathe their last air. They grow in piety… from a young Muslim kid who would secretly eat when no one is looking… to an elderly person who would cry when they are told by their doctor not to fast because their physical health does not allow it.

That is what Ramadhan means to Muslims. Taqwa. God consciousness.

So please don’t think that Ramadhan is about food and Bazaar Ramadhan only. Haha. We are not THAT hungry that we are so hung up about food. I had one Chinese colleague when I was a houseman who asked me “So you guys fast during the day, and then eat the whole night long, is it?” Hahaha. Apparently, they believe that we suffer so much during Ramadhan that we will make up for it by eating the whole night long until Subuh. But that is not true guys. After breaking our fast, we immediately perform our Maghrib prayer, Isya prayer, Terawih prayer, and then we will go to sleep early because we need to wake up early for other night prayers later on, as well as for sahoor (the early morning breakfast before the Subuh prayer). And of course, we work and study as usual during Ramadhan. When would we have the time to eat all night long? LOL.

But can’t really blame them for thinking that we behave like a hungry piranha during Ramadhan. The culture of Ramadhan in Malaysia unfortunately revolves around food…. Where else can you get so many open houses invitation a whole month long after Ramadhan other than in Malaysia? I don’t think such a culture exists in other Muslim countries. Based on my experience in Australia, the Arabs in Newcastle mosque only broke their fast with dates and some bread and then they would rush to perform their Maghrib prayer, leaving the Malaysian students still eating our rice and chicken to our hearts’ satisfaction. Hahaha. (Tak sanggup nak buka puasa with only dates. I need my rice, man! So that I can concentrate better in my Maghrib prayer. Hahha. So my eating rice is also for the sake of my prayer, right? Justified, isn’t it? 😛 )

Other people in other countries only celebrate Eid for one day and then they immediately start their 6 days Syawal fasting  (Puasa Enam). In Malaysia, you have to plan your Puasa Enam properly so that your fasting won’t coincide with various open house events around you… because even though fasting is supposed to be easy after one month of doing it, it is not so easy outside Ramadhan when every one of your friends seems to be attending daily food party all month long hahaha. And the fact that Puasa Enam is not compulsory, it makes it hard to deal with the temptation.

So you see, Malaysians are passionate about food. And therefore our Ramadhan culture is a bit skewed towards food-related concerns.

It is not so in other countries.

Ramadhan Is About The Quran

Actually Ramadhan is about the Quran rather than the food or the actual physical fasting.

Because the Quran was revealed in the month of Ramadhan.

When I was in Australia, I witnessed how the Arab Muslims carried the Quran all day long (at that time, we didn’t yet have smartphones with Quranic App) and would read the Quran cover to cover throughout Ramadhan. They read the Quran in any spare time that they got… while waiting for the bus, in between classes, a few minutes after the five obligatory prayers and so on and so forth. (Most Malays confine the reading of the Quran to when they are properly at home, wearing their prayer clothing and sitting on their prayer mat before they proceed to open the Quran. The shy Malays prefer to read the Quran in the privacy of their own home or in the mosque rather than publicly. But I think this self-imposed limitation is unwise and inefficient, especially in the month of Ramadhan when time is precious and we might not have enough private time to finish reading the Quran in Ramadhan. So, just discreetly read it on your phone when you have some spare time in between your daily activities. More efficient use of your time, right?)

Most Muslims will try to read the whole Quran in that month to celebrate what Ramadhan means in relation to the Quran. How many religious people in other religions can claim that they have read their religious book cover to cover in their lifetime, let alone reading it cover to cover every year? Most people only pick and choose which verse from their religious scriptures to read and practice. But Muslims cannot do that. The knowledge of the Quran is revealed for the whole of humankind in its entirety. It is not only for the scholars of Islam… but FOR ALL.

People think that being a Muslim is difficult. Like, Islam is too strict. They should read their own religious scriptures and try to follow them all before thinking that Islam is too strict… some of the religious practice in other scriptures are even harder to follow and therefore most of them simply abandon the practice to the priests or monks of their religion. But really… it doesn’t make their religion easier than Islam just because they don’t practice what they are supposed to practice were they to properly follow their own scriptures.

In this month of Ramadhan, I wish people would understand that Islam is not that hard as people had perceived. It appears hard in comparison to other religion because they DO NOT practice their own religion the way it is outlined in their own religious scriptures. Read your own scriptures cover to cover. Go and truly immerse yourself in your own religious book. And come back and tell me… can you follow the rules in your religion? Regular Muslims like me follow what is outlined in the Quran, which by your standard is too strict. But as strict as it is, it HAS been followed by the majority of practicing Muslims all over the world. As strict as it is, it is doable to most practicing Muslims. In fact the difference between one Muslim to another is only in scholarship status, not in religious practice.

For example, an ustazah and other Muslim women who are not ustazah are BOTH required to pray, fast, and do all the practices in Rukun Islam…and they are all required to wear the hijab regardless of whether they are a religious scholar or not (So, not following the compulsory rules is a sin… not just for the ustazah but for everyone). There is no particular set of dressing just for the ustazah and another type of dressing for the non-scholar Muslim women. Whereas in many other religions, priests/monks/nuns have their own kind of dressing (Nuns wear differently, covering their whole body including their head, than other Christian women who are not nuns, for example. Monks also wear differently than the rest of the non-Monks even when they practice the same religion). In Islam… there is no such a thing. The rules are THE SAME for everyone, scholars or not.

In Islam, one might be a religious scholar, one might be a doctor, one might be an engineer, one might be a cleaner… but when it comes to religious practices, we are the same. A pious cleaner might have a higher status in the eyes of Allah because of her diligence and good deeds compared to the ustazah. It’s just that the ustazah has more depth of the intricate and detailed knowledge about the religion because that is her area of study. But in terms of religious practices, there is no such a thing as one set of practice for the scholars, and another set of practice for the regular guy and girl. Anyone can work towards attaining a higher status in the eyes of Allah by increasing their level of piety. In that sense, we are all equal regardless of our worldly status. The most noble among us is the ones who are most righteous (having taqwa/God consciousness)… not the ones who are most scholarly, or possessing a certain type of skin color, or having a certain social status. Caste system…. well, we don’t recognize that in Islam and we frown upon it wholeheartedly and unreservedly.

Equal

 

Our Imams do not need to forgo marriage or sexual intercourse in order to be an Imam. He is an Imam by the virtue of him having studied the religion and becoming an Islamic scholar… not because he is required to do some extra practice or has to commit to some vows or rituals that other Muslim men don’t have to do. Just like any other Muslim men who are not Imams, the Imams can have sexual intercourse too within the bounds of marriage. Again, no difference in religious practice or religious rules… only in scholarly knowledge (which anyone can decide to pursue if they want to).

There is no requirement in Islam that you need to seclude yourself in some temple, and shave off your head, or eat vegetarian diet, and dress in plain cloth in order to be recognized as extra-pious or extra-holy compared to other people in the same religion as you. Imam or not, we all must pray five times a day. Ulama or not, you are not allowed to eat pork. Mufti or not, you have to pay your zakat and perform the Hajj pilgrimage. Ustazah or not, we all have to wear modest clothing (The rule is for every woman. Those who do not follow the rule KNOW that it is a sin regardless of whether she is an ustazah or not). See? Our practices are  the same regardless of whether you are a scholar (ulama) or not. There is no such a thing as one rule for the scholars, and a more relaxed, more convenient rule for a non-scholar person. Access to a better relationship with Allah is by STANDARDIZED practice and worship… and ANYONE can access that relationship without having to go through any intermediary in the form of a scholar.

The scholar can be challenged if he says the wrong thing. There is no such a thing as “I have had this divine dream… because I have better access to God than you guys, the regular people. You guys must follow what my dream says. It is God’s inspiration for me.” Nope! No way! By the time Prophet Muhammad passed away, all divine revelation had ceased coming. He was the last messenger and Al-Quran is the last divine scripture for all humankind. If something is not in the Quran or in the Hadeeth, then it is not evidence-based (not scripture-based) and it can be challenged by anyone. We can demand proof and textual evidence from the scholar before we are obligated to follow their opinions. (In fact, those who use their dreams and mystic practices to falsely elevate their status among people…usually belong to some religious cults that have nothing to do with Islam.)

This is what I love about Islam. It makes sense. It celebrates our natural human inclination. Absolute obedience is only to Allah and the teaching of the Prophet. And the rule is THE SAME for everyone, regardless of their level of scholarship in the religion. And everyone has equal access to God regardless of their level of scholarship. They just have to be willing to perform the worship and that’s it! Access granted! The only difference between us in the eyes of Allah is our level of piety.

So again, is Islam that hard or difficult? How can you say that when regular non-scholar Muslims like me can practice in the same manner that a scholar Ustazah/Ulama/Imam does? Again, just because you don’t perform everything that your scriptures told you to do and leave them to only be practiced by the priests, the monks, the nuns and the extra-holy among you… doesn’t mean Islam is a difficult religion. Think about it.

If you ever find something that doesn’t make sense, search further. Either the fact is wrong, the context is inaccurate, or the reasoning is manipulated by parties who have some conflict of interests. Or maybe the fact is right but it doesn’t make sense to you because you do not have the knowledge yet that will make it sensible to you. It’s okay… just keep on researching until you are satisfied.

Because the older I get, the more I realize that our knowledge is limited and we have to continue learning for the rest of our lives. In order for us to be so convinced that anything that does not make sense to us is not true… then we must be confident that we have all the relevant knowledge to come to that conclusion. But we do NOT have all the knowledge… and things may not make sense to us because we are just stupid in that particular topic. Haha. And therefore, we have to learn continuously.

As a child, I couldn’t wait to grow up so that I wouldn’t have to go to school anymore. Haha. I thought adult life was fun and easy without having to learn so many things. Now, we all know better. Adult life is just a different level of difficulty.  So… I have resigned myself to continuous learning till the day I die. My formal learning is my medical/psychiatry training and that is still on-going (Ah… penat dah dengan formal learning actually. But persistence is a virtue, and that is what I am doing. Being persistent LOL). But my informal learning is the fun one…. The fiction, the non-fiction, the documentaries, the travel, the volunteerism, the experience. I live for those stuff. I work and receive my salary so that I can spend that salary on my informal learning. That’s why I am so particular about time… I need enough time to pursue my informal learning. That’s why I have never done a single locum in my entire life as a doctor. Outside office hours… is my own time for me to pursue other non-medical stuff. Not gonna spend that time doing locums, LOL.

The fact is, our non-professional life sustains our professional life.

If you abandon your non-professional life, prepare for your professional life to suffer as well. If you love your professional life, please take care of your non-professional life. If my professional life (not the psychiatry part, but the admin part and the technical bureaucratic, red tape part) diminishes my non-professional life (family, principles, ideals, causes I care about, my other interests), I will abandon my professional life eventually. If my professional life oppresses my ideals or my principles, I will walk away from it with no regrets after having done a risk-benefit assessment in my head.

Read the excerpts below on why it is so important to have other passions in your life.

A study of self-reported success and personal satisfaction by Garfinkel et al (2001) found that:

  • the perception that one’s non-professional life sustained professional life was the one lifestyle characteristic that predicted the perception of success
  • the best predictor of personal satisfaction was overall satisfaction with non-professional aspects of life.

Roberts (1997) makes the following observation:

When asked, “What would you like to do if you were not practising medicine?” doctors come up with an amazing range of activities and enthusiasms which for the most part have nothing to do with helping people. The challenge is not to see these as alternatives, but to make space for them to complement and invigorate our work.

We need to look after ourselves, yet we frequently neglect even the most basic considerations of exercise, diet, relaxation and play. It has been my experience in running burnt-out workshops for doctors that less than one in four (sometimes none) of those attending is satisfied with how they look after themselves. Those that are tend to have an established inner discipline such as meditation or prayer.’

So, this is the take home message that I am going to repeat; “Our non-professional life sustains our professional life.” Remember that. (It just so happens that I am one of the lucky ones who ALSO happen to love my professional life. Alhamdullillah, Allah placed me in a field I love.)

Ramadhan Series

In the spirit of Ramadhan, I would like to recommend to you guys to watch this Ramadhan series on Angels by Imam Omar Suleiman on You Tube. I love this series. The video is only 3-5 minutes per episode. And  they will post one episode per day for each day of the Ramadhan month on You Tube. You can even watch it in between your Terawih prayer when you feel a bit tired and need to freshen up before continuing on with your night worship. Below is the trailer for the series.

I also would like to share with you guys one of the best Sami Yusuf’s songs that I absolutely adore especially during Ramadhan. This song reminds me that many people truly suffer in the most unimaginable ways especially in other parts of the world and in war-torn countries… and my little, puny, insignificant struggle in life is really just that! Puny! Little and insignificant!

May Allah forgive me for my occasional lack of gratitude whenever I whine over something paltry.

Books of The Month

Because April was such a hectic month for me, I was only able to read two books. That is pathetic by my previous standard. Gosh… adulting means not having enough time for the fun pursuit in life even though you can now afford to pay for that pursuits.

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So the first book that I read in April is The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom which I bought in Popular at a Blockbuster price of MYR19.90. (And a hard cover book with such a price is a rare find in Popular. I was lucky!)

mitch albom

I have read plenty of Mitch Albom’s books and if you are familiar with him, you would know that he is quite thoughtful and philosophical. He would compromise believability of plots to enhance a philosophical idea. In this case, the narrator is Music! Haha. You know how when we were a primary school student, we were asked to write a short anthropomorphically-narrated essay such as “Saya sebatang pensel.” Well, in this case, the narrator is a Musical Talent (an anthropomorphic narrator), telling a story about someone he had bestowed some of his ‘musical soul’ to, named Frankie Presto. Musical Talent had watched over Frankie Presto since the day he was born because Frankie was his so-called disciple, performing music to the audience. So the life of Frankie Presto was told from the point of view of Musical Talent. A lot of flashback techniques and jumps between timeline went on in the narrative. Through the life of Frankie Presto, the author carried us through the music industry in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s…and further. We get to meet Elvis Presley, and many other great musicians that Frankie Presto had collaborated with (whose names I don’t bother to commit to memory because I am not into music of that era and quite unfamiliar with them).

Do I like this book? Well… I give it 2.5 out of 5 stars.

I like the language style… some of the sentences are musical and lyrical. Some of the contents in this book stir your mind, but that is one of my issues with this book. They only STIR your mind… rather than PROVOKE it.  Only by provoking my mind will an author TRULY engage my interest. And I am the sort of person who prioritize plot over anything else… if the plot is average, no amount of dressing up with flowery languages will make up for it. I am the sort of person who needs certain closure, neatness and believability in my plots, you know. Sure, I like reading about magic or fantasy… I read Harry Potter as a kid too. But Harry Potter books have got a proper plot development. There is a proper setting, a conflict, a mystery to solve, a climax to the story that requires proper resolution through creative problem-solving skills and a show of bravery by the main characters… and at last, there is that happy ending (so important!) with proper tying up of loose ends. I shut the book feeling satisfied. But this book is just about Frankie Presto’s life from when he was born until he died…and along the way he suffered some ups and downs. At the end of the book, I was like, “Okay fine, now I know the whole life of a fictional character by the name of Frankie Presto… where is the excitement? Where is the a-ha! moment? Where is the punch line, for God’s sake?”

In any story, the plot is the substance… whereas the language, the philosophical elements, and the characters are the ‘cosmetic ingredients’ that beautify and strengthen the substance! I need a good plot, first and foremost. Satisfied with that, I will then evaluate more kindly on the rest (But I do put a lot of emphasis on philosophical elements and characterizations too in order to enjoy a  good plot). So I would say that this book is average. I finished it. It was okay. I would not read it again. It doesn’t mean that Mitch Albom is not a talented author, because he really is. But maybe this one just doesn’t do it for me.

But, again you guys should read other reviews and make your own decision. I guess this book is of a different genre than the usual crime/mystery/thriller that I usually read. Maybe this type of book is just not my kind of tea. This book is categorized as Domestic Fiction genre. I regret to say, it’s just not for me.

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Okay, I am more excited to review this book (Save the best for last, I always say). The Plague was authored by Albert Camus, a Nobel Prize winner for Literature in 1957. This book which was originally written in the French language (titled La Peste) narrates the experience of Dr. Rieux in handling the outbreak of The Plague in the town of Oran in Algiers.

I was so impressed by how thoroughly Albert Camus had done his research in order to write a book on the challenges of dealing with an outbreak. In the midst of dealing with Covid-19 pandemic, reading this book will give us a lot of insights on human behavior in dealing with the difficulties and the uncertainties of life.

I remember thinking, “My God! This book was written in 1947! And yet… nothing has changed in terms of our human psychology and behavior in dealing with an outbreak. The behavior of health authorities, the thoughts running through the heads of the policy makers, the over-religious preaching by holier-than-thou religious figures, the knee-jerk reactions, the panic buying, the rushing to the police station to get a letter that would allow them to cross borders and travel to their loved ones,  the despair of being separated from your family members, the reactions of the masses to defy quarantine order, the stigmatizing of people whose family member is known to be infected, the anger at health authorities for wanting to take their relative away to be quarantined, the involvement of the police in helping the health care providers… these are exactly the same as what I am seeing in my own time with this Covid 19.” I was blown away!

I had massive amount of respect for Albert Camus at the end of this novel. He really did deserve the Nobel prize if this is an example of his work!

Guys, technology might change… in this novel, they communicated via letters, public notices, telegram… but human behaviour at all levels of society from policy makers to healthcare workers, to general public remains the same since 1947 until now. In fact, I would say that no matter in which period we live in, when facing the uncertainty of a disease outbreak or a life-threatening catastrophe, we will all behave the same way.

I think all doctors must read this book, especially if they are working in public health. Such an illuminating read. I was very impressed by a quote in this book that I actually wrote about it in one of my Facebook status. The quote summarized how we as the public must think and act in dealing with an outbreak. It says “Officialdom can never cope with something really catastrophic”.

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It struck me that in times of need and desperation, we must rally as a community and not being too dependent on the official channel to provide us with what we need. We must be proactive and settle the problems that we can settle ourselves. We can see our nurses/sisters/matrons sewing their own PPE rather than simply waiting for the official channel to provide them with that. Yes, by rights, the official channel is responsible to provide for you. But the fact of the matter is, ‘officialdom’ CANNOT cope when something is truly catastrophic. Selflessness, volunteerism, and gotong-royong spirit are what work.

And in this book, it narrated about how this character named Tarrou had rallied the whole community to help and volunteer with the cleaning and the sanitation in the community. It was that community rallying combined with the successful development of a vaccine that the town of Oran was finally free of The Plague. At the end of the book, I was amazed by how much Albert Camus must have done in terms of research. This is a book that is relatable until now. And I guess, that is the hallmark of a great literature… the social criticism (kritik sosial) is evergreen and stand the test of time.

In case I haven’t made it clear to you guys, I LOVE it! I love it!

So… I will give this novel 4.5 stars out of 5. The plot is great and neat and all loose ends were properly dealt with. The research is superb. The language is excellent. There is various pearls of philosophical wisdom being randomly dropped here and there throughout this novel. I was very pleasantly surprised that I had enjoyed this literary work.

Guys, you must know that not all classic literatures are enjoyable. Reading literature is not always fun. It is not like reading commercial fiction. Reading literature is usually a practice in managing boredom and a training in developing persistence haha. There are times when you have to force yourself to finish reading a literature by telling yourself “I should know this literature because it is so famous and it will be embarrassing if I haven’t read it. Haha.” But The Plague (La Peste) is certainly different. It has the virtue of being BOTH a great literature AND an enjoyable read. And that’s all I need to declare that Albert Camus was a great writer par excellence.

If you are interested to read classic literatures, most of the books written by Jules Verne/Mark Twain/ Jane Austen/ The Bronte sisters/ Arthur Conan Doyle are very good. Please choose from these authors first if you want to enjoy your first experience of classic literature. My first classic literature was by Jules Verne, ‘The Journey To The Center Of The Earth’ when I was 12 years old. I discovered it in my school library one afternoon, when I escaped from sport practice (latihan rumah sukan) to hang out in the library where it was air-conditioned hahah! And I was so attached to it that I didn’t want to return the book to the library (But of course I did return the book eventually. Not without a crack in my heart, though. And then, many years later, I purchased the book myself. Now, I have my own copy of this book in my bookshelf). I also love The Professor by Charlotte Bronte. And I have read everything on Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. So guys, please do yourself a favour and start reading one of them. You will be like “How could I have not known that these delightful stories even exist? Have I ever truly lived? Hahha”

Ok, enough gushing for now. Haha.

If it were up to me, I could talk for hours about the books that I have read. This is my all-consuming obsession that I may never be cured from. All my friends were like “Terus excited muka Afiza bila cakap pasal buku cerita.” I could not even hide it, lol. Whenever we hang out as a group, I secretly hope that someone would open up a conversation about books, so that I can jump in. Of course I can open up that thread of conversation myself but I have come to realize that most people do not get to read that much anymore and I might ‘syok sendiri, excited sorang-sorang’ talking about books. So I just keep it to myself. (Ah… the suffering, guys! Maybe, I should join a book club… but yup, time is a consistent constraining factor).

Well, it is time to end this post because it is too long already. I will try to find exciting books to read in Ramadhan and I will insya Allah review them in my next blog post.

So, have a great Ramadhan guys. May Allah accept all our good deeds in this blessed month. Take care. Much love and may Allah bless all of us.