January 2022 Book Reviews

Dear readers,

In my last blog post I did not include my book reviews for the month of January because I was still in the middle of finishing some books and could not review them properly until I am done with them (and also because I was hooked on Tik Tok for awhile and could not finish my books as promptly as I usually do. But I have stopped now LOL. Anything that takes my time away from reading, is just not worth continuing to be hooked to, no matter how appealing, attractive and addictive it is. I’ve gotten my Tik Tok preoccupation under control now, Thank God. I kind of empathize with husbands who cheat… these kind of husbands occasionally would be enticed by other more attractive options out there (read: younger sugar babies/mistresses)… they couldn’t help but want to indulge. But they always go back to their wife (or wives), no matter what. Hahha. In a way, reading is my one true companion… the rest are mere distractions that I will always abandon when I feel like they compromise too much of my reading time. Even my commitment to Psychiatry fail to entice me away from reading. In fact, one of my motivations to become a Psychiatrist instead of a chronic MO was because I wanted more free time to read as the oncall gets more passive. And if ever I decide to do subspecialty in the future, it will also be a lifestyle decision rather than anything else. And time to read (instead of doing other burdensome non-clinical stuff) will factor a lot in that lifestyle decision.)

So for the month of January I had (finally!) completed the readings of 4 books: 2 non-fictions and 2 fictions.

And here they are… my long overdue book reviews!

THE NON-FICTIONS OF THE MONTH

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed The Bible And Why by Dr. Bart D. Ehrman

This book came highly recommended by Brother Paul (From the You Tube channel Blogging Theology. Check it out, guys!) who has had the author Dr. Bart D. Ehrman as one of his guest speakers in his channel. Dr. Ehrman is a biblical scholar, specializing in textual criticism and he’s also a renowned New Testament expert. He actually learned ancient languages like Greek and Latin so that he could read ancient manuscripts of the Bible. He also chairs the department of religious studies at the University of North Carolina. So his credibility as an author for the subject matter is well-established.

In this book, he discussed various aspects of how and why the Bible had been changed/altered throughout time. It is an amazing book on textual criticism, guys!

Some Muslim readers – if they are not familiar with comparative religion – will find it hard to understand the field of textual criticism, at first. Because for Muslims, there is only ONE copy of the Quran. Word by word exact copy throughout time; for more than 1400 years now! Regardless of whether you are a Sunni, Shi’ah or whatever… there is only ONE reference point that we can all go back to whenever there is a dispute. The Quran! Still exists in its original language all these time! Interpretations might differ, translations might vary… however, because all of us refer to ONE EXACT SAME Quran, there is always going to be a benchmark that we can go back to… to try to work things out. (Because guys… a debate on how to understand any particular verse will be pointless if we don’t have THE SAME verse, or the SAME yardstick from which we can base our debate on.)

To quote Dr. Ehrman in this book “It is one thing to say that the originals (the Bible) were inspired, but the reality is that we don’t have the originals – so saying there were inspired doesn’t help me much, unless I can reconstruct the originals.”

When I was young, I thought that the Bible is just like the Quran… that there is only one version of it. Of course all Muslims believe that the Bible has already been altered (the concept of the divinity of Jesus and the Trinity, for example, are one of the big alteration of the Bible, from the Muslims’ point of view. Muslims are STRICTLY monotheistic. There is only ONE God, and that’s the end of the argument). Even without reading this book, it is not exactly news to us that the Bible has been altered. But I think many Muslims might have thought that there is only ONE altered version of the Bible. As a kid, I had thought that the Christians believe the Bible is the original word of God because there is only one version of it. (Because if there were many, which ones did God REALLY say? Anyone will then question their own belief that the Bible is the word of God if they had known that there were so many different versions of it, right?) As a young girl learning about religious creed, I had believed that the reason the Christians believe in the Bible just as strongly as Muslims believe in the Quran was because to them, the Bible is also the word of God – only Muslims believe it is altered whereas Christians still believe it is the original. So, I can understand that it’s just a difference in belief… and the Christians have a perfectly logical reason to believe what they believe about their ONE holy book just like the Muslims believe in the ONE Quran.

Or so I thought.

I was at the Uni when I learned that “Oh, there are many altered versions of the Bible, actually”. And I was so confused because in my mind I thought “But, wouldn’t it be confusing for the Christians? Did they ask their religious authority which ones they should follow? Were they okay about the fact that there were many versions?”

However, I never really knew what places in what chapter of the Bible have contradictions. And as a busy medical student in the Uni, I never really bothered to find out.

After having read this book, I knew now that even the account of Jesus’ crucifixion alone came with variations in the Bible. According to Mark, Jesus began to be distressed and agitated around the time of the crucifixion (Mark 14:33); he had cried “Eloi Eloi, lema sabachtani” (My God, My God why have you forsaken me?) in anguish before he died on the cross. But in Luke, Jesus was portrayed to be at peace in the face of death. According to Luke, rather than uttering a cry of being forsaken by God, Jesus had said “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 22:46).

Well.. the difference was so stark that I actually paused from reading this book and went to my bookshelf to grab the old second-hand Bible that I had bought when I was a uni student in Australia (I bought it after attending Christianity Awareness Week in the Uni, just to know the belief system of the majority of the people in Australia. But to be honest, I never finished reading it cover to cover.) I just wanted to check whether this author had written the truth about all these contradictions. I mean, it is very possible that the author might have had a hidden agenda, especially if he is an atheist who is anti-religion, right? (Yes, I don’t just trust anyone; not even a book written by experts. As someone famous had said somewhere, “Trust, but verify!” And I agree with that! Even consultants in my field disagree with one another! So sometimes we all have to fact-check and come up with our own conclusions, don’t we? I respect facts and truths; not positions… in the mean time, while I haven’t yet done my research to decide whether I agree with your facts or not, I might just outwardly pretend to agree with you as a sign of respect for your so-called expertise and position in the field. But I always verify first before I swallow anything, hook, line and sinker. I especially would do that when I am invested enough to know what is the truth. So in things that matter, please don’t ever lie to me. Because, Insya Allah, I will always find out sooner or later and it will certainly ruin my impression of you. I do the same thing even with ustaz and Islamic scholars. Give me your source and your reference – and let me read it myself and come to the conclusion myself. Let me verify that you are saying the truth.)

So, I opened the Bible I had since medical school and found out that the author was writing the truth. The contradictions in how Jesus was portrayed around the time of crucifixion between Luke and Mark were certainly there. I was amazed.

So as you can see, this book highlights what were the contradictions that exist in the Bible and how the contradictions came to exists in the first place. This book also clarifies what were the sociopolitical and geographical reasons for the contradictions. Such an illuminating read! And it was engaging too! It wasn’t dry at all, for a theological non-fiction.

Acording to this book, one of the main reasons for the various alteration in the Bible was because the early copyist of the Bible were not professional scribes. (Guys, in the ancient time, reading and writing were not skills possessed by many. Back then, information was transmitted orally rather than inscriptively.) When there were mistakes that had been made in one copy, the mistakes would be carried forward in the copy of the copy. Occasionally, the next batch of scribes may correct the previous mistakes that they spotted while they were making the copy of the copy but then they would add their own mistakes to the copy too. And with subsequent copies, you can imagine how many scribes would make corrections from previous copies but at the same time committed mistakes of their own. And this happened over and over again for the first 2-3 centuries.

But later on, “a kind of professional scribal class came to be a part of the Christian intellectual landscape, and with the advent of professional scribes, came more controlled copying practices” according to this book. And in the fifteenth century, with the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg (1400-1468), one could guarantee that every page looked exactly the same with no variations in any kind of wording. But by that time, a lot of alterations were already made and the originals had been lost.

Other than the factor of the early scribal practice contributing to the alteration of the Bible and the existence of its many versions, political reasons also came into play.

Just like in the Islamic history, Christianity were first embraced by the poor, and the lower classes of the society. Not until the Emperor of Rome, Constantine, converted to Christianity (312 C.E) did Christianity shift from being a religion of social outcasts who are persecuted by local mobs, to being a major player in the religious scene of the empire. Massive conversions followed when the Emperor himself publicly declared his allegiance to Christianity. But the early people of Rome were actually polytheists/pagans, including Emperor Constantine himself, before they converted to Christianity. There were a lot of diversity within Christianity at that time, perhaps due to the influence of their own original culture/belief. There was the adoptionist view (which believed that Jesus was not divine but a full flesh-and-blood human being whom God had “adopted” to be his son, usually at his baptism), there was the anti-adoptionist view (that Jesus was not ‘merely’ human but that he was actually divine, in some sense God himself), there was the Docetic view (The name comes from the Greek word DOKEO which means “to seem”. This view maintained that Jesus was not a full flesh-and-blood human being. He is completely divine but only “appeared” or “seemed” to be a human being to feel hunger, thirst and pain, to bleed, to die. Since Jesus was God, he could not really be a man. He simply came to earth in the “appearance” of a human flesh), and there was the separationist view (that understood Christ not only as human (like the adoptionist) and not only as divine (like the Docetist) but as two beings… one completely human and one completely divine).

Phew! As you can see, there were many different views. And there were so much debates going on. Scribes who favoured one view over others would make alterations in their scribing according to their own views (hence, the many versions).

So when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, what did he do? Well, he wanted to help UNIFY the church. So in 325, he called for the Council of Nicaea to help resolve the controversy at that time (Google the Arian heresy, guys). All the important high-ranking Bishops on earth attended the conference to come to a consensus regarding the divinity of Jesus (Google the Nicene Constantinopolitan Creed 381).

Anyway, there are MANY other reasons how Jesus came to be misquoted and how the Bible ends up the way it is now. Even the difference of opinions regarding the role of women in Christianity had caused several different versions of the Bible. If I were to go through everything I had learned in this book, it will be a very long review indeed.

I finished reading this book in 3-4 days (considered quite fast for me, personally… because this is a non-fiction rather than a fiction. I could finish a fiction in one seating but with non-fiction, it usually takes me more than 5 days to finish. Dealing with historical and theological facts rather than stories, I need a few days to properly digest them all).  I had bookmarked loads of paragraphs and pages with sticky notes for easier reference in the future (in general, the more bookmarks I place in a non-fiction, the more facts I have learned from it. So I can roughly tell by the end of the book of what kind of great value I had gained from reading it. And guys, I had certainly learned a lot from this one!)

Based on ANFRS (Afiza’s Non-Fiction Rating Scale) I gave this book 5 solid stars, guys! It was such a good, engaging and informative read. I highly recommend for anyone who is interested in Theology to read this book.

Below is a Tik Tok video I made, featuring this book. Enjoy this short Tik Tok distraction from yours truly.

Nota Dari Kabul: Afghanistan Dari Kaca Mata Wartawan Marhaen by Syed Azwan Syed Ali

This book has also been reviewed in Goodreads. So you can read reviews from there as well, if you are interested.

Once upon a time, I had wanted to become a journalist like this author. I have always been interested in social sciences, history, and social justice. But my scholarship was in Medicine, and the rest is history.

One of my friends’ father had told her “Straight As students have no choice but to do Medicine or Engineering. Other students with less stellar results have more choice regarding what they want to do.”

When she told me what her father had said, we laughed about it… in a bittersweet manner that only us could understand. And her father was kind of right. You see, there was no scholarship to study social sciences back then (I don’t know how it is now). And because we felt like we deserved a scholarship based on our SPM results, of course we had to choose courses that came with scholarships. No matter how excellent you were as a student, no one would sponsor you to study Journalism or History or Archaeology… or even Law.  My decision to study medicine was a practical decision (I think I am an idealist by nature. But my upbringing had disciplined my idealism with practicality in the face of reality. And I do not always regret how I turned out to be. Being a complete idealist with no regards to reality is not really a good thing, in my opinion). And as for my friend…she also took her father’s advice and decided to study engineering, instead. Also a practical decision on her part. We are both practical idealists, it seems.

It wasn’t a bad decision. It was just not our first love, that’s all. But who says first love will always last, anyway? Who says we cannot be happy choosing our mind instead of our heart? Who says we cannot learn to be content to choose reality instead of dream?

Out of all fields in Medicine, Psychiatry resembles social sciences the best. It was a no brainer for me regarding what department I wanted to go to after housemanship. Of course, I had to appeal for a few times just to get into Psychiatry. I was so lucky I got in. Like I was given a second chance to do what I love once again. In Psychiatry, I get to choose BOTH my mind and my heart. Psychiatry isn’t exactly journalism, but it is a fair enough compromise based on reality check.

I personally knew the author, Syed Azwan Syed Ali, when I went for the Palu Earthquake and Tsunami relief mission in 2018 under IMARET. When I first met this outstanding journalist at our IMARET base in Palu, I thought he was just a fellow volunteer like us. He was so humble and easy-going. Imagine my delight when I found out that we had a journalist of his great caliber among us, recording all our experience in Palu. I was ecstatic, wanting to know what life as a journalist was like. And he didn’t disappoint, telling us about some of his missions in the past. (I don’t believe in regretting my past decisions and belaboring past mistakes. But after meeting him in Palu, I had frequently wondered about what my life would be if I did not choose medicine as a 17 year old girl) I called him Abang Syed and until now we kept in touch through Facebook and Instagram.

Abang Syed is the one in the picture wearing a yellow scarf around his neck. That yellow scarf has become his trademark now as he is rarely seen without it. This picture shows us with the kids in Palu, Sulawesi in one of our PFA sessions there.

When I found out that he went to Afghanistan in September 2021 as a volunteer under Global Peace Mission Malaysia and Muslim Volunteer Malaysia, I followed all his Facebook posts to get an update on how the people of Afghanistan were faring after the US army abandoned their bases in Afghanistan and the Islamic Emirates of Aghanistan (most of them consists of Taliban) took over the governing of the country. Is it really true that “The Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan seeks peaceful and positive relations with the world” as inscribed in one of the billboards at the Kabul International Airport? This book attempted to answer some of that question.

After reading this book, I knew how complex the issue of Afghanistan really is. Are women’s rights really violated as depicted by the Western Media or is it just the Western propaganda against the Taliban… or a bit of both?

As a journalist, according to Abang Syed in this book, he had learned the concept of agenda-setting theory and framing theory in reporting any kind of news. When we are reporting ANYTHING, we can choose to minimize or maximize anything that is in line with our own editorial narrative! Sure, facts are facts…and truths are truths. But facts and truths can come across differently based on what the reporting choose to highlight or obscure. And this is something we need to know when we read or listen to any kind of reporting. (In a way, this is what we do in Psychiatry, isn’t it? There is some truth from the side of the patient, and there is some truth from the rest of the people interacting with the patient from whom we take corroborative history. Most of the time, the truth lies somewhere in between… like in the case of a husband and wife in the midst of a marital conflict. As I said before, Psychiatry gives me the chance to become what I couldn’t be when I chose Medicine. To be the seeker of a true story… or a TRUER story. I have learned now that in most cases, it’s not about true and false. In most cases, it is about discerning the TRUE, the TRUER and the TRUEST.)

And it breaks my heart learning about the humanitarian crisis that is going on there. The US has placed an economic sanction on Afghanistan and has frozen all their foreign assets, escalating the economic difficulties of the people. Most of them only earned around USD2 (RM8) per day and many of them are starved. There were many IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons/ Pelarian Dalam Negara) suffering as well, living in camps that we could not even imagine living in.

Reading this book made me reflect again what I have frequently reflected upon: regarding why altruism is one of the best, most adaptive, and most mature defense mechanism out there. Because it works for you and for everyone around you! If you ever feel down about anything in your life, go for a volunteering mission or a humanitarian mission. Go and feel that inward joy that you feel when others benefit from your act of kindness.

In a way, altruism is not REALLY altruistic, is it? Out of anyone who could benefit from your act of kindness, you are the one who benefit from your altruism THE MOST. Yes! It is true! Try it!

That’s why if you talk to people who are involved in humanitarian missions… they can tell you that they are NOT that good as a person. They do this for themselves. They are almost embarrassed… feeling like such a fake when receiving praises… because they know that they go to all these missions FOR THEMSELVES. And of course, also to help others. But they benefit A LOT from it too. The inward joy that they gain, the knowledge that they obtain, the precious experience that they will never find elsewhere, the lifetime of meaningful friendships that they forge, the knowing that their lives MEAN SOMETHING… it is something we will never know unless we have done it ourselves.

As a Psychiatrist, I have always known that if there is no real reward to a certain behaviour, people will not behave the same way again and again and again. The behaviour will become extinct over time if you are not rewarded for the behaviour.

Guys… the dopamine release in the brain that you can get from the satisfaction of seeing how you can make a difference… the dopamine release must have been so great that this kind of mission, no matter how dangerous, becomes addictive to people who have tried it.

But just because they love these kind of works and gain their own personal satisfaction (chemical reward in the brain) from it, doesn’t mean going for a humanitarian mission is not admirable. It is admirable EXACTLY because they feel rewarded not from money or positions, but from the internal and spiritual joy that they experience from volunteering. I am not devaluing volunteering works by saying that people who volunteer for humanitarian missions actually do so because they are rewarded in their own way by the dopamine release in their brain. I am not devaluing volunteering works by saying that people who volunteer actually volunteer for themselves and for their own inward joy rather than for others. As a Psychiatrist, it is only natural for me to believe that behavior will continue as long as it is rewarded. To me, there is no judgment when it comes to dealing with FACTS! This is a psychological fact!

But… the value you place in deciding what kind of reward feels rewarding for you… says a lot about who you are as a person.

And I really think that people like Abang Syed is valuable. Throughout his career, he had been to 35 countries to date, some of them were war-torn countries and conflict areas such as Palestine, Syria, Yemen and Myanmar. He had experienced being trapped in a cross-fire in Al-Yarmouk Refugee Camp (Damsyik, Syria). He had experienced being detained in airports and police stations while doing his job as a reporter. This book has spectacularly showcased his wisdom, intelligence, adaptability and courage as a journalist. He is a journalist par-excellence. Based on ANFRS, this book has earned 4 solid stars.

To those who are interested to read it, it is sold on Shopee for RM30. It was an engaging and easy read for me. Highly recommended.

And thank you to Abang Syed for personally autographing this book for me. I really appreciate it!

My Instagram story…

THE FICTIONS OF THE MONTH

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

For you guys who don’t know, at every start of a new year some books will enter the public domain (If I were ever the sort to celebrate the New Year, the entering of books into the public domain is one of the more logical reasons for me to do so LOL. But in general, I don’t really celebrate the occasion all that much. It’s just another day for me). When any book is said to have entered the public domain, it means that their copyrights have expired and you could download the book for free LEGALLY. (You see, I KNEW where to download most books for free illegally (I am not exactly proud of this knowledge). But I have stopped doing it for a long time now because I always felt guilty, afterwards. It’s like stealing, isn’t it? So nowadays, I either buy all my books or I wait for them to enter the Public Domain before downloading them.)

So I had waited to download The Murder of Roger Ackroyd since last year, guys. After I had finished all the Agatha Christie’s books that had entered the public domain in the middle of last year, I had been itching with impatience for this book to enter the public domain. Because I’m super stingy to buy it for myself LOL. To me, it is only worthwhile to spend money on good books that are RECENTLY published… because unless I live for another 100 years, I will never be able to LEGALLY read it except if I buy it or borrow it from others. But books by great authors of the past (Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer, Arthur Conan Doyle, etc etc) that had been published decades or centuries ago can be read for free if you just hold on to your patience for a few more months or years. And I am proud of myself for being able to wait the way I did without resorting to illegal download. (Let me tell you, I was soooo tempted…but Alhamdulillah, my resolve was stronger than the temptation.)

And it was worth the wait. I could not guess who was the murderer till the end. And when the murderer was revealed, I was shocked. Even though, actually I had suspected him at first but I had dismissed the idea almost immediately with “Takkan kot!” Hahaha. So guys, always trust your first instinct.

Okay, I don’t want to give out any spoiler here. But those of you who have never read this one should go ahead and read it. I finished it in one day, in between all my house chores and ‘adulting’ tasks. It was time well-spent. I gave this book 4 solid stars, based on AFBRS (Afiza’s Fiction and Biography Rating Scales)! Very excellently written by Dame Agatha Christie. I cannot wait for other books of hers to enter the Public Domain. It will be almost a one-year wait from now, guys. God help me!

Payment Deferred By C.S Forrester

This is another book that has recently entered the Public Domain.

Yes, this is a crime novel. But unlike Agatha Christie’s whodunit storyline, the plot is about the psychological torment and the mental distress that occurred within the self of the murderer after he committed the crime. It was certainly a different kind of read than my usual thriller. You knew straightaway who was the murderer. The author simply took you through the psychological sufferings of the murderer from the beginning to the end of the book.

The end of the book was a demonstration of karmic justice. It was quite funny in a melancholic way. For me, this book deserves 3 stars, based on AFBRS. I could actually finish it in one day. It was engaging enough. But because the plot revolves around the murderer’s psychological distress rather than the pursuit of clues for actual crime-solving, it is pretty slow in pace. But it was quite fun, nonetheless.

All righty! That’s all from me, for now.

I hope fellow book readers enjoy reading my really long book reviews this time. (I’m sorry. When it comes to books, it is impossible for me to cut the ramblings short. Even in person, I can be quiet with strangers. But the moment they talk to me about books, I just cannot stop talking. Haha. I actually had to join a Facebook Group for readers so that I could talk about books more frequently and could give and receive book recommendations more easily. Most of my friends don’t really enjoy reading like I did. Or even if they do, they don’t feel the urge to talk about it constantly… adeh! *Sigh*)

Until next time, my dear readers. Much love and take care.

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