The People Not Worth Mentioning

#RamadhanReflection

Whenever Ramadhan arrives, my heart deeply misses my Muslim sisters in Newcastle. They made me realize something I would always be grateful to them for.

They made me realize that all the Israiliyat stories I had questioned in the past….well, I was right in questioning them. They opened my eyes – widely! – that religion IS logical.They made me realize that religious people are not weakly passive, terribly soft-spoken or yawningly dull. Because THEY were not dull and  yet they were one of the most religious people I have ever met.

They made me realize, that in matters of religion, there are rooms for people like me…. the ruthlessly logical and aggressively out-spoken people like me are also acceptable in Islam. That I was not un-Islamic when I questioned things I really didn’t understand. In fact, they were delighted by my questions and when they in turn answered my questions, I was delighted by their answers! Because now, it makes sense! Finally!!

They made me understand that my concept of religious people as people who “asyik cakap lemah-lembut, pakai baju besar dan tudung labuh, pijak semut tak mati… tapi asyik suka bagi orang rasa bersalah bila kita tanya balik kat depa benda yang kita rasa langsung tak logik!” was so wrong! I was wrong to stereotype ‘religious people’ and I was delighted about being wrong, at that time! I knew then, that there did exist outwardly religious people who were also inwardly Islamic in their principles and worldviews. 

I was intrigued by the sisters when I went to Melbourne for the Summer in my first year of med school (initially just to have a fun holiday for a month) and the Melbourne sisters then took me and my friends under their wings and taught me to understand my religion beyond its mere rituals. Because of them (supplemented by YOU TUBE videos of Nouman Ali Khan, Yusha Evans and Dr. MAZA) I understood the core principles of my religion and I stick to it as much as I can.

Some of them were one of the most energetic people I have ever met. And all these while I thought “Orang agama ni mesti jenis jalan menunduk all the time.” Well, not them!

Listen to this clip by Dr. Maza about how ‘kewarakan’ and ‘kesolehan’ has nothing to do with you “jalan lembik-lembik menunduk, konon soleh”. (Gosh! I get really irritated by pretentious people like that. *rolled eyes*)

Let me recap on the main point of the video. Sahabat-sahabat menyatakan “Sesungguhnya kami telah melihat Umar Ibn Al Khattab. Bila beliau berjalan, dia cepat. Beliau bercakap, ianya jelas. Bila beliau pukul, sakit. Tetapi beliaulah yang paling warak dikalangan kami.”

So this is to me, an image of a Muslim I could relate to! Cergas! Cerdas! Kuat! Tegas!

Our religion celebrates differences in personalities and habits as long as they are not against the syariat.

In fact, they told me “Saidina Umar Al-Khattab was very outspoken. When others made the hijrah in secret, he had boldly said, “Whoever wants his mother to mourn him, his children to become orphans and his wife to become a widow should meet me behind this valley to try and stop my Hijrah.” And no one dared follow him out. He had such spunk!”

Since then Saidina Umar is my favourite figure in religion, after Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Not because I think Saidina Abu Bakar and the rest of the companions are not as great. No! But I can RELATE with Umar. Saidina Abu Bakar might have diplomacy and patience…. but I am weak in those aspects and I couldn’t relate to him the way I could relate with Saidina Umar. How am I supposed to be patient when something really unjust is happening right before my eyes? I couldn’t relate why I could not simply call it out and tell them frankly to their face that what they are doing is wrong, regardless of who they are in the society! While I admire Saidina Abu Bakar just as much, it is with Saidina Umar r.a that I can relate the most.

Saidina Abu Bakar made the hijrah in secret together with the prophet, being so patient in facing the adversities and the terror of being chased by the enemies of Islam. Whereas Saidina Umar R.A had boldly challenged anyone to try to stop him from making the hijrah. And BOTH of them made it to Madinah at last. Even though one had patiently travelled in secret, while the other had boldly travelled in the open, BOTH of them reached their destination and their goals. So, BOTH are equally admirable… but I am more likely to do what Saidina Umar did, because I can relate to that. In my mind, I would be so angry that the people of Makkah was trying to stop my basic human rights to move wherever I wanted. That kind of nonsense would spark my temper and I would go, “Apsal pula kau nak halang-halang  aku ni? Kau siapa? Apa hak kau nak halang aku? You are not making any sense. Nak halang juga, cubalah kalau berani! Jangan cabar aku, okey!” 

Thats’ my fi’il… my tabiat…don’t force me, don’t cross my principles, don’t violate my boundaries. Because I will fight when it matters enough! You don’t get to me by force. You get to me with kindness and patient reasoning. The way the Newcastle and Melbourne sisters did. 

They taught me something I have always known: Sabar itu bukannya merelakan diri kena tindas kemudian menyatakan “yang aku ni sabar.” Sabar itu adalah menentang semua kezaliman yang ada kemudian bersabar dengan akibat yang kita terima disebabkan kita berani menentang kezaliman itu. They confirmed my belief that sabar in Islam is not something passive the way the Malays were doing it when they were being a coward!… but Sabar is an ALIVE, ACTIVE struggle. Saidina  Abu Bakar made the journey to Madinah with patience too…. and then He succesfully arrived in Madinah. His patience, just like Saidina Umar’s boldness, yielded the SAME result. He arrived with Rasulullah in tow! That kind of Sabar is productive! The concept of patience in Islam is NOT “biarlah kita bersabar kena tindas di Mekah.” (This concept of Sabar is always being adopted wrongly by Muslim Malays. When they used the word Sabar, what they usually really mean is ‘jadi penakut. Jangan cakap apa’.Haha)

I was so impressed by the things I was taught in Melbourne that summer. This!! THIS is the version of Islam that was never taught to me in Malaysia. This version of Islam taught us how to live and live well! And live honourably! And live courageously! 

They also instilled in me the concept of speaking up against injustice. Speak up… not because you think you can change anything by speaking up. But speak up because it is THE TRUTH and on the judgment day you can AT LEAST say to Your Lord “Ya Rabb, I spoke against that injustice when it happened!”

They told me to learn and internalize the lesson from the Quranic verse surah Al-A’raf 7: 163 -165

Dan tanyakanlah kepada Bani Israil tentang negeri yang terletak di dekat laut ketika mereka melanggar aturan pada hari Sabtu, di waktu datang kepada mereka ikan-ikan (yang berada di sekitar) mereka terapung-apung di permukaan air, dan di hari-hari yang bukan Sabtu, ikan-ikan itu tidak datang kepada mereka. Demikianlah Kami mencoba mereka disebabkan mereka berlaku fasik. (7: 163)

Dan (ingatlah) ketika suatu umat di antara mereka berkata: “Mengapa kamu menasehati kaum yang Allah akan membinasakan mereka atau mengazab mereka dengan azab yang amat keras?” Mereka menjawab: “Agar kami mempunyai alasan (pelepas tanggung jawab) kepada Tuhanmu, dan supaya mereka bertakwa.” (7: 164)

Maka tatkala mereka melupakan apa yang diperingatkan kepada mereka, Kami selamatkan orang-orang yang melarang dari perbuatan jahat dan Kami timpakan kepada orang-orang yang zalim siksaan yang keras, disebabkan mereka selalu berbuat fasik. (7: 165)

“Cuba tengok, Afiza. Dalam ayat-ayat ni. Ada tiga golongan di sini. Golongan pertama, yang melakukan kejahatan. Golongan kedua, yang menghalang kejahatan. Golongan ketiga, yang berkecuali … malah golongan ketiga ni siap bertanya kepada golongan kedua, kenapa nak sibuk-sibuk bagi nasihat? Kemudian dalam ayat 7:165 Allah memberitahu akan nasib golongan pertama yang melakukan kejahatan itu….. yang mereka ditimpakan azab. Nasib golongan kedua yang menasihati dan menghalang kejahatan, mereka ini diselamatkan. Tapi apa jadi dengan golongan ketiga ini… golongan yang berkecuali tadi? Apa nasib mereka?”

Hmm… I had no idea. The Quran didn’t mention what happened to them. I shrugged my shoulder at the naqibah and shook my head. 

“Bila Allah tidak sebut nasib golongan ketiga ini… maksudnya mereka adalah golongan yang tidak layak disebut.”

I was stunned.

“Jadi, ketika kita nampak kezaliman berlaku, jadilah orang yang berani menegur “Ini Zalim!”. Janganlah jadi orang yang berdiam diri, yang berkecuali, yang akhirnya nasibnya jadi tidak pasti. Neither here nor there. Not worth mentioning!”

Desmond Tutu was really wise and quite Islamic (whether he realized it or not), when he said “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

***

Believe me, there are times when I really miss how I was when I was in Australia. I think my behaviour was at its best when I was there because the environment there made it easy for me to be nice. I was not exposed to much injustice that would disturb my psyche at that time. I surrounded myself with nice, and intellectual people who could satisfy my thirst for knowledge and could sooth my insistence for things to be fair and logic.

Then I returned to Malaysia as a houseman. I was shocked.

“Hang pun tau, aku dah inform MO yang patient tu punya Blood Pressure low and Pulse Rate tachycardic. Dia kata suruh observe dulu. Run fluid fast apa semua. Sekarang patient ni bleeding teruk… tiba-tiba dia kata aku tak inform. Padahal dia yang tak attend.” said one of my fellow HOs to me when I was in my first posting. I told her to report the matter to the specialist. That I would accompany her to do it! She didn’t want to. Since this incident involved her, I couldn’t do anything much if she herself didn’t want to fight for herself. Takkan aku pula nak lebih-lebih involved?

But what I did was, I told as many HOs as possible about what had really happened. So that among HOs, we knew she wasn’t guilty. But I was ashamed of myself because I didn’t do what I was supposed to do… to internalize the Al-A’raf concept and speak up LOUD that the MO was the culprit! I didn’t do the most I could have done. Instead, I gave myself petty excuses by saying “I am just a HO… what can I do? Sekurang-kurangnya aku benci benda ni dalam hati… tu dah kira selemah-lemah iman. Yang paling aku mampu buat setakat ini adalah benci dalam hati.”

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But my weakness haunted me for the rest of my first posting because I felt that I had fallen short of my own standard that I had nurtured for 5 years in Australia. I could not get over my boiling anger at the injustice and at myself… so that when I finished my posting, I wrote about things that had happened in the department that disturbed my sense of justice! I needed to let that out and purge it out of my system. Sue me if what I said was wrong! (I didn’t intend for it to become viral. But it became viral when I was already in my 3rd posting… by that time I have done all the major posting including surgical and medical… I was already a senior. They couldn’t do anything to me. I was ready to face anyone, anyway. My father said, “Don’t worrry. Jadi apa-apa, kita ada lawyer.” But Alhamdulillah, nothing actually did happen. I wasn’t even called to explain myself even though I was ready for it.)

In Malaysia, people don’t reward being nice. Instead, being nice gets you bullied. Bullying is something I have never experienced until I became a houseman… even then, I didn’t tolerate it for long! By the time my blog became viral, no MOs dared to bully me anyway. “Takut masuk blog.” they joked to me about it. (Hahha) Most of them were simply curious about me and I ended up becoming friends with most of them. Instead of being targeted and my life being made difficult (the way other HOs had predicted), my life became even more smooth after my blog became viralled. I thought that… maybe, hopefully… it was Allah’s reward for me because I wrote the truth. Maybe HE rewarded me because I finally returned to the principle of justice I had lovingly nurtured when I was a medical student in Australia. I was a coward just like any other housemen when I was in my first posting. Allah taught me to never again be like that! To maintain my outlook in life and let Allah handle the rest.

In Malaysia, you can request for one tiny reasonable thing in the most gentle tone you can muster, but it would get rejected as long as they think they can get away with it. By the time you raise your voice and threaten to take some action, only then you get what you want. So, the Malaysian culture rewards me when I am being my loud, rude self. The culture doesn’t reward me by complying to my reasonable request when I am being nice.

So I then learn that if I want what I want, I will have to be tough and fight with my bare hands until I get it because with you guys, diplomacy doesn’t work!  Even my younger sister had experienced the same thing once she started working. By the time she threatened legal action against the PPD in Sarawak for withholding her husband’s BKLP (Bayaran Khas Lokasi Pedalaman) allowance, only then they decided to comply to her demand. And so she won! PPD gave her husband back his rightful BKLP money.

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My father looked at me and Alida, and he said “Alida dah mewarisi perangai Kak Ngah.” (In my family, I was called Kak Ngah Singa. Singa jadian…that is me. Hahaha.)

Then we looked at our father who was also just like us and said “Di mana tumpahnya kuah kalau tak ke nasi?” 

(I asked Alida to do a personality test once. Turned out that Alida is also an INTP. Go figure! I too, always tested as an INTP and sometimes INTJ.)

Some people said “Alida, buat apa hang pi cari  lawyer tu… lagi mahal kau kena bayar lawyer daripada duit yang kau akan dapat balik. Buat rugi jer.”

These people… they don’t get it!. Their priorities are not the same as us, the INTPs/INTJs. Our priorities are truths, justice and principle. Money comes second. Preserving harmonious relationship comes second (sometimes last!) It is okay if you have different priorities than me…. BUT!, don’t push your misguided notion on me! As long as we can afford our principles, we will go all out for it, khalas! If you are the sort of person who don’t have principles, you would not understand.

Initially, Alida wanted her money because it was rightfully hers! She requested for it reasonably. But when people were being unjust, difficult and refused to do the right thing, suddenly her priorities changed. Suddenly, this was NO LONGER about the money! She didn’t want it anymore! Now this was about justice! And she was willing to spend money to win against the PPD because they were being unjust! Let Alida be the lesson the PPD would never forget! And I supported her all the way by encouraging her to play their unjust game to the end by hitting below the belt and threaten them with not just legal action but ‘viral action’ too. My father supported her by offering to pay for the lawyer. And viola, suddenly it was so easy for the PPD to give her back the money that was rightfully hers.

See? See how they reward our frank, hard ways instead of our initial reasonably nice, soft ways? *shakes head*

When Alida got her money, only then the parasites who had told her “Hang pi lah fight. Tapi, aku rasa tak dapat punya” came to her, seeking her guidance. They asked her for a copy of what she wrote to the PPD so that they too could claim their money by using her letter as an example to write their own. Sheeshhh..

What sort of respect do we feel for these kind of people…. who didn’t want to do the dirty work of fighting in  the first place… but when winning is finally assured, only then they came running, asking for how to get it done! When Alida had first asked them to fight together with her, they didn’t want to move their lazy bums to do it and in fact, had discouraged her from fighting! But afterwards, their behaviour went exactly the opposite!  Isn’t their behaviour the perfect epitome of shameful cowardice? 

***

Dear adik-adik (medical students, HOs, junior MOs)

Allow me to impart you an advice I always believe in. Giving this advice is part of my civic duty and social responsibility as a senior MO (now that I am already in my second year of UD48 Hahaha. Senior la kan?). When you see injustice happens, call out on it.

Because Al-A’raf!

Because that is  the most Islamic thing you can do!

Because that is ACTIVE Sabar!

And don’t give yourself excuses that ‘at least, aku benci benda ni dalam hati.’ (I tried that excuse when I was a HO; it didn’t sit really well with me and I could not respect myself).

If you were a HO, maybe you can be forgiven to still be in the ‘selemah-lemah iman.’ To just ‘benci dalam hati’.

But if you are already an MO, or one day a specialist, a Jusa, a Dato, a Tan Sri, a Pengarah here and there…. there will always be someone higher than you who would tell you to do something your conscience says is wrong! Even when you become a DG, you still have someone else higher than you who would dictate to you things that are so unfair and so wrong that your blood boils because of it! Jadi, takkan sampai ke sudah hanya nak benci dalam hati dan berpuas hati dengan hanya memiliki ‘selemah-lemah iman’? Hanya kerana ia adalah arahan orang atasan?

Come on, por favor!

By the level of MOship, you should set standard for yourself… that I will speak up. As an MO, dah sah dalam jawatan, takkan masih selemah-lemah iman? Speak up! By the time you are a specialist, the standard should be “I will  speak up AND take action in the best way my position allows me to when I see injustice happens.”

For example you can say, “I refuse to allow my staff to oncall if you don’t want to pay their mileage claims. It wouldn’t be fair for them. The MOs can oncall by themselves if my staff cannot claim their mileage.” 

Or say, “Apa kata kita potong pengarah dan penolong-penolong pengarah punya elaun, potong orang-orang management punya elaun… korban sorang sikit bagi pada staff yang nak claim! Gaji staff lagi kecik daripada gaji korang kan! Gaji diorang lagi kecik daripada gaji orang management yang asyik nak potong claims orang padahal orang management tidur sedap kat rumah. This is not fair to my staff! How can you justify doing this to staffs whose salary are much less than you… but when there is financial constraint, it was THEIR claims you decided to cut first. Ini zalim!”

Say, “Everyone is innocent until proven guilty… so how can you devalue him by putting him in a department where he cannot utilize his excellent skill? Why not put him in Ortho/districts/Klinik Kesihatan where his skills can be put to its optimal use?Inilah ketidakadilan…. tidak meletakkan sesuatu kepada tempatnya. Tidak meletakkan staff yang kemahiran post-basicnya patut boleh diletakkan ditempat yang lebih memerlukan skill tersebut. But instead, you put him in my department? How could you do this to him… devalue him like  this… when you said he is innocent? And how could you do this to my department… to only place someone with a tainted reputation into our department time and time again! How could you devalue our department by always sending us staff of questionable calibre? In this case, you had created a lose-lose situation for him and for us! Your management is zalim! And I am calling you out on it!”

***

One of my friends told me, “Kalau kita speak up pun, kena ikut arahan juga. Orang management memang macam tu! Buat penat argue ja.”

I frowned. In my head, I reflected, “I know… I know that most of the time, kita speak up pun takkan dapat apa-apa. Buat kita rasa frust saja. Sebab at last, mungkin kena ikut arahan juga. Tapi can you imagine kalau yang speak up to ramai dan bukan seorang? (Like Alida’s case. She spoke up alone, she won! But how easier it would have been if ALL OF THEM had spoken up together in the first place) Tapi katakanlah dah ramai-ramai speak up pun, masih kena ikut arahan yang zalim, so what? The reason we SHOULD speak up is… because Al-A’raf. Remember? We speak up so that  we can say…. for the record, I oppose your injustice. For the record, I have made absolutely clear what I think of you when you made that decision. So that I can stand before God, and say ‘I have spoken, Ya Rabb.’ Because for the record, I can say that YOU KNEW you were wrong… I have made it so clear to you… now, the guilt is on you! It’s on you! I speak up because I am NOT content to always be in selemah-lemah iman like you.”

Because Al-Araf 7:164. 

Because I don’t want to be among people who are not worth mentioning.

Inspired!

Assalamualaikum to all my blog readers.

I hope it is not too late for me to wish all of you, my dear readers, Ramadan Mubarak and happy fasting.

May Allah grant us our best Ramadan yet. Amin. 

I have been so busy that I haven’t had the time to write these days. I think I am about to burn out. But never fear; if I am still reading (even when I am not writing), then my burn out is not so serious. 

And at the moment I am reading a book written by one of the most inspiring person I have ever had the fortune to know. Dr. Azlan Kamalludin is an emergency physician who I first met as a houseman in the emergency department of HSB. During my first few months of being a houseman in the ED, I had no idea who Dr. Azlan was because at that time, he was in Makkah being part of the medical team for Malaysian pilgrims. But a lot of senior housemen told me that Dr. Azlan was very good and very efficient and I was told that he was so inspiring to listen to when he taught housemen and MOs during morning rounds. 

And days before Dr. Azlan returned from Makkah, HOs/MOs were already talking about how much they missed Dr. Azlan’s teachings. So, of course, I became even more intrigued to know who was this Dr. Azlan. On the day he finally returned from Makkah, I found out that what they said about Dr. Azlan was not an exaggeration. Not at all. 

Me and a few of my friends had our end-of-posting assessment with him. In that short session, he shared his experience as an MO fighting for his patient’s rights. I have always been inspired by that.  

The day when I had my end-of-posting assessment with Dr. Azlan was the last day of my housemanship. I went to psychiatry after that. (But I added him on Facebook. Haha.)

Dr. Azlan had talked about wanting to write a book a few years ago and through Facebook he asked my opinion about what to write. Him, his wife and I met at Coffee Bean a few weeks before he got posted in Langkawi 2 years ago and we talked about his wife’s cancer being in remission and about things in general. I told him that ED HSB has suffered a great loss by him going to Langkawi. (But then, Langkawi ED is very lucky to get him.) 

On Monday last week, it was a very pleasant surprise for me when he and his wife came to the Methadone clinic to see me and present the book that he had been writing since working as an ED specialist in Langkawi. The title of the book is ‘Three Cancers in Ten Months: When Doctor Becomes Caregiver.”

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He had autographed the book with a personal message for me on the first page. It was such a great honour to be receiving such a gift from him. A book given for free, and delivered into my hands by the great author himself! I was very humbled by all his effort. ( Furthermore, I have always loved having books that are personally autographed by my favourite authors.)

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My facebook status on the day I received this gift of a book. 

As my readers probably know, there are not many specialists (or anyone in the position of authority) that I actually find inspiring. I respect any specialist who is nice… but not everyone who is nice is also inspiring. He is one of the few that I actually do find inspiring. In general, I am impressed by anyone (regardless of their position in the society) who can speak up their minds and say what they mean and mean what they say. No deceitful diplomatic crap is ever going to impress me. I like people who have strength of conviction and will do what is right no matter how hard they have to fight. No matter WHO they have to face! These people will always earn my lasting admiration. 

I am now half way through his book, and so far, it is such an inspiring read. It is highly recommended.

Below, is my Amazon review of his book.

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I have mentioned before that after housemanship, I was placed in ENT. But I have zero interest in ENT. My interest has always been in psychiatry. I fought so hard to get into the field of my interest. I went to see the Hospital Deputy Clinical Director, initially. Then, I went to see the Hospital Director herself! I wrote an appeal letter…. then, I wrote another! Deep inside, I know no other department will do for me other than psychiatry. After not getting into law school (because my scholarship was for medicine), Psychiatry was my SECOND CHANCE to do what I actually love! I was not going to give it up! Not that easily. 

But even so… I had written in my appeal letter that “If you can’t give me psychiatry, place me in Emergency rather than ENT!” Because in the emergency department, working with outstanding specialist like Dr. Azlan will inspire you to be better too. To fight for your patients to be admitted when all specialties reject your referrals! To be outspoken and bold “fine, I will call your specialist myself!”. To NOT BE AFRAID to fight for your rights and for your patients. 

I can do that! I can do it! Arguing and debating… well, that’s my second nature. I love psychiatry, but I wouldn’t mind being placed in ED even though the department is busier than ENT. ED would be my second best choice after PSY. Because I can sense that Dr. Azlan has the same kind of work ethics I have always respected in anyone. Because other than real interest in the field you choose to practice, working environment matters too. And if Dr. Azlan is in the ED, then the working environment should be fine, I thought. More than fine, in fact. 

I am thankful that I became a psychiatry MO. The environment in my department is quite good. Everyone is so nice. But being too nice sometimes makes for a perfect condition to be bullied by others! 

And my one absolute abhorrence is being bullied by unjust authority in the position of power. They hide their real agenda behind various circulars and ‘surat arahan’. And we have no choice but to do what they ask. 

I hate that! It violates my belief system! Because deep inside, I believe we always have the choice of fighting. The only problem is, are we willing to do it?

 I don’t like being bullied! 

So in this month of Ramadan, I declare, that I will NEVER be too nice! I will always ONLY be just ‘nice enough’… but no further. If you push my bullsh*t button, you will witness my massive retaliation. 

It just makes me SO BLOODY FURIOUS when I see injustice happens. 

Or maybe most people just have a passive personality. Maybe the world cannot accommodate too many people who are aggressive and abrasive… because then there would be wars happening every few minutes. Hahah. 

And now… even though it is Ramadhan and I am supposed  to have nice, benevolent, charitable feelings…but I cannot deny the truth. My feelings at the moment is far from nice….

In fact…

#AkuBengang!

But then, it IS Ramadhan.

So, I took a deep breath in and let it go. For now.

“Positive vibes, please come to me stat!” I craved silently.

But then I remembered that I still haven’t finished Dr. Azlan’s book. That’s the positive vibes, right there, waiting for you! 

So I smile and continue my reading.

And the world is right again. For now.

Marhaban Ya Ramadhan

Marhaban Ya Ramadhan.

Insya Allah, this will be my second Ramadhan in Malaysia after five long years of being in Australia.

I have always loved the month of Ramadhan. As a kid, the month of Ramadhan was something exciting and exhilarating. Every day, the kid in me had something to look forward to – mainly, what’s the menu for iftaar, of course. (I was a kid, okay. My shallowness then was allowed, right?)

In Newcastle, I’d learned to love this month with the kind of wild ferocity I had never thought I could feel for anything as mundane as the coming of another new month.

Of course, the food over there was not as abundant as the ones in Malaysia – well, not the halal ones, anyway. And of course, for some inexplicable reason, we would always find ourselves heartily pine for the voice of the ‘Penyimpan Mohor Besar Raja-raja’ on the TV channels. Of course there were times when we just WISH we could go to some sort of bazaar somewhere prior to iftaar (breaking fast).

But you know what, Ramadhan over there was even better than the ones in Malaysia. Wayyy better. It would be fabulous beyond this universe ONLY if I could just bring my whole family to experience Ramadhan over there. To experience the bliss of Ramadhan without the abundance of the food, to experience the greatness of Allah’s blessing without the obsession for the bazaar, to experience the beauty of forgoing our needs for the sake of Allah without the preoccupation for the Eid clothes.

In Newcastle, as a foreigner, we could not be made to forget the real spirit of Ramadhan. We could not be made to forget that the real purpose of Ramadhan is NOT for a lifestyle change of ‘fast and feast’ for 1 month. It is NOT for going hungry during the day and to eat yourself chockablock during the night. It is NOT for going on a diet – the Islamic version of it. It is NOT for empathizing with the poor and the needy.

It is for the purpose of attaining ‘takwa’ ; piety – fear of God.

You see, if you don’t pray, people do notice. I can tell which house officers do not pray and which of them do pray simply because there’s only one prayer room in the ward. Sooner or later, you can tell and you will know. There’s always one or two person you have never come across in the prayer room. Ask other HOs…I am sure they also notice these things…we just never talk about it among each other. After all, we are all adults. Enough said.

But if you don’t fast and secretly eat in the toilet…who would know? Fasting is between you and Allah alone. No one else is privy to it. If you don’t have fear of God – you will eat…and no one will know about it. There’s no societal pressure for you to go hungry. Of course there IS societal pressure for you to pretend that you are fasting. But you can secretly eat – EASILY! – without anyone knowing… Except Allah.

That’s why the real purpose of Ramadhan is to attain piety or fear of God. Nothing else will keep you from eating except for the fear of God. Nothing else.

That’s why Allah said “O you who believe, Observing the fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may attain piety.”  (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:183)

Allah told us in all his frank wisdom that the real purpose of fasting is for us to increase our level of piety.

But when others ask us ‘why do you have to fast,’ we think we sound better if we answer it in our own style such as:

-you see, fasting is good for you because it will help you with your blood sugar. It is good for managing obesity.

-Oh, I fast so that I can empathize with the poor and the needy.

The western people ask us –sometimes in derision – why do your religion makes it compulsory for you to fast. And we think our answers sound better than the one that Allah already told us. We forgot that these westerners do not need to go hungry in order to empathize with the poor and the needy. Who was the first one to lend a helping hand in war-torn Muslim countries…yup, the Christians. We forgot that our blood sugar control went even more haywire during the month of Ramadhan, haha.

So please stop all these apologetic and defensive answers. Say it the way it is supposed to be said. Let’s just quote what Allah had said by saying that fasting is prescribed for us, as it was prescribed for those before us (namely the Jews and the Christians –  Moses and Jesus also fasted) in order that we will attain piety. If they further ask : how does fasting makes you attain piety – well, then you elaborate and explain further.

If you have spent some time in overseas, you will get this kind of question every year during Ramadhan, your answer will get better and better as the years go by. But please give the right answer – don’t make up one that you think sounds better.

***

It was PBL tutorial day. It was customary for us to bring some food to munch while discussing the PBL trigger. That day, it was my turn to bring food. And I did.

However they noticed that I did not eat any of it. One of them ask me, “Oh is it Ramadhan already?”

Imagine my pleasure when one of them at least knew about the existence of Ramadhan. I was quite impressed that he knew.

On the way back, he walked next to me and we started some small talk (As you guys know, I really hate small talk. I am not good at it. It is always something I could never be good at.)

“So you fast all day, and then you eat the whole night?” he suddenly asked.

Terbeliak juga biji mata aku mendengar soalan ajaib tersebut.

It was at the tip of my tongue to be sarcastic and just said ‘oh yeah, I eat every minute of the whole night. I did not even go to sleep. God knows how I was able to attend the medical lectures and the tutorials during the day without being sleepy.’

But you see, I always try to be the miss-nice-girl before I evolve into the miss-nasty. I try not to become nasty until absolutely necessary, hahha. So I flashed a wolfish smile (all teeth bared) and asked, “Where did you get the idea that we would eat the whole night during the month of Ramadhan?”

You see, it was not the first time I had heard that question. Another Australian had asked me the very same question during the previous Ramadhan too. I had laughed myself silly at that time. But when another Australian acquaintance of mine had asked such thoughtless question to me this time, I was quite insulted, to say in the least.

Apparently a myth has been going around, being propagated by the haters of Islam that Muslims suffered SO MUCH during Ramadhan that they will make up for it by eating all night!

What the…?

Well, think about it, folks.

Ramadhan is NOT that hard.  We have our Sahur (early breakfast) prior to our Subuh prayer…meaning around 5.00 to 5.30 am. And then we break our fast around 7.30 to 8.00 pm (around dinner time). So really, the only regular meal that we have to miss is lunch. And if you ask all HOs in the country, missing lunch is not such a big deal, right!

So what is it about Ramadhan that makes you think we are a bunch of weaklings, that we have to make up for it by eating ALL NIGHT? Don’t you have any sense when you had thought to ask that question? Or weren’t you even thinking?

Imagine eating all night! Don’t you think that some of us will need to sleep because, oh, we happen to go to work too. The Muslim kids need to go to school too.

Eating all night, you said? How about our assignments and homeworks? Don’t you think those need to get done? How about studying? My SPM in 2002 was during the month of Ramadhan and many of my friends and I had obtained straight As for it. Did you think I eat my way into straight As without slapping my forehead black and blue over Add Maths and Physics?

Eating all night? Okay…how about those who go to the mosque for the 20-rakaat Terawih prayer? You think they pray AND eat at the same time? What an imagination you have!

I could not imagine how in God’s name can they come up with such a question! To think that we eat all night! It was such a ridiculous image of Muslims; it was as ridiculous as it was unfair. And apparently, some of them believe it. Apparently, they believe us to be as ridiculous as that!

How…vexing!

But I could forgive the Australians if they are ignorant of our real nature in the month of Ramadhan. After all, Australia is not a Muslim-majority country.

Imagine how I feel when a Malaysian Chinese colleague of mine in HSB asked me similar question. “Bulan puasa nanti you makan sepanjang malam ke?”

Oh my God! Don’t you feel insulted? Mahu marah pun ada. Kau tak nampak ke beratus-ratus orang Muslim pergi buat solat terawih malam-malam tu? Kau tak perasan ke ada Muslim doctors kena on-call waktu bulan puasa? WHEN would we have the TIME to eat all night? Come on!!

It’s true that we only start our fasting from Subuh until Maghrib. It’s true that we are allowed to eat throughout the night! But being allowed to do something doesn’t mean you will be doing it! I have never eaten throughout the night EVER.  Most of us only break our fast and then eat our early breakfast at 5.00 am.

For the last time, please do not insult your intelligence – and mine – by asking that ridiculous question again. It’s not even funny!

***

To look at Muslims in Malaysia breaking their fast at the hotel buffet, you cannot exactly blame these people for thinking that we eat all night.

I kind of understand the reason they think we were such a piranha during Ramadhan. It was our fault. Our culture has made Ramadhan to be about food. Our culture has made Ramadhan to be about food waste.

It is the fault of our modern culture.

In Newcastle, it was not about food. There were times when we had iftaar at the mosque on the basis of pot luck. The arabs, the Malays, the Pakistani, the Brunei…all brought home-cooked meal and we tasted a bit of everything.

For us as students, we only brought home cooked French fries. Hahah. We were such a disgrace, but we were forgiven for our lack of masterchef skill because we were students. It was such a privilege being a Muslim student at the Newcastle mosque…it was a bit like being the youngest in the family; adorable without having to lift a finger (no offense to my youngest sister, Wani. Huhu.)

People didn’t really expect students to bring nasi beriyani. But French fries……. well, that crossed the line a bit. I was quite ashamed of myself. But it was better than not bringing anything. And at least, the Muslim small kids enjoy it. Once, I had brought cucur kodok or keledek goreng too. Sometimes, if I had extra time to prepare, I would bring fried rice. So really, fried rice was my best contribution in 5 years of my pot luck experience. (yup, not a very glorious record, I’m afraid)

Newcastle mosque, Australia. Where I spent my Ramadhan and Eid for 5 years.

In Newcastle, Ramadhan really wasn’t about food. Well, only minimally (I wouldn’t lie and say food did not matter AT ALL, but not in such a large scale) You would see most Muslims walking around with palm-sized Quran in their hands during Ramadhan. They were so into the Quran… it could be at the library, it could be at the bus stop, it could be during a bus journey or in the train…it could be anywhere! They were so into it whenever they have any spare time. The Terawih in the mosque was quite long, actually…so there was no way those people can eat ALL NIGHT, all right?

You would get to know and become friends with people of different races who you would be praying with side-by-side throughout the Terawih. The Muslims sisters who were having their menstruation (and thus were not required to pray), would help to look after the kids of the other Muslim sisters who were praying. No one over there would look at you angrily and frown at you and said “Oh, orang datang haid tak boleh pijak masjid langsung!!” (ini adalah perkara khilaf yang kita tidak diajar sewaktu sekolah). No one over there would scold the kids “Oit budak-budak bising! Lari sana sini! Senyap sikit! Hormat orang lain nak sembahyang!”

The Muslims over there did not behave like our deen is all about frown without fun; strictness without laughter! The kids do not go around feeling scared of the long-bearded and bushy-browed Pakistani adult. In fact, the longer the beard, the kinder the person is; the funnier, the BETTER, the more loved. (Note that I didn’t say the longer the beard is, the more pious. Remember, we cannot judge piety from outward appearnce. But we can certainly judge character.)

The adorable Arab kid who, I am sure, has been looked after by Malaysians, Indonesians, Pakistanis, Indians and several others, while his mom was praying.

The mosque over there was welcoming! It HAS to be welcoming! Imagine raising your kids in a western community where they absorb all the values of the western society at school! As a parent, naturally you would be worried that your kids no longer will uphold the values of your religion. If you make mosque a source of dread to the kids, they would have NO OTHER counter-influence against the western values because they would do their utmost to avoid going to the mosque at all cost. (please note that there are MANY excellent western values that we should adopt: politeness, professionalism, cleanliness, transparency in administration, forthrightness, just to name a few. But the parents over there were worried about the OTHER section of Western values…the dressing style, the free mixing of opposite gender, things like that.)

And I particularly love the Arabs during the month of Ramadhan. The Arabs – if they are in overseas – are rich people. They are the most generous of souls during the month of Ramadhan. How many amenities of the mosque have come from their money, I could not easily count. May Allah reward our Arab brothers and sisters.

***

I can forgive the non-Muslims if they persisted in thinking that Muslims will become weak and lazy during the month of Ramadhan. If they think so, it is our fault. In Australia, I always try to be my most energetic self during the month of Ramadhan….wouldn’t want these people to think that fasting was so hard for me. And as I have mentioned above, fasting was only a matter of missing lunch… so it really was not that hard.

But I cannot forgive Muslims who think that Ramadhan is an excuse for them to be slackers. If you are slacking, then say it’s your fault that has nothing to do with you fasting and rectify the matter. But don’t say “Oh, sorry I am too tired because I am fasting.” Because non-Muslims would think that we are at our worst self when we are fasting – which is NOT TRUE!

History has proven that we were at our best when we fasted! (notice the use of past-tense yet? huhu)

We won the Battle of Badar during the month of Ramadhan.

We also won the Battle of Khanda’ in the month of Ramadhan.

Remember ’Fathul Makkah’ or Pembersihan Kota Mekah? We freed Makkah from the existence of idols during the month of Ramadhan when our prophet and the companions journeyed from Madinah and were able to march straight into Makkah, conquering the holy city without a single blood being dropped. It was a big victory; the sweetness of which, we still enjoy until now. Since then, no idols have ever been erected in Makkah again and this holy city remains exclusive for Muslims throughout all these years!

Salahuddin Al- Ayubi and the Muslim Army freed Palestine from the Crusaders during the month of Ramadhan too!

The Muslims Army led by Thariq Ibn Ziyad landed in Andalusia in Ramadhan.

We won the Battle of Ayn Jalut – we beat the Mongols – during the month of Ramadhan too.

Imagine going into battle… while you are fasting. In the desert!

A brave warrrior by day, a humble servant by night.

That’s what Ramadhan has always been for Muslims…the month of victory; bulan kemenangan.

It’s just that we forgot!

Let’s not forget again.

The glorious people of the past wept and cried when Ramdhan had come to an end; because they could never be certain whether or not they would live to see the next Ramadhan. (And WE! We would rejoice that there will be no more fasting and it is RAYA day! How vastly different our ‘cultural’ attitude is as opposed to the ‘religious’ attitude that we should have cultivated in our society)

May Allah guide all of us in obtaining the real purpose of Ramadhan – to attain takwa; piety and fear of God.

Marhaban Ya Ramadhan! How intensely you are missed!

Ramadhan Mubarak

Salam to all my dear readers,

This is gonna be a very short post. I have just finished my evening on call today and am still feeling quite fatigue.

But I don’t want to miss the opportunity to wish each and everyone of you Ramadhan Mubarak. Make the best of these 30 days to attain greater amount of taqwa, insya Allah. May all our effort be rewarded by the Most Loving and the Most Merciful.

Newcastle Muslims would start fasting tomorrow (Thursday 12th of August), one day later than the Muslims in Malaysia.

I would like to humbly plead forgiveness for all my wrongdoings, knowingly or unknowingly to all my readers. May Allah extend His forgiveness to you and me.