September 2004 Archives

Petrol up by 5 sen

The buzz is loud and clear: petrol prices will be up by 5 sen tomorrow. Tonight would be a good time to fill 'er up.

Beating women

Read in the papers today about another women being beaten up in a case of domestic violence. Really can't understand men who would do this; if they wanted to feel "macho" with "power" beating a defenseless woman isn't really cool at all. Wanna feel strong and manly? Try beating up another man, preferably someone bigger and stronger than you. That's being truly macho.

Halal business?

In a globalized world, its increasingly difficult for any business to be 100% halal. What is a "halal" business? A business that complies to the principles of Islamic law. In business the most common principles involved can be divided into a few areas:

1. Type of business -- any business involves the buying and selling of a product or a service. The particular product or service being sold and/or bought determines the halal-ness of the business e.g. prostitution is unlawful sex, therefore prostitutes who offer sex as a service are participating in a non-halal type of business.

2. Banking/Finance -- the lifeblood and heart of any business is how it manages and organizes its finances, normally via the banking system. A lot of pitfalls here due to the intricate nature in which interest (riba is haram in Islam; riba is defined here) plays a large role in keeping things moving. Islamic banking systems nowadays swap the word "riba" for "profits from investments" -- banks take your deposits then invest it and share the profits with their customers (that's exactly the same thing that normal banks do, but they call it "interest" instead). The only difference lies in the "guarantee" of returns -- an Islamic bank doesn't guarantee a fixed return; it could be more or less depending on the performance of the bank's investment portfolio. But i don't buy this difference; when a fund manager approaches you to invest in an "Islamic fund", they make all sorts of promises to entice you to invest, and this often includes performance promises. Of course, contractually, they are not bonded by these promises, after all it is Islamic banking thus such "promises of profit" are not allowed -- but that's even worse: banks are therefore allowed to make promises that they don't have to keep when attracting new customers.

3. No business exists in a vaccum -- your business may be halal but without other businesses to support you, some of which may be less halal than you, your profits can easily be tainted. In order to get around this, most ustaz advise donating a portion of the "tainted" profits to charity. That sounds very sensible.

Back to the original premise of this post: taking into consideration the three areas above, its virtually impossible for a modern business to be 100% halal.

Let's take a simple scenario, Pak Ali the pisang goreng seller by the road in Bandar Tun Razak, Cheras.

Pak Ali has a stall. He sells pisang goreng daily and every morning he takes the previous day's sales and banks it into his account at the local bank.

(Problem 1) Depending on the type of account he uses, there is an immediate danger of his money being tainted with riba from his bank's investment practices.

(Problem 2) Even if he opens an "Islamic bank account", the bank is therefore obliged to use his money to invest in only halal businesses and to share the profits of said investment with him. The problem is that banks will therefore have a diversified portfolio of investments that will include some blue chip organizations e.g. Shell, or perhaps ExxonMobil, or perhaps Astro or whatever. On the surface these organizations are halal but banks have very little control over their exact business operations therefore profits from said investments could be tainted too. For example, a large portion of the international oil & gas business involves futures and options -- simply put this means buying and selling oil that doesn't exist yet. Such speculative behaviour is considered haram.

So just from the simple selling of his goreng pisang, Pak Ali's business already has two potential halal/haram problems. Let's look at the other parts of Pak Ali's business.

Pak Ali is a forward thinker. He realizes that the tropical storms in Central America and also the coming end-of-year storms in Malaysia may reduce the supply of raw bananas in the market. He speculates that the price of bananas will increase so he buys future options from his supplier; basically agreeing now on a set price to buy bananas in the future (bananas that don't exist yet).

He guesses right. The price of bananas goes up and he stockpiles them at a cheap price. He begins selling his cheaper bananas to his friends who also sell goreng pisang (he can afford to do so since he bought the bananas at a cheap price).

(Problem 3) Speculation -- buying and selling of products that do not exist yet -- that's clearly haram. But if he doesn't do it, then his business will falter if he's forced to buy bananas at a higher price in the future eventhough he could forsee the problem and did nothing to address it. Worse still, let's say one of his competitors speculated as he did and bought bananas at a cheap price before the prices increased -- his business would then be at the mercy of his competitor, Pak Abu who sells goreng pisang across the street from him. Pak Abu can now afford to sell goreng pisang at a cheap price while Pak Ali (who didn't speculate and buy futures options when he had the chance) has to increase his prices. Customers flock to Pak Abu, Pak Ali is ruined.

Pak Ali's business grows. He hires help in the form of Amin and Ah Kow (Pak Ali is an equal opportunity employer). Amin and Ah Kow are now his employees and therefore draw a salary from the profits of Pak Ali's goreng pisang stall.

(Problem 4) Are Amin's and Ah Kow's salaries now tainted with haram money? (Assuming that Pak Ali does not address any of the 3 prior problems). Amin says yes, he believes that Pak Ali's business is haram and quits. He tells all his Muslim friens not to work for Pak Ali because he buys futures options on bananas from Central America. Pak Ali still needs help and hires Samivelu. Amin is jobless and becomes a street vagrant.

Pak Ali's business is going well. So well in fact that he needs to grow it. He takes a bank loan with interest repayments of 3% per annum. Furthermore, he trades 20% of his goreng pisang business with Pak Salleh for a further cash injection.

(Problem 5) Bank loans require interest repayments. This is a grey area -- if your business contributes to a haram practice (i.e. interest payments to the customers of the bank that gave Pak Ali the loan), does that make your business haram?

(Problem 6) Pak Salleh decides to sell his 20% of Pak Ali's business to Ah Beng who participates in other business activities, none of which are halal. This is another grey area -- 20% of the profits from Pak Ali's business now go to Ah Beng who in turn uses the money for non-halal purposes. What impact, if any, does this have on the halal/haram of Pak Ali's business?

One day, Pak Ali is asked to cater goreng pisang at a very big event -- the marketing exposure to his business is fantastic since a lot of the people at the event are goreng pisang-crazy; they love goreng pisang, and if Pak Ali gets a chance to introduce them to his goreng pisang this could mean a lot of repeat business.

(Problem 7) The event itself is a non-halal environment. Alcoholic drinks and other non-halal food will be served to the guests. This is a grey area -- is it permissible for Pak Ali to participate in a largely non-halal event? Will he be branded guilty by association, eventhough his business is perfectly halal?

Even a goreng pisang business is not easy; there are many problems associated to the halal and haram of the business. This is a major, major concern to discerning Muslims, including myself, and its definitely something i give lots of thought to. Its so easy for a business to become haram and so difficult to ensure its halal.

Perhaps at the end of the day, God will judge us on the virtue of our intentions and what we actually do rather than all the possibilities of all the things that could go wrong.

When we die

Over the weekend i bought Mitch Albom's latest novel, "The Five People We Meet in Heaven" -- his first work, "Tuesdays with Morrie" had a significant impact on how i looked at life, so i wasn't going to miss Albom's latest book.

As i read it, all sorts of thoughts have filtered into my mind, mostly surrounding religion and its purpose in our lives. A significant reason why religion exists, imho, is to provide answers to the unknown; one of the biggest unknowns out there is "what happens to us when we die?". The Big Question all religions seem to have The Answer to.

For Muslims, Heaven is... well, an interesting place -- rivers of alcohol (Muslims are allowed to drink alcohol in Heaven), throngs of virgin women to cater to our every whim, a place of light, serenity, full of beautiful things and happiness. At least this is what i was told Heaven was like by the ustaz and imams who were largely responsible for my religious tuition.

For some reason, this just seems so... strange. I've got a feeling heaven isn't like that at all. "Rivers of fine wine" and "busty virgin women" -- such a machoistic heaven just doesn't sound right.

What i do expect is a Heaven of happiness and peace and forgiveness. And these things can be very different depending on who you ask. For some, "rivers of wine" may be heaven. For others, an old library full of mankind's most splendid literature may be heaven. With this in mind, perhaps "heaven" will be different for each of us?

For me, a reunion with my family and loved ones would be heaven. A heaven of forgiveness, compassion and mercy, lorded by a God that judges us on the merits of our lives as a whole rather than the direction in which we offer our prayers. Heaven is, as heaven will be.

Survivor: Vanuatu

I didn't know the latest season of Survivor has already begun airing on ntv7 (10.10pm, Friday nights). Damn missed 2 episodes already.

Blogging impact

Blogs have been keeping lots of people on their toes; people who normally wouldn't have to worry about someone publicly dicing them into pieces have had exactly that done to them.

In the States, CBS' Dan Rather basically had his hat handed to him, followed by a slap across the face for being donkey-assed silly. Blogs caught on to an indiscretion, fanned the flames to make it an issue -- ultimately leading to a red faced Mr Rather and CBS, a leading media organization, to admit it made a "mistake".

Jeff Ooi's Screenshots has been doing the same in Malaysia. Organizations as prestigious as Maxis, MAS, TMnet, the NST, etc. have all fallen prey to the bitch-slapping-snipering that is Jeff's style. Lately i've noticed that Jeff actually has to do very little: the popularity of Screenshots has allowed it to become a platform for remote-launched missiles -- readers writing in with their gripes, their emails getting public print, outrage and disgust normally following from Screenshots' many readers, usually leading to an apology or explanation of some sort from the offending Co., again publicly published.

I won't be surprised if sometime soon, someone coins a phrase that changes Screenshots from a noun to a verb: "You've been "Screenshot-ted" (read: publicly embarassed on Jeff's site)".

How has all of this been possible? My money is on the fact that more people use the Internet now than ever before; be it in the US, or Europe, or in Malaysia, or anywhere else in the world -- the Internet reaches more of us more effectively now than ever before in human history. And that trends shows no end to slowing down.

Emerging technologies crop up all the time to allow us to be even more connected to the Internet. 3G phones. IPv6 (where every device conceivable will be Internet-enabled!). Cheaper broadband. Smaller, faster, cheaper computers.

The proliferation of the Internet is the lifeblood of blogs and the main reason why they are beginning to have such an impact on everday (realworld) life. The invention of the printing press brought about a revolution -- information replicated and transfered at never-before rates. With the Internet providing the technological basis, could blogs be this century's printing press?

Malaysia's Way

As i was reading a transcript of the DPM's recent speech at the UMNO assembly, this in particular got me thinking:

"Orang Melayu sudah seharusnya menerima konsep meritokrasi, menghayati dan mengamalkannya sebagai satu budaya untuk mengukur tahap kelayakan dan pencapaian dalam semua lapangan. Kita tidak akan benarkan orang lain menentukan corak dan rupa meritokrasi yang sedang dan akan dilaksanakan di negara ini. Bahkan meritokrasi akan bermula di kalangan masyarakat Melayu itu sendiri"

Can someone help me understand -- why does Malaysia always seem to have "its own way" of defining things?

Human rights has always been an issue in Malaysia, specifically the freedom of expression and the use of our much-maligned Internal Security Act to remove unwanted clutter from the public radar. When pressed about this, the government response has been, "we've got our own brand of human rights" (i.e. we don't subscribe to the universal definitions of human rights).

While a certain amount of flexibility should be lent to any particular idea or philosophy (contrary to what the people of the White House think, one size does not necessarily fit all), that's no excuse to mold things the way you want just so it makes you look good.

Malaysia can't claim to respect human rights when it overlooks some of its most important tenets. Similarly, good 'ol DPM Najib most certainly can't claim that we are a meritocratic society just because he says we are.

Still young

Woke up early this morning. Didn't take much to wake me; i slept soundly but lightly last night. Well rested, yawning, stretching, the rays of the morning sun came pouring into my window and poured themselves over my face and body. A gentle massage of warmth, a singular realization that life is wonderful, and that today is not just another day. It feels good.

The VOI is making a comeback!

After nearly two weeks downtime, the Volume of Interactions is making a comeback. On a brand new host, with the latest version of Movabletype, and a significant change in its structure, it feels good to be writing once more.

Stay tuned as further changes are made. Final change list will be announced later. Thanks to everyone who has sent me emails of encouragement these past week.

Review: Puteri Gunung Ledang

Let's put it this way: if movie making was an Olympic sport, Puteri Gunung Ledang (PGL) would not have done any better than any of our atheletes in Athens this year.

The pros:

1. The movie cost RM15 million -- that showed in the finishing, editing and cinemathography which was fairly good. Didn't look at all like most other Malay movies that look as though they were shot with home movie cameras; had that professional "polished" look we've come to expect from most Hollywood/Bollywood commercial productions.
2. Tiara Jacqueline put in a performance of her life.
3. A very poetic script that i appreciated (except the parts that overused the word "cinta" -- See Below).

The cons:

1. The movie cost RM15 million -- for that sort of money, this movie should have been WAAAAAAAAAY better. I think one of my all-time favourite Malay movies, Layar Lara, perhaps cost less than 5% of PGL. Let's not even begin comparing the cost-benefit ratio of PGL against classic P. Ramlee movies which probably cost less than 0.5% of PGL's budget in relative terms.
2. The movie was very, very slow -- it took nearly an hour before we even got to see Gunung Ledang, and perhaps a bit more before the plot got going. Not a good thing for a movie that runs just under 2 hours.
3. The word "cinta" was in about every other sentence. Much too jiwang for me (and this is from a guy who loves movies like Sleepless in Seattle and Gone with the Wind).
4. The fight scenes reminded me of Chinese Kung Fu movies... that i saw when i was 7 years old. Outdated techniques and super-cheesy -- you know you're in for a torrid time when the combatants spin through a very fake-looking "flames of hell".
5. The soundtrack? What soundtrack? The music was this whining sound that prolonged the agony. The only good piece of music came right at the very end, during the credits.
6. Did i mention its a sloooooooow movie. Felt like i was wading through melted cheese. Doctors could prescribe this movie to insomniacs with great success.

To be fair, perhaps its just me -- i actually saw someone sitting in front of me (it was a full house) who clapped at the end as the credits rolled and at least one blogger liked it.

So please, go watch it and find out yourselves; at the very least sokonglah industri filem negara and all of that.

Anwar free, at last

Anwar Ibrahim has been released. Whether or not he is/was innocent lies in the realm of the unknown for the average joe; only God, Anwar and a select few will ever know. Since speculation is pointless, lets not concern ourselves with this.

I predicted his release a long time ago, and i've got a feeling the rest of my predictions about what will follow in the wake of his release will also come to pass.

To Anwar Ibrahim and family, you've got part of your life back. I pray you'll use it for the better of yourselves and the country.

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This page is an archive of entries from September 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

August 2004 is the previous archive.

October 2004 is the next archive.

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