October 2004 Archives

Ramadhan Day 14

We're almost at the halfway point of Ramadhan. Perhaps this is a good time to reflect on everything that has happened so far. Take a moment.

I played host to some friends from overseas last night. Took them to dinner (it was blast to see them try sambal petai!), then we shared some drinks and cigars together at a nearby haunt.

As the night progressed, i realized that they knew Muslims fast during the month of ramadhan, but they didn't understand how or why it was practiced. I found that quite interesting actually: friends from far, far away, they live in societies where there are very few Muslims, perhaps i am their only Muslim friend, minimal exposure to Islam, yet they knew the term "ramadhan", they identified it as a month in the Muslim calendar, and they understood that this is a religious month of fasting for Muslims; no food or drink or sex from sun-up to sun-down. I would say these friends of mine represent your average cross-section of their society; they were certainly not rocket scientists nor were they bums. Moderate, average people.

It got me wondering, how much does the moderate, average Muslim know about the religious practices of our non-Muslim friends. I certainly know very little eventhough i took a course in Comparative Religion while in uni. How much do we understand the significance of the Bar Mitzfah or the Baptism, or religious holidays like Christmas? In my own quiet corner, last night, i felt more than a little ashamed.

Ramadhan Day 13

I've always known that ramadhan is a testing time, beyond the normal "i'm so hungry, i'm so thirsty" test. Sometimes even beyond the test of the spiritual. What test is left, i hear someone shouting at me from far, far behind yonder. Well, the test of our humanity it one. The test of our relationships with other human beings is another. The tests we face in every other day of the year, magnified somehow due to the act of the fast.

God works in subtle, mysterious ways. What He takes with one hand, he offers back with the other. Most times this is true. He challenges us, pushing us to grow beyond the confines of our box. He does this constantly; though what better time to do it than now, when our minds and bodies are in a weakened state.

It really is up to us to be worthy, or to hold our hands up and say, "I give up." Which will you be today?

Ramadhan Day 12

Another quiet evening at home last night -- almost every evening seems to be a quiet evening these past 2 weeks. :) Had some beef salami in the fridge; sliced some up, threw them onto the hot plate, toasted a couple pieces of bread, sliced up a tomato, put it all together, add a slice of NZ tasty cheddar cheese, and voila, dinner.

Munching away in front of the tv, i asked myself why i was fasting. I suppose its an interesting question to ask given that i've already fasted for 12 days; it would be embarassing to suddenly discover that i didn't know why i was doing it.

The straight and narrow answer would be: because God asked me to, and i'm doing it for His pleasure. But, therein lies a weakness in thought -- why did Allah s.w.t. ask me to fast? Certainly, there are good reasons for it, just as there are good reasons for all the laws in the shariah.

So did some digging around this morning and found this interesting article by Ali Al-Timimi. To summarize, there are 11 benefits of ramadhan for the Muslim who fasts:

LESSON 1: Gaining Taqwaa
LESSON 2: Drawing closer to Allaah
LESSON 3: Acquiring patience and strong will
LESSON 4: Striving for Ihsaan (righteousness and sincerity) and staying away from riyaa’ (showing off)
LESSON 6: Recognizing that one can change for the better
LESSON 7: Being more charitable
LESSON 8: Sensing the unity of the Muslims
LESSON 9: Learning discipline
LESSON 10: Teaching the young to worship Allaah
LESSON 11: Caring for one’s health

Its a good read, logical with the appropriate dalil (proof, substantiation) for each lesson.

Ramadhan Day 11

Today will be an interesting day. I didn't wake up for sahur; i opened my eyes at 6.15am, and thought, "Oh crap." My normally-dependable Nokia alarm had failed me. Shucks.

I reckon i must be the most anti-social person i know during the month of Ramadhan. Have received a number of invitations from friends to iftar, but i've turned them all down in favour of a quiet meal at home followed by tarawih prayers, or if i'm too tired after a long day, a lazy couple hours in front of the tv with a favoured cigar before turning in.

In my mind's eye, i can hear myself telling me that the fasting month is more than just about fasting, good deeds and religion. Its also an opportunity to catch up with old pals, some of whom i've not seen in ages. Ramadhan is the perfect excuse to get together; to enjoy the end of the day together, eating a wonderful meal (all meals taste good when you're hungry, i've discovered), making much-missed conversation. Such excuses to do this don't come around often in the otherwise busy hustle bustle of our normal lives.

So why haven't i said yes to anybody yet? I think its just me, and how i practice ramadhan. Anti-social? Maybe, but that's ok too.

Ramadhan Day 10

It was a quiet, lovely weekend spent in the company of home, some creatively cooked meals, nearly-missed sahurs and a couple of great football games last night. Nice.

A young friend of mine, Kiki, who is just turning 8 or 9 this year, has just starting fasting. His tale is quite interesting: if he completes the 30 days of fast, he will receive RM2 for each day, or RM60 for the whole month. I remember what's its like to be 8 years old, and RM60 would seem like a ton of money. Its always difficult to motivate children to do the right thing; they are still not able to rationally decide with complete accuracy what is right or wrong, after all. So is money the correct motivation to use on him with regards to fasting?

I suppose the purists would say no. Fasting is a religious obligation that is cheapened through the motivation of money; and its wrong to even offer him money to fast. He should be taught what's right, rather than dangled the carrot for proper behaviour.

I don't know about this. I look back into my childhood and remember that my parents rewarded my for fasting too, though perhaps not in money terms: a favourite dish for iftar, or a trip to the nearby 7-Eleven for ice cream after tarawih. Things like that. Not money, but the principle of reward for desired action was still the same. Did that make me any less of a person today? I guess not; no offer of rewards are made to me now for fasting. I fast because i want to, for His pleasure and rather not my own.

Children, perhaps more than adults, need motivation to do the right thing. Perhaps there is a "wrong" way to teach them the right thing, but i think, especially for someone so young, its the lesson that's important rather than the method in which the lesson is learned. The training of fasting that will serve him well as he becomes an adult is certainly worth much more than RM60.

Ramadhan Day 8

As i sat in front of the TV last night, smoking a great cigar (the first i've had in a while), enjoying the peace and calm that every night of ramadhan seems to provide, i began to think about the Muslim calendar. Its essentially a lunar-based calendar, similar to what the Chinese use. That's why ramadhan starts approximately 11 days earlier each year -- the lunar calendar runs faster than our normal Gregorian calendar system.

Am i the only one who finds it interesting that we lead our lives based on a calendar system that was initially promulgated by the Catholic church in 1582? The wonders of British imperialism, i suppose. :)

Ramadhan Day 7

After a lesson well learned the night before, iftar last night was much more moderate -- darling baizura had gifted me some dates, so i broke fast with that, plus a little rice and sweet & sour chicken meal i whipped up over the stove. Incredible how good food you cook with your own hands tastes, especially when you're hungry.

Tarawih prayers followed, and during the tazkirah (literally translated it means, "reminder" -- but its usually a short speech of morals from the imam) just before isyak prayers, the imam spoke about the sacrifices Muslims have made over the history of Islam, including the many wars that have been fought during ramadhan. The war against the Tartars in 658 Hijrah was one of the wars mentioned.

I'm proud of what Islam has had to do to protect itself; but i guess the pacifist in me disagrees with many of the things we've done in the past as part of that effort -- in the battle against the Tartars, Amir Qutuz, the leader of the remaining Muslim forces slaughtered the ambassadors sent by the enemy. Granted, their sole purpose was to insult and incite fear in the Muslim camp, but killing them strikes me as being particularly bloodthirsty.

I guess times were different then, as they are now. Or are they: we've got Muslims kidnapping the head of CARE in Iraq. That just strikes me as so incredibly stupid -- a person who has devoted 30 years of her life helping your people, and she gets kidnapped, perhaps to be held at ransom.

Islam means "peace" -- it often strikes me as very ironic that so much of our history is marked by violence, death and killing.

Ramadhan Day 6

Its terribly easy to over-eat during Ramadhan. Found that out the painful way last night.

A long day in the office meant a late knock-off time; i knew i would be stuck in the car, perhaps in a jam on the way home, so i bought a sambal bun, some murukku and a can of soya milk to for iftar -- to tide me over until i could get a proper meal. Ate it all in a car (i was stuck in the car when the azan came over the radio.

Went home, prayed, took a bath, and took a drive to Damansara Uptown for dinner. A sudden craving for black pepper chicken chop had struck me. And yong tau foo (mostly fish balls and fish paste). And daging masak merah (fried beef in chilli sauce). And carrot juice.

It was all too much, way too much. I ended up not finishing it all simply because i couldn't -- there was just too much food. Drove home, feeling quite upset that i had allowed gluttony to take over. And so much food so quickly, also leaves a very unpleasant, almost painful feeling in the tummy.

Lesson: Ramadhan is about willpower and control, and that extends to beyond just the abstinence of food & drink during the day.

Ramadhan Day 5

Necessity is the mother of invention, they say. How true! I really didn't feel like buying gerai food for dinner last night, rather felt like cooking myself a meal. The problem was that i was just too lazy to cook something elaborate, yang enak dimakan, so to speak. Quite a far cry from the days when mom, during the fasting month, would cook up a virtual storm of goodies for the family. So, looks like it was a "make-do-with-what-i-can-do-night".

Cooked some rice, sliced up a large juicy tomato, used a very cool microwave gizmo to cook up some eggs (banjo-style), poured some beef serunding onto the rice, and voila -- dinner! Took less than 3 minutes to set it all up (though the rice took about 20 minutes to cook, prior).

As i munched away, with Sani my loyal housemate as company, we started talking about all sorts of stuff, including how did smokers go through the whole day without smoking.

"It shouldn't be too hard; just willpower. If they can abstain from food and drink, why not smoking too?"
"Makes you wonder; if they can stop smoking for ramadhan, why can't they just stop smoking altogether?"
"Religion is a powerful motivator."

That got me thinking: i wonder -- Muslims don't drink alcohol because its haram. Alcoholism, just like chain smoking, is a disease of habit, so they really aren't that different in principle. If Islam banned smoking too, i wonder whether Muslim smokers would quit. We seem to be happy to comply during ramadhan (well, at least during the daylight hours), so that suggests that the ultimate anti-smoking campaign could be one founded on religion.

Perhaps the good 'ol Uncle Najib might want to take this tack if he's really serious about the Tak Nak Campaign. I'm sure the grand muftis of Malaysia would be happy to help (except for those who chained smoked themselves, of course). A religious fatwa might actually work a hell of a lot better, and be far cheaper too on the taxpayers dollars. Then again, perhaps it might be too successful, and the Government coffers would be trimmer from the loss of the pleasure-tax currently imposed on tobacco. And we can't have that, now can we?

Ramadhan Day 4

Over the weekend, i spent some time reading through the newspapers. It seems a number of people were taking advantage of Ramadhan to further some sort of agenda -- "The Longest Buka Puasa Buffet Table" record breaking attempt, "Use Ramadhan to Quite Smoking", etc. Things like that.

Noticed some other things too -- pages and pages of the weekend papers, and i suspect even they daily papers were plastered with advertisements for "Buka Puasa Buffets", "Buka Puasa Specials" -- mostly revolving around food. RM25 per head, RM50, RM55, RM85, RM120 -- in my opinion, horrendous amounts of money for iftar at some posh hotel, or restaurant. Two questions:

1. How can someone actually eat RM100 worth of food, save by stuffing their faces into it and eating until the belt needs to be loosened?

2. Even if someone could eat RM100 worth of food (its possible the value is qualitative rather than quatitative), doesn't this defeat the purpose of fasting: the month of Ramadhan is a holy month of humility and moderation.

I've made it a point not to patronize these "buffets" this year; i have in past, and i regret it now. Even if someone paid for my meal, i wouldn't go. Its a matter of principle.

Ramadhan Day 1

Today is the first day of the the fasting month for Muslims all over the world, 1 Ramadhan 1425 (15 October 2004). Its quite a humbling realization: devout Muslims all over the world, about 1 billion people, are all fasting simultaneously. Its almost like a super-duper-giant flash mob.

Woke up at about 5 am this morning; bought some banana corn flakes last night and some low-fat milk. Added some honey to that mix and had that for sahur (breakfast).

Dinner tonight (iftar) will probably be a low-key affair. Looking forward to the tarawih tonight; last night, the mosque was packed to the bleachers (its always like that in the beginning of ramadhan, after about 2 weeks, the crowd thins out significantly). I stood in prayer last night beside a man who couldn't stand (he prayed while sitting down) and an old man who looked like his skin was made of worn leather -- i was quite ashamed, because during a particularly long period of the prayer, we were all standing up, and i could feel my knees begin to buckle from fatigue; the old man stood as straight as a rod and never flinched. During another period towards the end of the prayers, i could hear sobbing from someone standing behind me -- it was a very intense experience, and i can imagine someone breaking down in tears as the verses of the Quran read by the imam reverberated through the mosque; normally very long verses, sometimes whole chapters of the Quran are read during tarawih prayers. In past years, i've seen imams themselves break down from the emotional intensity of the effort, and have to be replaced. There are often 2-3 "backup imams" during every tarawih prayer.

A lot of people don't understand the month of ramadhan -- i've had non-Muslim friends ask me whether the fasting month is a type of self-flagellation, or punishment for past sins. Other people think its a type of meditation that puts us in touch with God (??). A few doctors i've spoken to told me that such a drastic change in dietary habits over a period of a month can seriously harm a body's chemistry balance. A lot of misundertanding and misconceptions about fasting, sometimes even by Muslims themselves.

You can find a good ramadhan primer here.

From the point of view of an average Muslim (that would be me), fasting is a religious obligation -- just like prayer or the performing of hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), its something that Muslims are required to do as an act of faith and obedience to Allah s.w.t. The imams in religious afternoon school i used to attend when young told me that the fasting month allows us to get closer to God, to show us the suffering of the poor (by allowing us to experience it ourselves), and to cleanse the body of impurities from the food of the past year.

Now i'm not too sure about all of this -- the reasons given to me by the imams sound terribly fishy to a rationale mind. But one effect i can testify to is that the fasting month provides a tremendous amount of religious focus. I do become aware of everything i do, from a religious perspective. And it seems as though the intensity of prayers, especially the tarawih prayers is magnified tenfold compared to prayers at other times. Its hard to describe -- but tarawih prayers, being quite long (at least an hour up to 2.5 hours, depending), almost induces a meditative state that can be quite... "enlightening", for want of a better word.

Well, anyway, that's what fasting does to me -- i'm sure the fasting month effects each Muslim in a slightly different manner.

Ramadhan Day 0

Tomorrow is the first day of the fasting month for Muslims, but tonight is special all on its own: its the first night of the tarawih prayers.

The night prayer in Ramadan has a special consideration different from any other time of the year. Imams Bukhari and Muslim reported that the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) said: "Whoever offers optional prayers (like Taraweeh prayers) throughout the nights of Ramadan, believing in Allah and seeking His rewards, will have his previous sins forgiven."

Its interesting to note that the Prophet Muhammad was the first to initiate the tarawih prayers, and yet he wanted Muslims to understand that the act was a recommended act (sunnah) rather than a compulsory one -- in order to stress this upon Muslims, the Prophet actually missed a couple nights of tarawih prayer. When the Muslims asked him about it the next day, he told them he did it on purpose because he didn't want people to misundertand the nature of the prayers and think that it was compulsory.

The prophet (S.A.W.) was the first who made praying the Taraweeh in congregation Sunnah (recommended), and then he left it fearing that it may become obligatory upon his Ummah. Imams Bukhari and Muslim have reported that A’eeshah (R.A.) said that the prophet (S.A.W.) prayed once in the Masjid in one of the night of Ramadan. People joined him, and then more people joined him in the next night. Then more people waited for the prophet (S.A.W.) in the third and the fourth (night), but the prophet (S.A.W.) did not come out to them. In the next morning, the prophet (S.A.W.) said: "I have seen what you did, nothing had prevented me from coming out to you except that I feared that it may become obligatory upon you."

The Holy Month of Ramadhan

The Holy Month of Ramadhan is upon us; this has always been a particularly special time for me and the family. Besides the obvious spiritual connotations, i truly believe its a time of family bonding -- waking up for the sahur together, a time when the children, waking up earlier, prepare breakfast for the parents, then the always-special dinners at the end of a long day, and the experience of the tarawih prayers as a family. In many ways, perhaps the closest thing to heaven on earth.

The Volume of Interactions will do a month-long series on the month of Ramadhan and the Muslim fasting period. There is much to learn about ramadhan and fasting that i do not yet know; this year i'll try to change that and will share all my findings with everyone.

Please allow me to be the first to wish all my Muslim readers a happy ramadhan. This month is a great blessing for all of us.

Savings and credit cards

I was fortunate enough to share a cigar with a wonderful fella over the weekend, an American who was visiting Malaysia for some business. As we bonded through the Brotherhood of the Leaf (yes, it sounds corny, but we cigar aficionados are a close knit bunch -- anyone who loves a good cigar is my "brother" and vice versa), we were discussing the prices of cigars in the US and in Malaysia.

Me: American per capita income is around US$26k per annum. The average per capita income of Malaysians is just about US$4k. Our PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) is more or less equal -- therefore, cigars should be damn cheap for you. A good cigar in the US is perhaps US$10 per stick, in Malaysia we would have to pay RM40 for the same cigar -- its a much bigger chunk of our income.

Him: If you play it as a numbers game, you're right. But in reality you're wrong. The average American has no money. Hell, most of them couldn't survive a month without a job. The average savings rate of Americans is -3%! (Compared to the average savings rate of Asians which generally hovers around 15-30% of their income).

Me: *Astounded* But, but...

Him: No its true. We should be teaching our young to develop saving habits, but we don't. Therefore, they grow up always seeking instant gratification for everything. They want to eat in expensive places, they want to buy that brand new car (US$15k and above) when a 2nd hand car (less than US$3k) will do. And even young kids are doing this. Sometimes, they will get trapped in a cycle of debt that they never recover from the rest of their lives.

Me: How? They don't have any income yet.

Him: Credit cards. Credit card companies push their cards to college students, "Hey, take this US$5k credit-limit card and be happy." College kids are mostly dumb and take it -- the average American female has multiple credit cards by the time she graduates from college. And the interest rates are usurious -- 18-24% per annum. Let me ask you: if you're servicing 5-6 cards a month, all of them maxed out, using some cards to pay for the bills of other cards. Paying those interest rates, would you have any money left to save?

Me: *speechless, furiously puffing on my cigar* I didn't know it was that bad...

Him: Its worse.

Lesson learned: Save more, spend less.

Light hearted, and sad

For a light-hearted look at the candidates the American people will be voting for at the end of the year, check this out, courtesy of the effervescent Moki. Damn bloody funny, i guarantee it!

http://www.ambrosiasw.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=88607

On a sadder note, Christopher Reeve, the childhood hero of every boy of my generation, passed away today.

Lastly, is this guy a mega-hunk or what?? See ladies -- not all men who smoke cigars end up pot bellied and sick. :)

Still the same

Times changes, things change, but it all remains the same. Strange.

Case in point:

1980 -- human sardines in mini buses during rush hour.
2004 -- human sardines in LRT trains during rush hour.

Sigh.

Pulut Kuning

Its a tradition for me to have pulut kuning and rendang ayam as a birthday treat; this year, with my family away, my darling Baizura was kind enough to cook some for me. She's a great cook; everything she touches in the kitchen turns into gastronomical heaven!

A heavenly treat!
A heavenly treat!

Balisong wounds

This freaked me out in a very, very big way.

Cheney v Edwards: Undercard match-up

Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards had a good go at each other this morning at the VP candidates debate. My verdict: Dick Cheney spanked the living daylights out of John Edwards.

I particularly liked this from Dick:

"And you cannot use "talk tough" during the course of a 90-minute debate in a presidential campaign to obscure a 30-year record in the United States Senate and, prior to that by John Kerry, who has consistently come down on the wrong side of all the major defense issues that he's faced as a public official."

Loopy Meals

I'm not sure whether i've written about them before, but Loopy Meals is one of my favourite blogs, period. I love it because the subject matter (parenthood and babies) and because of the frank, witty style. Great stuff, and highly recommended.

"This is the continuing saga of James and Mae. And Baby makes three. Brought to you in living colour. Presented in exciting Cinemascope and Sense-surround. Names have been changed to protect the innocent."

Why Malaysian Bloggers are Dangerous

(And why they should be shut up, NOW!)

10. Bloggers can spell "Jalan Riong".
9. Bloggers have opinions...
8. ...and bloggers don't really care who they upset.
7. Bloggers are under no editorial control.
6. Its a wee bit difficult to "switch off" the Internet.
5. Bloggers are not paid a salary.
4. Bloggers move in packs -- mess with one and you end up messing with them all.
3. Bloggers can (and often do) use "hyperlinks".
2. Bloggers don't have to wait for tomorrow to report today's news.
1. There are nearly 10,000,000 Internet users in Malaysia and nearly 1,000,000,000 users worldwide. Now, that's an audience.

Throwing money at women

Its sad that some men think that throwing money at the women in their lives as the ideal solution to a problem. What's even more sad is that some women agree.

Predictions

It seems there is a storm brewing in a teacup (more, and more, and more), though its a storm i predicted would happen: the clash between traditional media and blogs.

And who better than to fight this inevitable fight than two of our nation's most prominent representatives of either medium: the NST (the famed champions of Jalan Riong) and Jeff Ooi (Malaysia's most famous blogger).

A quick check at Project Petaling Street tells me that a number of prominent Malaysian bloggers have picked up on the issue and blogged about it. Could it be just a matter of time before NST's big guns get into the act as well? Just today, heir-apparent-to-be, Khairy Jamaluddin more or less demanded an apology from Jeff for hosting the offending Anwar (who was already banned from Screenshots a day before Berita Harian ran the initial story on Oct 2).

Its a trying time for Jeff, and my sympathies go out to him. A reality check for everyone: the NST group is HUGE with enormous resources and a whole lot of clout; with a readership of hundreds of thousands, if they run something front-page, people are going to believe them, much more so that they will Jeff who is but one man, though he has well-meaning support from many others. A classic David v Goliath match-up.

One thought though: while he spends his time fire-fighting these next few days or weeks, think of all the things he ISN'T able to blog about. I wonder whether this could all be an elaborate diversion to get Jeff's eye off the ball, though what "ball" this could be, i have no idea (and maybe neither does Jeff).

Kerry v Bush: Round 1

The first round of the US presidential debates focused on foreign policy, with particular emphasis on the war on terrorism. As you can imagine, Bush tried to portray Kerry as the "flip flop", tree hugging Democrat afraid of his own shadow (yup, that describes him quite well), and Kerry painted a picture of Bush as the gun-toting Texan, macho man who shoots first, thinks later, and doesn't bother to ask any questions (well, at least the right ones) -- spot on description too.

If i were an American, i would be even more confused about who to vote for now. Both have shown me that their opponent is an idiot, just different types of idiots. Thank God we don't have that problem in Malaysia; no debates between the leaders here to allow for them to confront and expose each other on national television.

UPDATE: An absolutely hilarious commentary on the debate by Jessi Klein, a notable NYC stand-up comedian.

Anwar Ibrahim on CNN with Lorraine Hahn

Definitely a must-read transcript of his recent interview with the host of TalkAsia on CNN.

"AI: I was treated as a common criminal-but more so because the conditions and the additional rules only applied to me. Which means I am considered a political prisoner. Other than the initial assault-on the day I was arrested-which is severe beating by Tan Sri Rahim Noor -I was left unconscious-when I regained consciousness I thought they will just let me die-or cripple because the beating was targeted mainly on the face and the head. But other than that the police personnel and later prison guards were exceedingly kind. They treat me as a part of the family. In fact many of them showed so much kindness. You know many of them after I was released-that night they came back in plain clothes and shed tears and said you know we miss you. I said I miss you too but not in prison!"

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About this Archive

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

September 2004 is the previous archive.

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