Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Twins of Faith Malaysia 2011

What are the twins of Faith? If you look at the above logo carefully, they are 'ilm and 'amal (knowledge & action). Interestingly, to further underscore their strong correlation to one another, both words are formed from the same 3 letters; lam, 'ain and mim. Throughout the whole 2-day conference, the importance of both was reiterated, again and again. You simply cannot act without knowledge and what is the use of knowledge if we don't put it into practice?

Though the concept is simple enough, not many of us do seek knowledge, do we? I mean, we were born Muslims so we think we have all religious rituals down pat. We probably do but that's exactly the problem; we view them as rituals - elements so intertwined with our culture that we think they are what Islam is all about: praying, fasting, Eid and the Hadj. We don't go out of our way to learn more about our beautiful religion. Islam has become a set of rituals instead of a way of life.

Alhamdulillah, I was very fortunate to be able to attend the Twins of Faith Family Festival in Putrajaya last weekend (Dec 24 & 25, 2011). The event was packed with talks, workshops and performances from 10am until 10pm on both days.

Below are some of the input that made an impact on me:

1) Sheikh Alaa Elsayed quoted a line from Lion King when he reminded us to "remember who [we] are". We are the best of nations as mentioned in the Quran:
You are the best of peoples ever raised up for mankind; you enjoin Al-Ma'ruf and forbid Al-Munkar, and you believe in Allah (Surah Al-'Imran, Verse 110).
Another speaker, Sheikh Tawfique Chowdhury, expounded on this point when he chastised Muslims who think so lowly of themselves:
"Why the defeatist attitude?" he had asked.
"How dare you think so small"
"How dare you think that Allah will not help you".

2) In the women-empowerment workshop by Dr. Harlina Halizah Siraj, maternal health care was discussed. It was sad to learn that countries like Afghanistan, Niger, Yemen, Mali and Sudan (which are predominantly Muslim countries) are considered the worst places to be a mother. Why is this so? Well, according to Save The Children report it all boils down to poverty and the (lack of) quality of life:
" Afghanistan, a typical woman has fewer than five years of education and will not live to be 45. Less than 16 percent of women are using modern contraception, and 1 child in 5 dies before reaching age 5. At this rate, every mother in Afghanistan is likely to suffer the loss of a child."
Referring to the "You are the best of peoples..." verse above, how can this be happening? Obviously we haven't been enjoining Al-Ma'ruf and forbidding Al-Munkar, and we've turned our backs to Allah. It is often said that the beauty of Islam is being covered by ugly Muslims and I think the report is a clear example of that.

3) One of the speakers shared a very interesting finding from a research: apparently, we are the amalgamation of the 5 people whom we are closest to. We commonly hear that our friends are our mirrors. This finding seems to corroborate that. It made me think of the 5 people closest to me and in what ways are they influencing my life?

We should all take stock of the company we are keeping and make necessary adjustments for we wouldn't want to be influenced negatively. One of the criteria of a good friend is: when you see them, you will think of Allah (SWT). So let's surround ourselves with such friends (and become one ourselves).

4) The session that left the biggest impact on me has got to be the fund-raising. Mercy Mission Malaysia is raising funds to build a KL Madinah. In the sirah, the Muhajirin (people who were persecuted in Makkah) sought refuge in Madinah. The people of Madinah, called the Ansar, willingly took in the Muhajirin and treated them compassionately.

Similarly, KL Madinah aims to provide shelter to those most in need such as new Muslims who may have had to leave their families, homes and possessions when they embraced Islam. A question was posed by such a revert in a video: "Where are our Ansars? Who will help us?"

It was head-spinning to witness people pledging RM100K, 50K, 25K, 10K and 5K without hesitation. Subhanallah, these are the people who are not attached to their wealth; who (figuratively) have the world their in hands but Allah in their hearts.

(It was announced that approximately RM1.9 million was raised in total! Allahu Akbar!)

5) The entertainment slots were equally thought-provoking as the talks. In fact, they were called 'Halal edutainment' to convey their intention to educate as well as entertain. My favourite performer was Boonaa Mohammed, followed closely by Muslim Belal. Both of them are spoken-word artists and their slam-poetry lyrics provide much food for thought.

Overall, it was a very well-organised event. There was a minor problem with crowd-control on the first day, but it was sorted out and the second day went much smoother. PICC was the perfect venue: the plenary hall was spacious and beautiful, the washrooms clean, and the view is just unparalleled. I liked the fact that the opening and closing ceremonies were kept short. No interminable VIP speeches that are synonymous with events in Malaysia. Most of all, I love the atmosphere exuded. It truly was a family festival. It was heartwarming to see whole families coming together to seek knowledge and to see the youth forming the majority of the crowd.

I'm thankful to Allah that I was able to attend the festival with beloved friends. Friends who came all the way from other states to gain something beneficial. In the end I believe all of us gained so much more than what we had set out to do.

Can't wait for Twins of Faith 2012! :)

Friday, December 09, 2011


I saw 2 documentaries recently which woke me up from my slactivism stupor.

The Cove

The Cove tells of an elite group of filmmakers, freedivers and activists that went on a secret mission to expose the dolphin slaughter in Taijin, Japan.

In the documentary, an interviewee from Greenpeace said (quoting from Margaret Mead); "Never depend on institutions or government to solve any problem. All social movements are founded by, guided by, motivated by and seen through by the passion of individuals."

However, it must be stressed that, passion should always be followed by actions. Ric O'Barry, the central figure in The Cove, drove the point home when he said; "You're either an activist or an inactivist, and I wanted to be active."

Gaza We Are Coming

Prior to the infamous Gaza Freedom Flotilla mission in 2010 (in which 9 Turkish activists were killed on board Mavi Marmara), there was an earlier attempt to break the Israeli naval siege on Gaza. 44 human-rights activists from 17 countries all over the world boarded 2 boats and successfully reached the Gaza shore on 23 August 2008.

Like the team from The Cove, these disparate individuals, united by a common cause, came together to successfully pull-off a highly-dangerous mission.

Watching these 2 documentaries was akin to watching espionage films. Indeed, one reviewer described The Cove as "The Bourne Identity meets Flipper". These amazing individuals overcame great odds and obstacles to achieve their objectives.

What made them stick out their necks like that?

According to one activist, it was because; "Every time I shave in the mirror, I look at myself and think I have done very little. I haven't done anything and that's the truth. And I think we should all do more."

I think that while it is good that we sign online petitions, 'like' certain pages, update our statuses and share articles to spread the awareness on various issues, it's high time we go beyond these measures and start to put in concrete actions.

Start small and see how it goes from there :)

May Allah give us the strength to make meaningful contributions...

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Search For Happiness

I recently read this adorable book, 'Hector and the Search for Happiness'. It tells of a psychiatrist (Hector), who became dissatisfied and developed doubts of his own after treating too many patients with no real disorders and no apparent misfortune. Why are these people unhappy then?

According to studies, you chances of being happy are greatly increased if: "you compared yourself to others and didn't find yourself wanting, if you had no money or health problems, if you had friends, a close-knit family, a job you liked, if you were religious and practised your religion, if you felt useful, if you went for a little stroll from time to time, and all of this in a country that was run by not very bad people".

Hector's patients are better-off than most people in this world. They are well-educated, came from good families, have well-paying jobs and live in a prosperous country. By right, they should be very happy. So why aren't they?

Hector, is his travels, learned that "Happiness is a certain way of seeing things". Some people are just better at being happy, just as some people are prone to wallowing in sadness.

All these made me think about how we as Muslims cope with sadness. Nobody is immune from troubles, big or small. And everybody is sad from time to time. So how does Islam teach us how to cope? What can we do to soothe our hearts and stay sane during calamities?

I think there are countless verses from the Quran, hadiths, and du'a which help (the Quran is after all described as "a healing and a mercy").

When Hector discovered that, "Happiness is a certain way of seeing things", I recalled this particular hadith: "Wondrous are the believer's affairs. For him there is good in all his affairs, and this is so only for the believer. When something pleasing happens to him, he is grateful, and that is good for him; and when something displeasing happens to him, he is patient, and that is good for him." (Reported by Muslim)

This Sabar (being patient) and Syukur (being grateful) are potent prescriptions indeed.

Another thing worth pointing out is the word 'happiness' itself. For me, happiness connotes something that is fleeting; something pleasurable that isn't meant to last. That is why I think Muslims are conditioned to pursue CONTENTMENT and PEACE instead.

I remember a phrase from the book 'The Translator', in which the protagonist described "feeling something deeper than happiness" when she was praying in her university mosque.

So, let's share our favourite Quranic verses/hadith/du'a that we regularly refer to to tide us over a bad patch (I know a friend whose favourite verses are these). May they be of benefit to others...