Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Last Ramadan, I saw this amazing mini-series produced by Lokalab: Always a Traveller.

 In it, Ustadha Yasmin Mogahed explains the famous hadith: "Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a traveller along a path." (Sahih Bukhari)

Another relevant hadith is: "What relationship do I have with this world? My worldly life is no more than the halting of a traveller, taking rest under the shade of a tree for a moment and then moving on." (Ahmad, Tirmidhi)

Ustadha Yasmin Mogahed said this:
"There is a mindset that comes along with being a traveller; It's an automatic state of mind. This is the mindset that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is trying to instil in us. In this entire world, in this entire journey through dunya, a person who sees this life as their permanent abode becomes like the one who is starting to complain a lot, or who now wants more things, demand more things and then gets more attached."


Travelling teaches you to detach from the familiar and from the comforts of home. This detachment is very important, especially in the materialistic world that we live in now. I love the above hadiths because of this lesson and  many others.

Travelling is a lot like Life in the following ways:

1) You have to have a purpose and a plan

Just like travelling, you need to figure out your purpose and have plans to achieve it. I guess you can go through life without any plans nor purpose but you'll just end up getting lost.

2) You expect difficulties

“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” (John Steinbeck)

Travelling is never smooth sailing. You experience air turbulence, motion sickness, lost luggage, theft, food poisoning, accidents, delayed flights, etc. But, again, you have that traveller mindset; you know that difficulties are inevitable. So you are less likely to whine and complain a lot.

Funnily, we don't have the same mindset with regards to our everyday life. In our day-to-day affair, we want everything to be in order. No troubles, no heartaches, no sadness. We want things to be perfect, which is both unrealistic and naive.

3) You just have to have Faith

Whenever you encounter the travel-related problems listed above, or other more dire situations, you automatically turn to Allah for help. Especially when you're travelling alone and you're somewhat cut off from your support system. When you're stranded at an airport, in the middle of the night, in a foreign land, how do you suppose your family and friends can help you?

Fear of the unknown, of potential pitfalls, will likely prevent many people from venturing out on their own. But Faith/Tawakkul is a powerful thing. If you put your trust in Allah, He enables you to do wonderful, miraculous things.

4) You need a trusted companion

“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” (Mark Twain)

Travelling with someone, being with them for almost 24/7,  is an eye-opening experience. You discover sides to your friend / sister / colleague that you were unaware of before. They will drive you crazy with their untidy habits and likewise, you'll annoy them with your extremely long showers. People's warts and all will be revealed and your patience will be greatly tested.

Thus, to make your journey enjoyable, it is paramount that you have a trusted companion by your side, someone whose idiosyncrasies you can live with :)

5) You learn to do away with stuff

Packing for trips is tricky. Packing too little will not do since you'll be doing away with essential items. But packing too much will hamper your journey. Lugging heavy bags around is never any fun. You'll get tired easily and move much more slowly. So you learn to only bring enough; No more than you can carry. You learn to redefine the word 'essentials' and realise you can do away with a lot of stuff.

6) You become reflective

On the road, you encounter so many new things that you cannot help but reflect on all of them to make sense of your experiences. Travelling is so much more than photo opportunities. Mark Jenkins said:

“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.”

7) You celebrate diversity

Maya Angelou puts it beautifully:

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”


Can you think of any other ways in which travelling is akin to Life? Do comment below! :)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I touched a dog

There, I've said it.

Does that make me a bad person? Did attending the now infamous 'I want to touch a dog event' make me a bad Muslim? Does it indicate that I "menghina Islam" (as claimed on the front page of a daily)?

I haven't logged into my facebook account for a few days, so I was blissfully ignorant of the strong backlash against the event in social media. But I somehow sensed that things were not quite right when a family member whatsapp-ed a screenshot of the event and asked "apa perlu kempen ni?", not knowing that I had attended the event myself.

So I explained to her why I attended. And now, after reading the facebook posts of several close friends who also disapprove of the event, I think it's incumbent on me to explain myself again.

So readers, if you consider me your friend, please, hear me out. Put your preconceptions aside and weigh in my side of the story:

I first got to know of the event via fb (where else?) when somebody posted this link (http://bit.ly/1tEN58b). I then watched the video mentioned and was left feeling ashamed and outraged as well. How could we treat the most vulnerable people in our society with such disregard? That runs contrary to the teachings of Islam; We are supposed to be compassionate towards one another, especially those most in need of assistance in our society. However, our actions, as depicted in the video showed otherwise.

Though I was upset by what was shown in the video (see from 7:30 onwards), I wondered: What would I have done if I were in their place? I'm scared of dogs too, due to life-long conditioning. Most likely, I would have reacted in the same way: I would have jumped aside and avoided the blind man and his guide dog like a plague, instead of helping him. That scenario got me upset and ashamed of myself.

Thus I clicked 'Going' on the event page. The event was conceived to help people who are fearful of dogs, overcome their fear so that perhaps, in the future, they can do the right thing when they encounter situations similar to the ones in the video.

To me, that was the whole purpose of attending.
It WASN'T to showcase how "liberal-minded" I am.
It WASN'T an act of provocation.
I WASN'T willfully menajiskan myself.
I WASN'T about to keep dogs as pets, and most importantly,
I DIDN'T go with the intention of "menghina Islam".

God knows that I'm not a good Muslim, but I do try to be.

For those who disapprove of the event and have made their feelings known, please don't be too quick in passing judgments. Don't jump to conclusions by the sensationalised headlines that you read. Do not immediately assume that the organiser and the attendees have bad intentions and hidden agendas. You don't know what are in people's hearts so don't. Just don't.

One of the things that I read on my newsfeed was this: "Lepas ni kempen pegang babi pula?". I don't know whether to laugh or cry at reading that. Seriously?

Dear readers, even after reading this explanation, and watching the video that started it all, you still disagree with the event, fine. Let's agree to disagree. Just don't label and accuse people indiscriminately with hurtful words. That's not a very Muslim-thing to do.

The whole episode reminded me of this beautiful quote from the movie Chocolate:
"Listen, here's what I think. I think that we can't go around measuring our goodness by what we don't do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we've got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create and who we include."

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ramadan 1435

Only a few hours left before Eid-ul-Fitr but the mood is sombre. No one (except for kids) feel like celebrating when there are so many recent and ongoing tragedies around the world. The front page of today's Utusan Malaysia sums it up for me. Its headline reads: Tiada Aidilfitri di Gaza.

This year's Ramadan has gone by so fast and what a challenging month it has been. Abstaining from food and drink has been the easiest part. The hardest is grappling with the rising Palestinian death toll every single day. Truly, we're being severely tested as an ummah.

And while it is heartwarming to see the worldwide rallies in solidarity with the Palestinians, the slaughter continues. Israel seems to be immune to the international community's outrage. It still claims to have the moral high ground and tries so desperately to silence criticism.

But Israel has discovered that it's no longer possible to get away with murder in the age of social media. This article highlights the fact that "Israelis had and have nothing with which to balance those images of bloodied, mangled little corpses in Gaza".

At first, it was hard for me to cope with the news. The sense of helplessness and despair was overwhelming to the point of being paralysing. But the social-media posts below have helped me to somehow make sense of things and get my act together.


So, final words: Eid Mubarak! Taqabbal Allahu Minna Wa Minkum (May Allah accept it from you and us). May Allah accept our prayers, du'as, charity, fasting, Quran recitation, qiyam, etc.
Let's celebrate Eid in moderation and constantly remember our suffering brothers and sisters in our prayers.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan Trip, Part 1

Kyrgyzstan blew me away. The snow-capped mountains framing Issy-kul Lake are just so beautiful & picturesque. I thank Allah for allowing me to be here & behold the magnificent sights on this journey, despite the many unfortunate things that have happened.

When I had the surgery, many doubt that I would recover in time to make the trip. I had doubts myself. Further, Kakak & I agreed to forgo Kyrgyzstan, fearing that the journey from Almaty to Bishkek would be too strenous for me. But somehow, her colleague persuaded her not to cancel Kyrgyzstan out. Otherwise, we would be missing out on "the most beautiful place in the region". Since the colleague is a Kyrgyzstan native, we thought he was just naturally biased. I don't think so now :)

On the eve of the trip, I began to get increasingly unwell. A runny nose and a sore throat preceded a mild fever. Then the violent sneezing. Then the horrible coughing. If I hadn't already paid a small fortune for the flight tickets, I wouldn't have gone on the trip at all. All I wanted to do was lie in bed and get better. I didn't think I was up for an 8-hour flight to Central Asia and other hardships that travelling inevitably brings.

But alhamdulillah, I got on that flight. Difficult roads lead to beautiful places. And difficult journeys are so rewarding in the end.

This is my second day in Kyrgyzstan, after spending 4 days touring Almaty, Kazakhstan. And so far, I've seen a wooden cathedral, canyons, steppes, alpine mountains, a lake that's turqoise in colour, beautiful unpolluted rivers & of course the majestic snow-capped mountains.

Further, my sisters & I are (continuously) fed delicious, traditional food from the region by our gracious hosts. Our hosts have been most kind & generous. We don't know how we will ever repay their kindness.

So that's all my updates for now. Will try to write more later.

Btw, I'm feeling better now but unfortunately, Kakak is now sick. Sigh. 

InshaAllah, we'll be fine. As Paul Theroux once said, Travel is glamorous only in retrospect! Do pray for our safe travels.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Teachers' Day 2014

Writing a Teachers' Day post has been a yearly ritual for me. I just have to write one in order to reflect on how another year of teaching has changed me.

This year's post will be short (I think). Out of all the facebook posts on Teachers' Day last week, my favourite was this, written by a friend, on her timeline:

"May we never lose the flame"

Those simple words meant a lot to me. Some people become jaded after several years of teaching. And it's not hard to see why. Teachers are overworked and under-appreciated and criticisms are constantly hurled our way. But as the saying (attributed to Mother Teresa) goes:

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

Last year, Ainur shared with me this link: 'Without teachers, the classroom is just a room'. The excerpt that I really like (because it mirrors my own belief) is this:

"[A young teacher from Houston, Texas] said that when he reflected about what it meant to be a good teacher, he realized that he had to live the values he was trying to instill in the students. Then he said that once he reflected on what it meant to live good values, he stopped thinking just about being a better teacher and started thinking about being a better human being."

That's my core teaching philosophy as well. For me, being a better teacher equals being a better human being. Thus, it's a continuous, never-ending process of improving oneself.

Though I fall short of the ideal many, many times, I hope that I'll never stop trying and that the flame will never stop burning.

Happy Teachers' Day to all educators!


Alhamdulillah, I was discharged from the hospital last Sunday (May 18) after a four-day stay.

Let's have a quiz. How much do you think I had to pay for:
1) The surgery (laparoscopic appendicectomy),
2) The lab services (full blood count, etc.), and
3) The 4-day stay in a third-class ward (i.e. 1 room = 4 beds, with en-suite bathrooms)?

The total amount printed on my bill is RM 77. But since I'm a government servant, I didn't have to pay a single cent.
I was taken aback when the lady at the counter said I didn't have to pay. I mumbled a quick "oh, okay, thank you" before leaving the counter, still dumbfounded.

Even if I had to pay, RM 77 is a steal. We often hear of people in other countries not being able to afford health care because of its astronomical charges. In this instance, aren't you glad you're a Malaysian?

Yes, it's easy to lament the many, many things that are wrong with our country: the dismal state of the education system for one. The tolled roads. The water crisis. The GST. The political bickering. The list goes on and on.

They are all legitimate grouses but you have to give credit where credit is due. Malaysia is touted to provide one of the best health care in the world and we should all be thankful for that.  

The only thing that I can complain about is the overcrowding. I had to wait for 4 hours before I got to see the doctor. And when I went back to get my MC and to set an appointment for my follow-up check, I was aghast at the amount of sick people crowding the waiting area. They must have had to wait for hours. Sick people shouldn't have to wait for that long. It's just not right.

My stay at the hospital has made me appreciate nurses and doctors on a whole new level. I was so relieved at being discharged because hospitals are such a depressing place. There's suffering everywhere you look. And after some time, it just became unbearable.

For example, the lady on the bed next to mine is suspected of having breast cancer while the one opposite my bed, broke her leg in a road accident while being eight-months pregnant! Then, on Saturday (May 17), I received the tragic news of Ira's passing. That really put things into perspective. All my "suffering" seemed like small potatoes in comparison.

That's one of the reasons I keep reminding myself not to make a fuss. To smile and just roll with the punches. To make light of the situation. Ala, appendix je pun...

So I wonder how the nurses and doctors do it. How do they cope and still function even after witnessing so much suffering and so many tragedies on a daily basis? Maybe they need to put aside their emotions to get the job done? To distance themselves and be less empathetic? No wonder Abafan can be so unfeeling at times... hahaha

Now that I'm home, I just have a week or so to finish marking, pack for my Kazakhstan trip and settle the miscellaneous school stuff before the mid-year break begins.
And then...

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Hospital Ampang

May 17, 2014: My 3rd day in the hospital and I'm bored out of my minds!

It's good that I get to catch up on my reading but after finishing Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs, the current book that I have on my bedside doesn't interest me as much.

My hand is still tied to the drips (they're alternating between sodium chloride & antibiotics, with periodical injections of painkillers), so my movement is restricted.

Alhamdulillah, the operation went well. The pre-op diagnosis was acute appendicitis but post-op, it was revised to perforated appendix.

[Yes, I'm showing off my newly-acquired medical jargon, after poring over my medical records. Haha]

The painkillers help to dull the pain but it still hurts when I want to shift my position, for example from lying to sitting to standing. 

I haven't eaten for 58 hours now and man, am I hungry! At first, it was because I had to fast before the surgery could be performed. Later (post-op), I was put under clear-fluid-only diet. It was horrible (no Teh Tarik!). Thankfully, my surgeon came round just now and upgraded me to nourishing-fluid diet (whatever that is).

I wrote on facebook how I hated troubling my family and friends and how I couldn't have made it without them. I'm particularly indebted to Mama & Kakak who take turns watching me round the clock. Mama takes the morning shift while Kakak takes the night one. 

Mama made me feel like a small kid all over again when she brushed my hair, clipped my nails and wiped my face with a wet towel. It reminded me of what a friend had said of her parents when they pulled her through a particularly rough time: "Sampai mati pun, I can't possibly repay their kindness & what they've done for me". My thoughts exactly.

Kakak hurt her back from sleeping in the uncomfortable chair by my bed. I tried sharing my bed with her when the nurses weren't around. Sometimes it worked but other times the bed made weird creaking noises, so we abandoned the effort. 

One night, around midnight I suppose, Kakak went to the toilet further down the hall. She had the impression that the toilets in my room were reserved for patients only. She was by the sink when one of the toilet doors shut mysteriously. Needless to say, she quickly bolted from there and in the end, used the one in my room anyway. We had a good laugh about it when she told me the morning after.

What has kept me amused thus far is observing the doctors' daily rounds. Have you ever watched Grey's Anatomy? Well, the scenes are replicated with different characters. A specialist will be surrounded by a crowd of housemen trying to impress him/her and outdo each other. Some of the specialists have the most colourful personalities. One lady took a look at a patient's chart and bellowed; "Who overrode my decision?!?" and stormed out of the room to look for the culprit. Another, brutally cut short one if the housemen's report. "I want summary!! I don't care when she got married, where she works, etc. I want summary!!". The poor guy stopped talking and another housemen quickly took his place by providing the pertinent "summary". Despite similarities to the TV show, unfortunately, there's no McDreamy in sight.

Before I was operated on, the doctors stopped by quiet often. Now that I'm recuperating, I guess I'm less interesting because the visits have both decreased and become shorter. I'm not sure whether I should be relieved or feel slighted. Haha.

What I am thankful for is I'm no longer subjected to embarassing & invasive procedures. Some of them made me feel like digging myself a hole and hiding from humanity forever. 

Before I end this post, I have to thank all the staff here for taking good care of me. The young Dr. Khairiah (she's only 26!) looks after me really well. The nurses are really nice too. And my anaesthesist, Dr. Nirpal, was the first person to wish me Happy Teachers' Day.

Thank you to those who visited me. Even those who couldn't come to the ward because visiting hours had ended. I love you guys! And thank you for the flowers; they brighten the room considerably :)

Please excuse any spelling or grammar errors. I'm writing this on my phone, with my hand still tied to the drip. So yeah.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Teachers matter

I felt compelled to write a Teachers' Day post today and not wait 6 more days after watching the video below:

It nearly brought me to tears. All the things that were said, really resonated with me.

This is my 6th year of teaching and though I'm no longer a rookie, I still need to be reminded that:

  • Everything is going to be okay. Things may seem tough right now and at times you may feel like you want to give up. But please don't. Just know that you'll make a great teacher.
  • [Though] everything feels overwhelming, terrifying even... but you're going to make it through this.
  • Those kids in front of you: They WANT to learn. They NEED to know. Try every crazy thing you can think of. In the end, those are the things that they'll remember.
  • Your students need you there in front of the class and they truly appreciate all that you do for them even if they don't show it all of the time.
  • When a kid says your class is BORING!, don't take it personally. It happens to everyone.
  • Holding your kids accountable is the greatest act of love you can give them.
  • Teaching is never an exact science and it's okay to struggle to find the answers.
  • This is one of the most important lessons to learn as a teacher: You will fail. You will make mistakes and you will embarrass yourself. When you do, accept it with grace and humility.
  • Lives and futures depend on you; It's scary and exhilarating [to know that].
  • So keep up the great work, seek help from those around you and just know that the work of a teacher is of the greatest importance.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Hopes & Dreams

Getting your students to write is always an uphill task. They will always procrastinate and stare at their blank pieces of paper, complaining of "writer's block".

Today, a minor miracle happened: My 3E students couldn't stop writing. I gave them 30 minutes to write a letter to their future (25-year-old) selves. They were encouraged to be as honest / creative / funny as possible. 

At first they were a bit noisy as they started discussing and joking about what they would write about. Then it happened: They began to furiously write their heartfelt letters. 

Reading their letters made me feel nostalgic. Ah, to be 15 and full of dreams. To be so optimistic about the future. To have this conviction that you'll achieve great things in life. To be a hopeless romantic.

Here are some of my favourite excerpts:

1) I hope you have worked and studied hard. And you if didn't fulfill dad's, mom's and my dream, it is okay my dear self, I will always be proud of you, if that what makes you happy, I'm happy. Never feel bad about yourself if you didn't become what you and I wanted, at least I know you have tried your best.

2) I really hope you have found a girl that cares for you and always be there when you are feeling down. Don't forget that when the time has come, give her the ring.

3) So, how about your old friends? Do you still remember them? Do you still contact them? I hope you do. Because they are great friends. I hope you won't forget them. They helped you a lot back then.

4) I'm doing this only because my English teacher told me to or not I won't do it.

5) Before I put down my pen, I just want to give you some advice: Never stop forgiving others.

6) You should be in medical school right now. If  you're not then I don't really know what you're doing with your life.

7) I hope that you have achieved all my goals and dreams. I know that some of my dreams were almost impossible to achieve. But hey, miracles do happen right? I hope you never give up on my dreams. Even if the whole world says that you're crazy, don't you ever give up!

8)  The most important question is how are mom and dad doing? Are they still healthy? I hope they are. They took care of you when you were just a baby until you've grown into an adult. So now, it's your turn to take care of them. Don't ever forget that.

9) Do you remember Teacher Rosyada? The very nice young teacher who taught you English in Form 3? How's she doing? I'll pray for her happiness. She's the teacher that made you write this essay. I think you'll be grateful she made you write this essay then.

10) It has been 10 years and I'm very proud that you've survived all the bumpy roads in life. I have to admit, I am one strong man. No matter how bad things get, I'm still proud of you. Except if you haven't gotten married yet.

If you're not successful, happy, rich, smart, good-looking, healthy, please do turn to the next page:

And my absolute favourite (it just resonates with me):


The above exercise was taken from kidstardustliteraryblog.wordpress.com.

If you want to take the exercise further, get your students to go to futureme.org. There, you students can type their letters / attach pictures of their handwritten letters to their future selves. The site will then send the letters via email on the specified date. 

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Twins of Faith 2013

Aisha (r.a.) was once asked to describe Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) character. She replied, succinctly, "His character is the Quran". That is, he was the living example of the Quran.

Thus, when we read the Quran and come across verses exhorting us to have patience / to be grateful / to be forgiving / just / merciful / etc., we should take a leaf out of our Prophet's (pbuh) sunnah and try to become all these things; we should try to become the embodiment of the Quran.

This was what was stressed in last week's (Dec 28 & 29, 2013) Twins of Faith Family Festival, with its theme "The Sunnah The Better". In fact, the stage backdrop was filled with some of the exemplary attributes of our beloved Prophet (pbuh). I copied some of them down and added a few more as I was listening to the talks given by the esteemed mashayikh.

Under the heading "Strive to be..." the long list of attributes was wordle-d into the image below.

While writing the adjectives down, I was feeling optimistic about the year ahead:
Yes, I can be kinder / more forgiving / more positive / etc.

But just days after the event, I realised just how deceptively simple the above adjectives are.
Because it's easy to be good when everything is going right; when you're in a conducive surrounding and amongst wonderful people.

But how do you remain patient when calamity strikes / when things do not go your way?
How do you stay motivated when you're dead tired?
How do you forgive disagreeable people?
How do you keep on being helpful to others when you're bogged down by work?
And how do you remain content in the face of temptations?

When school reopened for the 2014 session last Thursday (Jan 4), I shared the photo below on facebook. At the end of the exhausting day, I looked like the owl on the right.

It didn't take a whole year to transform me from a Hedwig look-alike into a train wreck; It only took one day (in my defence, it was a very trying day).

How do we remain calm and patient in testing times then?

Urm... [awkward silence] I don't know.

But what has helped me in the past is the beautiful verse, "God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear".

We often hear that when Allah loves someone, He will test him. It sounds counter-intuitive, no? Because if you loved someone, you would want to make life as pleasant as possible for him/her.

But as a teacher, I get the concept because teachers always have higher expectations of their BEST students.

When teachers administer a test, they know that a few students will excel above the others. In order to prevent the good students from getting complacent, teachers will give these students additional questions that are tougher or will mark their paper more stringently.

We do these things, not because we hate them. On the contrary, we do them because we know their worth and potential, even when they doubt themselves.

So these students might complain that we're being unfair or that we're being too harsh on them. But we keep on the pressure because we know what the students are capable of and  because we're certain that they can reach the high targets we have set for them.

Further, even though we push them hard, we are with them every step of the way. Whenever they want to throw in the towel, we'll cheer them on with, "Don't give up now, you're so close to the right answer" or "You can do it!" or just a simple "Try again one more time".

So, whenever you're being severely tested (while you perceive others as having a smoother ride), remember the above analogy. Your singling out is a privilege, not bad luck. Allah knows you capabilities and worth, even when you doubt yourselves.
And remember that He'll be there with you every step of the way :)