Monday, August 26, 2013

How to Improve Your English

I was born and raised in Malaysia. I speak Malay for the majority of my life; I speak Malay with my family and with my friends. Many of you asked how I acquired my English speaking skills so allow me to share with you my (not-so-secret) secret about how I learned English speaking and how I continue to improve it.

The secret composed of two parts: exposure and practice.

What do I mean by exposure?

Before a baby learns how to speak, the baby has to be exposed to the language. The idea is to familiarize the ears with the language (in this case: English).

Keep in mind that when you are exposing yourself to a language, you can’t escape from exposing yourself to the culture that comes with the language. This is true with any language, not just English. Culture is embedded in the language. Our job is to filter out all the bad culture and to take in all the good culture.

I got exposed to the English language through English songs, English movies, English TV shows, English cartoons, and English teachers. I was exposed to the language through English books but I was not an avid reader. Recently I've started to develop the habit of reading books and it does help with my mastery of the language.

While exposing yourself to the language, you have to practice it as well. It goes hand in hand.

Yes, you have to practice. If you’re looking for a short cut to learn English, then I can’t help you. We want many things but are we willing to put in the hard work to achieve them?

You have to put in your effort.

The main focus in practicing English is to pronounce each words properly. Listen closely to how each word is pronounced and try to copy how the word is pronounced. Another focus to keep in mind when practicing is how those words are used in sentences and in different contexts.

While practicing, you will make mistakes and that’s okay. You learn from mistakes and move on. Mistakes are good; they are your friends. Of course I am not suggesting that you deliberately make mistakes. Try your best to avoid mistakes but when you do make mistakes, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Mistakes are only bad if you don’t learn from them.

How did I practice English speaking?

Back in the day, I participated in a few English competitions in school like choral speaking, story-telling, and scrabble. With scrabble, I didn’t do much speaking but it does help with my vocabulary which I can use in my speaking. My point is: grab any opportunity that is available to you. If there is an opportunity for you to practice English speaking, seize that opportunity before it goes away.

Having said all that, I think the best way to practice English (or any language) is to actually talk to someone and have a conversation. Just by using English in my daily conversations, I noticed a significant improvement in my English speaking skills – the kind of improvement that I don’t see in any other practice methods.

Other than that, I practice English by singing English songs to myself. In a way, it’s kind of like speaking English because you are saying all the words and try to pronounce them properly. So, it does help.

I know that a lot of people out there who are trying to practice speaking in English are having a hard time with being ridiculed by friends (and sometimes by family members too).

If life has taught me anything, it is this: you can’t shut people up.

In life, you will encounter people who will throw hurtful words at you. That is the reality that we are currently living in. it’s unfortunate, but that is the reality. However, that doesn't mean that you sit quietly and do nothing.

You still have control over at least two things: your words and your mind.

First, your words. You might not be able to control what they say but you can control what you say. Advise them nicely and encourage them to stop doing it.

Second, your mind. You have the ability to control how you perceive the situation and how you accept their bad words. Their words can only hurt you if you allow them to.

If we peel all the layers surrounding this issue, I think at the core of it is this: it’s mind over matter – if you don’t mind, they don’t matter.


To learn more about how to improve your English and how to improve your confidence, do join us for our upcoming SPEAK UP! English Speaking Seminar.

Details can be found here.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Eid Cards - Name List

On Thursday, I posted a video on Youtube. I talked about the tradition of giving and receiving Eid greeting cards.

Oh, and I wanted to write Eid greeting cards to 50 of you!

A special thanks to Fiqri Ramli for designing these cards on short notice. 

The offer has ended and I received about 426 sign ups from people from different parts of the world. I randomly picked 50 people, but then, I thought that 50 is too few.

So I picked 100! 
  1. Puteri Noor Alia bt Megat Mohd Noor (Malaysia)
  2. Astrie Fadhilah Abdul Rahim (Malaysia)
  3. Ummu Atirah binti Muhammad (Malaysia)
  4. Siti Nurizzatee binti Azlee (Malaysia)
  5. Ainur Najihah bt Zulkifli (Malaysia)
  6. Nur Adibah bt Mohd Zaki (Malaysia)
  7. Nur Fadhilla binti Zainudin (Malaysia)
  8. Nur Aliah Izzah binti Abdullah (Malaysia)
  9. Zur Azureen (Malaysia)
  10. Mimie Hamidah (Malaysia)
  11. Nur Hanida binti Abdullah Thani (Malaysia)
  12. Izzati Hazirah Bohari (Malaysia)
  13. Amirah Wahidah Mohd Rusli (Malaysia)
  14. A'attiyyah binti Ab Alim (Malaysia)
  15. Diyanah binti Mohaidin Gani (Malaysia)
  16. Amira binti Mohd Nasib (Malaysia)
  17. Amalina binti Amir (Malaysia)
  18. Mohd Aminudin bin Murad (Malaysia)
  19. Nurul Natasha Md. Ali (Malaysia)
  20. Mohd Zulffy Royhadlin (Malaysia)
  21. Murni Nabilla binti Jamaludin (Malaysia)
  22. Mohammad Amirulhakim (Malaysia)
  23. Shafiqah Azman (Malaysia)
  24. Maya Sara (Malaysia)
  25. Ahmad Naqiuddin Wahid@Ab Wahid (Malaysia)
  26. Nur Hafizah Muhammad (Malaysia)
  27. Siti Fatimah binti Kather Hussain (Malaysia)
  28. Muzamir Ab. Samad (Malaysia)
  29. Nur Fatihah binti Mohd Radzi (Malaysia)
  30. Nur Shereena bt Abdullah (Malaysia)
  31. Aizan Fahri Kamarulzaman (Malaysia)
  32. Wan Ardeena (Malaysia)
  33. Sharifah Alia binti Syed Osman (Malaysia)
  34. Faizah binti Ismail (Malaysia)
  35. Nabilah Mohd Najib (Malaysia)
  36. Nur Nabila Najla bt Norizan (Malaysia)
  37. Fatin Syazwani binti Zafrullah (Malaysia)
  38. Nik Norhanani binti Mohd Ghani (Malaysia)
  39. Nurul Azreen binti Mohd Husni (Malaysia)
  40. Khadijah Anis Aisyah Mohd Azmi (Malaysia)
  41. Nur Sarah bt Ab Majid (Malaysia)
  42. Mohamad Fauzan (Malaysia)
  43. Nuha Farhana bt Muhamad Akhir (Malaysia)
  44. Norsalina binti Rawaji (Malaysia)
  45. Nur Atiqah bt Mohamad Razif (Malaysia)
  46. Afi Zulwaqar bin Rasid (Malaysia)
  47. Maryam binti Norazan (Malaysia)
  48. Asiah Husain (Malaysia)
  49. Nuramirah Izzati bt Muhamad Norazam (Malaysia)
  50. Mohamad Efan Fazril bin Zahari (Malaysia)
  51. Asma Hussein (Sweden)
  52. Dania (Tunisia)
  53. Amina A. Hassan (Norway)
  54. Muhammad Hafidz bin Hasan (Russia)
  55. Tazkia Tasnim (Bangladesh)
  56. Sharifah Asma bt Syed Tarmizi Jamalulil (Japan)
  57. Rozaini binti Abdullah (The Netherlands)
  58. Hajar Moujib (Morocco)
  59. Yasmina Arkoubi (Morocco)
  60. Rushan (India)
  61. Tuan Muhd Ridzuan bin Tuan Hussin (India)
  62. Nor Hafizah binti Abdullah Nazri (South Korea)
  63. Nurhayati binti Ramli (South Korea)
  64. Rafee Hoque (Canada)
  65. Hadia Mahwish (Canada)
  66. Eethar Ismail (Canada)
  67. Azura Yasin (Egypt)
  68. Ahmad Lutfi (Egypt)
  69. Amirah binti Ahmad Zaki (Egypt)
  70. Aulia Arshad (Indonesia)
  71. Putri Panca Meiriasari (Indonesia)
  72. Alvina Amir (Indonesia)
  73. Khadijah Hasbullah (Republic of Ireland)
  74. Khalilah Alhuda (Republic of Ireland)
  75. Ahmad Zuhri Shin (Republic of Ireland)
  76. Safwana Nurwidad Safri (Australia)
  77. Tahir Abdul Gaffoor (Australia)
  78. Nurul Syakirin bt Mohd Nazar (Australia)
  79. Siti Rasyidah Muskapah (Australia)
  80. Al-Kautsar (Australia)
  81. Nuraisyah Radhiah Samsudin (New Zealand)
  82. Nur Fairuz Sabrina Hashim (New Zealand)
  83. Nuruljannah Musa (New Zealand)
  84. Amirah Ahmad Sabry (New Zealand)
  85. Falmata Mohamed (USA)
  86. Yasmine Kareem (USA)
  87. Maisarah Razali (USA)
  88. Siti Nur Aishah Mohd Zain (USA)
  89. Hassim (UK)
  90. Muhammad Haziq Furqan (UK)
  91. Nur Atiqah Abdul Jalil (UK)
  92. Hajah Ili Amni Majdiah Haji Zulkipli (UK)
  93. Humaira bte Julfikar Khan (Singapore)
  94. Saerah bte Abdul Latiff (Singapore)
  95. Siti Nurfaizah binte Mahat (Singapore)
  96. Fariq Kader (Singapore)
  97. Noraziqah Aziz (Brunei)
  98. Nur Fadillah Umu Habibah binti Nudin (Brunei)
  99. D N Z Pg Mohamad (Brunei)
  100. Syafiqah Hj Taib (Brunei)
Thank you to all who signed up. If your name is not in the list above, please don't be sad. That's the opposite of what I'm trying to achieve. The point of this initiative is to inspire all of you to share Eid with everyone. Even if you don't receive my Eid card, I hope you will still write Eid cards to others.

Smile :)

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 30: The Fragrance Of Ramadan Remains

Photo by Horacio Maria

Maghrib creeps in as the sun descents into the horizon; it's like Ramadan is waving goodbye while walking away, slowly disappearing from sight.

But just because Ramadan is leaving, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to totally disappear. The spirit of Ramadan can live on, but that depends on us. We have to keep Ramadan alive in our hearts and in our deeds.

A good test to know whether we did well or not in Ramadan is to observe ourselves outside of Ramadan. Have I changed to become a better person? Or am I reverting to my old ways?

Will I go all out, to "compensate" for all the "opportunities" that I've missed in Ramadan? Because you know, I can't be bad in Ramadan. I have to watch myself closely in Ramadan. But when Ramadan is over, the party is on right?

How many of us are thinking in this manner? That question is for you to answer and for no one to find out.

Ramadan is not there for us to be temporarily "angelic". Allah gave us Ramadan as a 30-day opportunity for self-improvement. After Ramadan is over, that self-improvement will be put to the ultimate test once our nemesis is back again - Shaytan.

Brace yourself.

We have 11 months of constant struggling ahead of us. I hope that the 30 days we've spent in Ramadan has equipped us with the motivation and the strength to go through the other months with increasing awareness of God (Taqwa).

"O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may attain Taqwa." (Surah al-Baqarah: 183)

The Prophet gave a brilliant analogy to distinguish between a good friend and a bad friend:

“A good friend and a bad friend are like a perfume-seller and a blacksmith: The perfume-seller might give you some perfume as a gift, or you might buy some from him, or at least you might smell its fragrance. As for the blacksmith, he might singe your clothes, and at the very least you will breathe in the fumes of the furnace.” [Bukhari, Muslim]

Just by virtue of being around a good friend, like a perfume-seller, the fragrance will stick to us. Ramadan is our good friend and we have spent 30 days together.

The fragrance of Ramadan can last forever, if only we don't rub it off.

A reflection to remember as we go on with our lives, past Ramadan.

Eid Mubarak everyone!

Ramadan Reflection Day 29: The Ups and Downs of Istiqamah

Photo by greg westfall

For quite a long time, I've been under the impression that Istiqamah means that I am staying the same. For example, if I read one page of the Quran everyday, Istiqamah in that sense would mean that I read one page of the Quran everyday for the rest of my life without missing a single day. If I miss a day, that means that I am no longer Istiqamah.

Considering that the root of the word Istiqamah is "qaama" which means "to stand up straight", I can see where my understanding comes from. In retrospect, I think I was under the impression that Istiqamah means to stand up without falling down.

That is only partly true.

What I didn't realize is the nuance behind the meaning of the word Istiqamah. When I go deeper into it, I realized that I only understand half of the equation. I missed one word in that equation, which will make the meaning complete. Just one word, and that word changed my perception of the whole concept of Istiqamah.

Istiqamah, in totality, doesn't mean to stand up straight. It actually means to TRY standing up straight. That one word (i.e. "try") might be a small addition, but it was like a revelation for me.

By understanding that I am trying to stand up straight, that signifies that I am going to fall down at some point. Istiqamah doesn't mean that I don't fall at all. It means that if and when I do fall, I will stand back up.

This is an essential understanding before we dive into the concept of self-improvement i.e. to change oneself for the better. A lot of times, people want to change, try to change, and want to remain consistent in that process of change. When they fall down somewhere along the road, they give up and think that they can't change just because they have fallen down. They think that they have failed in Istiqamah.

For example, I received an email recently from a brother who is trying to cultivate the habit of reading in himself. After trying for some time, he couldn't keep up with the change. He felt tired and wanted to give up. He felt like a failure, because he fell down a few times. I think he felt unable to Istiqamah.

But the reality is that, the manifestation of Istiqamah doesn't end when you fall down, it actually begins when you stand up again, and again, and again.

Recently I learned that change is a trial and error process. If we strip down the concept of change to its very core, then we can understand it as being composed of two fundamental things: trying and failing. The best example that I can think of is a baby trying to stand up for the first time (works perfectly with the whole concept of Istiqamah). A baby doesn't stand up perfectly the first time around. The baby actually falls down more than he/she actually stands up. But the Istiqamah in the baby is that he/she keeps on trying and trying, learning more and more from previous experiences.

If I was to give Istiqamah a life analogy, I would say that Istiqamah is like standing up straight on a rocky boat, because life is like a rocky boat. There are times when you are able to stand up straight, there are times when you are wobbling to keep your balance, and there are times when you lose your balance and fall down. But if standing up straight is important to you, you will try again. Perhaps with a new strategy.

To me, that is Istiqamah.

Self-improvement is a lifelong endeavour. In the process of changing yourself for the better, you make a plan for it and you implement it. Even though you tried your best to avoid failure, chances are, that plan might fail.

But that doesn't mean that you can't change. That just means that you need to modify that plan, and try again.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 28: Towards The End Of Ramadan

Photo by nimble photography

Towards the end of Ramadan, there are at least three types of people:

1) Those who are exclusively happy because Eid is coming.
2) Those who are exclusively sad because Ramadan is leaving.
3) Those who are having mixed feelings.

Which one are you? That's for you to answer and for no one to find out.

I think there can't be an extreme towards either end of the sad-happy spectrum.

Thinking about the Seerah, I know that the Prophet and the Companions were heartbroken when Ramadan was leaving them. Once Ramadan ended, they missed it so much that they already looked forward to the next Ramadan.

But at the same time, they realized that Eid is a gift; a parting gift from Ramadan if you will. Hence, the proper attitude when receiving a gift is happiness and gratefulness. So the Prophet and the Companions didn't accept Eid solemnly. Eid is not a time for mourning, it is a time for celebration.

A celebration of what?

We are not celebrating the end of Ramadan - no Muslim would want Ramadan to end. We are celebrating the completion of Ramadan - feeling grateful that Allah has given us the opportunity to experience Ramadan and allowing us to complete our fast.

"...Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful." (Surah al-Baqarah: 185)

There was a story related by Nouman Ali Khan that illustrates this point perfectly. There was a married couple who lost their only child, and they had this child late in life. On the day of his high school graduation, he got into an accident and died. Imagine being in the shoes of those parents. How devastating that event must have been. What a tragedy - to lose one's only child, on the day of his graduation.

The parents went through an episode of depression. After a few weeks, the husband went to the wife and said, "Allah lent us a toy to play with for a period of time. Then, He decided to take what's rightfully His. Instead of being grateful to Allah for allowing us to have the toy and play with it, this is how we react?"

Of course, I am not trying to equate losing a child to losing Ramadan, but a similar sentiment is there.

When Ramadan leaves, it is like losing something close to your heart. As sad as it is, the right attitude of a Muslim is that of gratefulness; be grateful that Allah has given us yet another opportunity to experience Ramadan and express our gratefulness in Eid.

Celebrate Eid with your family and friends. Share Eid with others e.g. the poor, the needy, the orphans, etc. Express your gratefulness far and wide, and be mindful of Allah; the One who makes all of this possible.

And maybe, just maybe, Allah will reunite us with Ramadan once more.

Ramadan Reflection Day 27: When Is Laylatul Qadr?

Photo by Umar Mita

During the last 10 nights of Ramadan, it is understandable that we would be wondering when Laylatul Qadr (Night of Power) will come. We look for signs and we hope that we hit the target. But sometimes we might be preoccupied with the signs of Laylatul Qadr that we missed the point.

Despite knowing the signs of Laylatul Qadr (as authenticated by our Prophet), we should be working for it on all the last 10 nights and not just on a specific night. Even the Prophet himself went for all the last 10 nights, because even with all the signs, no one knows for certain when Laylatul Qadr will be. Not even our Prophet knows that.

The fact that we don't know for certain should make us hopeful, because we still have a chance of getting Laylatul Qadr. So for the nights that are remaining, we shouldn't lose focus and relax as if we already found Laylatul Qadr. Since there is no guarantee, we should continue our effort all the way until the final night of Ramadan.

That is the wisdom behind not knowing, and I am grateful that Allah didn't specify which among the 10 nights is Laylatul Qadr.

It's like asking for repentance. No one knows for sure if Allah accepts or not. We might see the signs of it, but with no guarantee. The only guarantee we have in this life is if the Prophet told us that Allah accepted our repentance, as he had done with a few Companions in his lifetime. But the Prophet Muhammad is no longer with us and he is the seal of prophethood. Since we don't know if Allah accepts our repentance or not, we should keep on asking and we should keep on hoping.

No one can say, "I am certain that Allah accepts my repentance." At the same time, no one can say, "I am certain that Allah doesn't accept my repentance."

So keep on hoping and have a good opinion of Allah.

Same goes for Laylatul Qadr. No one can say for certain that he/she has or has not "found" Laylatul Qadr. As far as I'm concerned, the offer is still up for grabs.

May Allah give us Laylatul Qadr. Ameen.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 26: Will This Be On The Test?

Photo by Universiteitskrant Univers

I am grateful to be studying something that I am passionate about. I realized that there are people out there who can't enjoy what I enjoy, for whatever reason. When you learn about something you're passionate about, you show that you care. You show that you are not studying it for the sake of grades. The questions that you ask your teachers are questions based on curiosity in the subject matter and not, "Will this be on the test?"

That question is probably the most popular question in my university. Before this, I didn't care for it. But now, I get irritated when I hear it. The worst part is that those students who ask other questions, sometimes questions that are not relevant to the test, but they're good questions, are being shunt. They are known as the "the annoying student who always asks questions." I want to give an award to such a student. I think we should all be like that; thinking outside of the box and questioning the teachers.

If the students only care about the test, then consequently it is very likely that the teachers are only going to be concerned about the test too. They are only going to focus on what's going to be on the test. How many times have you heard a teacher said, "This will not be on the test, so you don't have to worry about it." What do you mean I don't have to worry about it? Is it not valuable knowledge?

It sends a very clear and misleading message: your self-worth revolves around the test scores, regardless of whether you understand what you learn or not.

But I get it. I am not immune to it. I feel the pressure too. Everyone wants us to get good grades; parents, teachers, friends, employees, etc. They want to see the results and they couldn't care less about how much effort, love, and care we put into it. If it's not an A, then we're not trying hard enough - that's not necessarily true. I've met non-A students who are very intelligent and they understand deeply what they learned in class. A test score doesn't necessarily capture understanding. It's unfortunate since we invest a lot of time and energy into it.

This is the reality that I witness almost everyday, and I believe that countless of students like me can testify to it.

I feel that the only path to a good education is through passion. If we don't care, then it's very likely that we're not going to use what we learn in our daily lives. When that happens, I question the point of us going to class everyday.

Students are having amnesia nowadays; taking everything in, vomit it out on a piece of paper, and forget everything afterwards.

If what we're learning doesn't add value and meaning to our lives, then are we really learning?

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 25: Hope for the Ummah at 2am in the Morning

ISNA Masjid at 2am

The picture above was taken at 2am last night in ISNA Masjid, Canada. For the last 10 days of Ramadan, the Masjid organized an i'tikaf (a period of isolation, usually to a Masjid) and qiyam (staying up at night for voluntary prayers and other acts of worship).

As I walked into the Masjid's compound, I was surprised at the amount of cars in the parking lot. The only times I would usually see that many cars are during Friday prayer and Eid prayer. So seeing that many cars at 2am in the morning was a sight to behold.

As I walked through the Masjid's main entrance, it didn't look like it was 2am in the morning. I saw children, youth, adults, and elders. They were all there. Subhanallah, my heart was filled with joy, especially seeing all the children there. I even saw a young man walking with a crutch (his feet was injured). I kind of felt a bit ashamed of myself after witnessing his determination to attend the qiyam, despite his condition. Not to mention that there were elders who couldn't even stand in prayer so they had to sit on chairs. Even they were strong enough to abandon their beds and attend the qiyam.

I had no more excuses in my pockets. Thank God for that.

The congregation was praying at the time when I walked in. I wanted to see what the main hall looks like. It was a full house. The brothers' side was full and the sisters' side was full too. Subhanallah. It was so full that there were people praying outside of the main hall. They had to open the gym in case of an overflow.

Keep in mind, this was at 2am in the morning! I am still blown away by this. I've never seen the Masjid full of people at this time of the night. I would be happy to see 3 or 4 lines during that time.

But a full house? I am overjoyed!

This is worthy of a mini celebration. Perhaps for people who had seen this routinely, they might not see it as something big. But coming from a fresh perspective, I see it as a glimmer of hope for the Ummah. Alhamdulillah, the Masjid is still close to the heart of Muslims, even the Muslims whom you wouldn't see in the Masjid on an average month or an average day. Although I hope that they will remain consistent with the Masjid, but the fact that they were there was enough to make me happy - even if they're there for just one night.

The icing on the cake was when I witnessed the old and the young coming together, especially the young. Seeing young children in the Masjid at any time of the day makes me happy, but seeing them during qiyam is something truly special. Even if some of them didn't pray during the whole hour (hey, they're kids!), I still think that the fact that they're there is something that's worth being grateful for. I would rather see a kid running around in a Masjid than see a kid running around in a mall.

May Allah bless them and their parents. Ameen.

May Allah bless everyone in the congregation. Ameen.

May we all stand in Laylatul Qadr and reap the abundant reward. Ameen.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 24: I'm Still Fasting

Photo by Steve Garner

2 or 3 days ago, one of my lovely housemates (who is a devout Christian) asked me, "So, what's your plan for Eid next week?"

I suddenly stopped for a second.

"Wait, Eid is next week?!"

Subhanallah, I was slightly oblivious about how fast the time flies by. I didn't know what was happening in my brain. I knew that I am in the last 10 days of Ramadan, but somehow I didn't add Eid to the calculation. Realizing that, I became grateful.

A few years back, when I was in the last 10 days of Ramadan, somewhere in my mind I would be thinking about Eid - what to wear, where to go, what to eat, etc. This year, that thought didn't enter my mind until my housemate reminded me of it. But even after that reminder, I still put Eid on the back burner.

Why? Because I am still fasting. Ramadan is not over yet.

Eid is dear to my heart, but I have no guarantee that I will meet it. The only guarantee I have is the here and now. My here and now is Ramadan. Eid will have to wait until I bid farewell to Ramadan.

Last Taraweeh, one of the Masjid committee members made a few announcements. Among them, he asked the congregation to make du'a for a number of brothers and sisters who were sick, some of them are battling cancer right now. He listed down their names and proceeded to make du'a for them. Some of them are spending their last 10 days of Ramadan on hospital beds, and here I am, in the pink of health.

Alhamdulillah. So I shouldn't relax now. My brothers and sisters who are on the hospital beds would give anything to be in my position. I feel that it would be an insult to them if I waste my last 10 days with nonsense. Astaghfirullah.

Another reality that hit home is the fact that today (August 2nd, 2013) is the last Friday in Ramadan. I will not see another Friday in Ramadan until next year. Only Allah knows if I live long enough to enjoy that. Being alive on Friday in Ramadan is a blessing upon a blessing, and it is also a fleeting opportunity.

Seize it now, before it runs away.

My friend gave me a very fitting analogy about the last 10 days of Ramadan, using the famous fable "The Tortoise and the Hare". The tortoise and the hare organized a race. As soon as the race began, the hare booked it and left the tortoise far behind. The hare got comfortable with his position in the race. He decided to take a nap under a tree because he was sure that the tortoise can't keep up with him even then. But the hare overslept and the tortoise beat him. Yes, the tortoise was slow, but he persevered until the very end.

In the beginning of Ramadan, everyone's excited and energetic. But gradually towards the end, we see that more and more people are losing that flame. Maybe they burnt themselves out, or maybe they became comfortable like the hare.

"I've done a lot. I think I'll just take it easy in the final days of Ramadan."

Yet, there are those among us who are like the tortoise. They don't do a lot, but they persevered. They persevered until the very end of Ramadan. Allah loves those who do a little, but they do it consistently. Allah knows that consistency is hard, but Allah loves those who try their best.

In a race, you don't slow down in the last 10 meters. You give it your all. You will run your shoes off. Folks, realize that we are now in the last 10 meters of Ramadan.

Don't let the fire go out now. Keep it burning!

Run, Forrest! Run!

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 23: I Love Dogs


In 2011, I went to Turkey for about a day. It was my layover before my flight to Malaysia. Since I have about a day of free time, I thought it's best to take the opportunity and visit one of Turkey's finest - the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (the Blue Mosque). Praying in the mosque was an absolute treat. I am grateful to Allah for giving me that opportunity.

Other than the mosque, I walked around its vicinity in Sultan Ahmet Square to check out the place. Whilst walking around, a stray dog started following me. Freaked out at first, I calmed down after I figured out that it wasn't going to chase me. Maybe it was just curious. So I just walked around normally, and it was trailing behind me. A very nice dog. I even snapped a photo with it.

Istanbul, Turkey (2011)
If you ask me which animal is most loyal to humans, I would have to say dogs.

I distinctly remember being in a grocery store in Toronto when a dog walked in and started wandering around in the store. At first, I thought the dog was hungry and was about to grab some food and run away. But no, it was trying to find its owner. It was going from aisle to aisle, peering through each one, and completely ignoring all the food around it.

Wallahi, the look on its face is one that I will never ever forget. It looked genuinely worried and lost, like a child trying to find his mom in the supermarket. It didn't bother me or anyone else. It was totally focused on finding its owner.

I love cats, but I don't think cats are going to do that if they lost their owner. If I'm drowning and I see a dog and a cat, I would shout for the dog. No doubt.

Dogs are a wonderful creation of Allah.

They were mentioned in Surah al-Maidah as hunting dogs and they were also mentioned in Surah al-Kahf as a companion for the youth in the cave. The Prophet advocated for the care of dogs (and of course, other animals too). The Prophet mentioned a story of a person who, upon seeing a dog that's thirsty, filled a sandal with water from a well and gave it to the dog. Because of that noble act, Allah granted the person Paradise.

So my heart is filled with joy when I see people like Pak Mie who took it upon himself to take care of about 600 stray dogs and created a shelter for them. He and his wife practically revolve their life around taking care of these dogs. Subhanallah.

May the dogs be Pak Mie's and his wife's ticket to Jannah. Ameen.

Dogs (or any animal for that matter) will treat you how you treat them. They are animals, so they are driven by instincts. Unlike us. So if we treat them like crap, then they're going to see us as enemies. It's not surprising that some dogs do chase people (unless they're guard dogs in which case, that's their job).

Kindness and compassion transcend the species barrier. The Prophet was not sent as mercy to human beings exclusively, but he was (and still is) mercy to the worlds; that includes everything and everyone.

So I love dogs not just because I think they're great, but also because I think it's Islamic. To say that one is a Muslim and hates dogs is...oxymoronic.

Ramadan Reflection Day 22: Stealing Childhoods

Photo by Ashiful Haque

Yesterday I learned something personally disturbing in my psychology class. Apparently, there is such a thing as a school for kids around 2 1/2 to 3 years of age. It's called junior kindergarten.

It's the same as regular schooling: sit quietly at a desk, listen attentively to the teacher talking in front of the class, walk in line, stay in line, and do this for about 9 hours a day.

As soon as heard my professor explained to me what pre-kindergarten was, I couldn't digest it. Almost immediately I feel that the whole concept is abnormal. In fact, I was in Abnormal Child Psychology class.

The idea of schooling a child that young irks me. Why? Because schooling doesn't necessarily celebrate the freedom of childhood. A child, especially as young as age 2 1/2 to 3, needs to explore the world. Childhood is a crucial time for play. Play is work for a child; through play a child makes sense of the world and himself/herself.

They should be outside, not inside the classroom. Especially not for 9 hours a day. Can you imagine being a 3-year-old child and being told to sit down quietly at a desk while being around a bunch of other 3-year-olds? A child can't even sit quietly for 10 minutes by himself/herself, let alone with another child close by.

It seems to me that we have imprisoned the child. Forgive me for my choice of word, but I can't think of another word to best describe it. We have put young children in prison, and the irony of that is this: the children aren't the criminals.

We are.

Why would anyone put a 3-year-old child in school? Well, it seems like we want to "prepare" the kids for the "real world". We are prepping a 3-year-old for college, for university, and for work. We want to bring out the genius in them as soon as possible and push them so that they're ahead of the race. Kids shouldn't be worry about that at their fragile age. They should be worried about how to tie their shoes, how to use the toilet, or the difference between a cat and a dog.

I do believe kids are natural geniuses, but you can't force the genius out. Even if you force it out, more often than not the genius is buried deeper. The perfect analogy is the analogy of planting a seed. You can't force the tree out of that seed. The only thing you can do is provide the seed with the right condition.

A school is not a right condition for a young child.

Letting a kids be kids is what our Prophet taught us. His grandson was riding his back while he was making prostration and the Prophet waited until his grandson finished playing. The Prophet advised us to start teaching and encouraging the kids to start praying at age 7. Despite the fact that prayer is the pillar of Islam, the Prophet didn't force it on a young child.

Everything has its own time with its own wisdom.

Childhood is the time for play. The wisdom in that play allows them to explore their world; to understand it better and to understand themselves better.

Interesting fact that I learned in class: children think more than adults. Why? Because they have a lot more to figure out. We might think that they're doing nothing, but they are doing everything. If they were cartoon characters, you would see smoke coming out from their ears.

Allow children to play. Don't steal it from them.

Note: This pre-kindergarten thing varies across situations. I don't want to generalize. This article refers to the pre-kindergarten concept explained to me by my professor.