Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Various Flavours of Islam

"I only realized that I am an American Muslim when I traveled abroad to other Muslim lands." (Dr. Sherman Jackson)

When I reflected upon these words, I realized that the statement is true for me too. I have been in Canada for almost 4 years now, and I am constantly reminded of how Malaysian I am while I'm here.

In Malaysia, I didn't notice my Malaysian-ness because I am surrounded by Malaysians and the Malaysian culture. It is only when I was taken out of that place when I realized that I am, in fact, Malaysian.

Plus, my Canadian friends remind me of that fact all the time.

I was born and raised in Malaysia. The Malaysian culture has shaped a lot of who I am today. Though I am still flexible to change, that culture remained a huge part of my identity.

One of the many beauties of Islam is that it doesn't wipe out our identity clean. In fact, Islam acknowledges the culture we were born in, and Islam purifies the culture to make it better.

It is like purifying gold after it has been extracted from the earth.

To strip one completely from one's culture in order to adopt a so-called "Islam culture" is unjust to the person and to Islam.

It is unjust to the person because a huge chunk of his/her identity is being unnecessarily uprooted. It is unjust to Islam because Islam doesn't teach us to deny the culture in which we were born in.

Islam doesn't teach uniformity. It teaches diversity. 

Islam is relevant anywhere and anytime. Part of the reason for that is that Islam, in and of itself, is not a culture. It is more of a guide than a culture, and we use that guide (Islam) to shape our individual culture properly - to be harmonious with the Will of God.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Best Way to Explain Islam

I am not sure why, but some of us freak out when people ask questions about our faith. It is rather weird when you think about it. We should be happy that there are people out there who are genuinely interested to know more about what we believe in.

Before we educate others, we obviously need to educate ourselves first. Allocate some time to attend classes, read good books, and ask qualified and well-informed teachers. The internet is a good resource, but be extra careful about it. We have no idea where Sheikh Google got his degree from.

I think people would appreciate honesty from our part. Like the saying goes, "Honesty is the best policy". Explain nicely using wisdom and a language that people can understand, and explain to the extent of our knowledge. If we don’t know something, then say “I’m sorry. I don’t know.”

The important thing is to not make stuff up just to look smart or to impress people. If people don’t understand something, then we should help them understand and not mislead them with made up information because our ego refused to acknowledge that we don’t know everything.

People may or may not agree with us, but at least they understand where we are coming from. At the same time, we should understand where they are coming from as well. As much as they should be sensitive to our faith, we should also be as sensitive to their faith too.

This mutual understanding enables us to live together peacefully – we eliminate any fear of the unknown and create bridges between us. We might have disagreements. However, disagreements don’t necessarily mean that we harbor ill feelings towards each other and become enemies.

Disagreements don’t cause hatred and division, but immature people do – forgive my bluntness. If people can practice a little bit of grace, patience, humility, and open-mindedness when we are dealing with each other, I think we would get along just fine and perhaps become good friends.

We can still be united despite disagreements. We can have mature and civilized dialogues, discussions, and debates – not in the Youtube comment section – and still, be united as one community.

The big question remains: what is the best way to explain Islam?

I think the best explanation lies in who we are and how we are as a person – our characters. The Prophet (peace be upon him) was not sent except to perfect human characters. He was, is and always will be our walking example of embodied beautiful characters.

There is no language more eloquent than beautiful characters. It cuts through all barriers and goes straight to the hearts of people. Intelligent arguments can win the minds, but beautiful characters will win the hearts. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

How I Ended Up Taking Psychology

Towards the end of my secondary school, I arrived at a phase in my life where I had to decide what program to take in university. I did some research. I looked at this and that. It was a little bit like trial and error phase.

I started from my interest (what I like) and I went from there, because if I want to do something as a career, then I want to do something that I enjoy doing, something that I care about, and something that I find meaningful.

My parents helped me a lot in the process. They pointed me to the right direction, to the best of their abilities. My dad knew that I like science so he suggested that I pursue Biotechnology because it has to do with science and at the time, it was a newly-emerging, growing field in Malaysia.

I thought about Biotechnology. To be honest, it didn’t excite me as much as I want it to, but the idea of it was interesting enough and since I couldn’t think of anything else at the time, I decided to go for it.

I applied for a scholarship to study Biotechnology overseas, got the scholarship, and was sent to University of Toronto in Canada after I passed my pre-university studies in Malaysia.

During my pre-university studies, I met this guy who is a Psychologist and he is the first Psychology person that I know of in my entire life. Psychology is not that popular in Malaysia so you don’t see that many Psychologists around.

I flew to Canada and did my first year of university from fall to winter (that is how one academic year is calculated). When summer came, instead of taking a 4-month long vacation, I spent half of that time in university because I needed an extra credit.

So there I was, trying to choose which course to take for that summer.

Whenever I have the liberty of choosing a course, I choose a course that is interesting to me. Whether the course is easy or not, it doesn’t matter that much as long as it is interesting because if it is interesting to me, then I will gladly invest my time and energy in it.

While I was figuring out what course to take for that one credit in that summer, I thought about the Psychologist guy I knew from before and I had the idea of trying out Psychology for a change. It looks like an interesting subject. I am slightly intrigued by it. So I decided to go for it.

I asked a few of my friends who took the course just to get an idea of what they thought of it. As it turned out, they hated it. They warned me not to take the course. Despite all the bad reviews I got from some of my friends, I took the course anyway.

It was the best decision that I have ever made in university because that course was the major turning point in my education and future career choice.

It was like you are trying to find something and you don’t know what that it is. But when you see it, you know that you have found it. Psychology was that “it” for me. As I sat in that class and listened to my Psychology professor, the things I learned resonate within me.

It feels right. It fits.

Psychology is the science of people and I realized that I really like learning about people. I think the word “like” doesn’t quite capture the feeling anymore. I love learning about people. I enjoy learning about people.

Long story short, after taking that introductory class to Psychology, I changed my major at the beginning of my second year after I received the approval from my scholarship and the support of my parents.

That is basically how I ended up taking Psychology.