Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Education: Passion is an Option

In University of Toronto, I studied Psychology. Among Malaysians, I think this field doesn’t have the same appeal as law, medicine, or engineering.

However, from time to time, I encounter individuals who show a glimmer of interest in this field and they ask me questions regarding it.

"I want to pursue Psychology. Is it difficult?"

Psychology, like how my professor puts it, is the most difficult science in the world.

Why? Because the subjects you put under the microscope are humans. Humans are complex and sophisticated. In any given behaviour that we study, there will be more than one explanation from more than one perspective.

The lectures are long. A typical Psychology lecture for me lasts 3 hours (with short breaks in between) and that is just one lecture. In a typical week, you are looking at about 3-4 lectures like that depending on what courses you take and how you organize your schedule.

I am the type of individual who likes listening more than writing or reading, so I manage to stay focus throughout a 3-hour lecture. The only time when I wouldn't be able to listen properly to the lecture is when I am tired.

Long lectures are not my biggest challenge. I can handle long lectures. My biggest challenge is the readings. There are a lot of them. That is my biggest challenge because reading textbooks doesn't interest me and I get distracted or bored easily while reading.

If you ask me if Psychology is difficult, then the answer is yes. But so what?

So what if it is difficult? You want to run away just because that is the reality? You want to pursue something just because it is easy?

Running away from something because it is difficulty and pursuing something because it is easy is not a good way to live life.

Despite all the difficulties, I decided to pursue Psychology anyway because of my passion for it. I didn't pursue it because it is easy. That is a weak foundation to stand on.

Do it because you love it. Do it because that is what you want to do with your life. Do it because you are good at it. Do it because that is your calling and that is how you see yourself benefiting the people around you.

Don't do it just because it is easy.

"How did you choose Psychology?"

My initial program of study was Biotechnology. Psychology didn't come to mind at all.

I took a first year Psychology course as an elective, something to add on top of my Biotechnology degree. I still remember the moment when I was 50/50 about taking that first year Psychology course because the feedback that I got from my friends wasn't motivating. They hated that course.

Instead of being discouraged, I took that course anyway because of one simple reason – I like learning about people. I closed one ear to the stuff my friends said and took the course out of interest.

I feel in love with Psychology from that first year course. We just clicked. Mind you, I am talking about the very same course that my friends hated.

You might have had the same experience where your friends discouraged you from pursuing something you have interest in just because they don't like it.

If I succumb to peer pressure, I might decide to drop the idea of taking that course. Instead, I asked myself what I wanted, and I wanted to take that course. So I did.

I didn't know it before but I realized soon after that this is what I want to do with my life.

People can only assist you in life. They can offer advice and support, but they can't (or shouldn't) dictate your life for you – it is your life.

The choice is in your hands and you alone are responsible for that choice.

“What kind of job could you get with Psychology?”

I can understand the worry that typically accompanies the tone of this question. You are worried about not being able to make ends meet if you choose passion. That is normal. I worry about it too.

However, I also worry about what benefit can I offer to the community I am living in. Is my presence a positive thing for the community or am I just wasting oxygen?

Having that in mind, fulfilling a need in my community becomes the main factor in my career choice – not the size of my paycheck.

I believe that if there is a need and if one has what it takes to fulfill that need, then there will be a job opening. Either you wait for an opening or you create that job opening yourself. In whatever you are passionate about, there is a need in the community that can be fulfilled through it.

In relation to Psychology, I see that the community needs more awareness when it comes to mental health and treating people with mental illnesses. There is a strong negative stigma attached to mental illnesses, and it shouldn’t be there.

I would like to be among the few who step up and try to reduce the stigma through education and awareness. To me, this is an obvious need in the community that is currently unfulfilled.

The community might not realize that there is an unfulfilled need and that there is a vacuum, but a need is a need whether they realize it or not.

You might see the need before they do, and you step up to fulfill it, despite the probable reality that you are not going to get paid as handsomely as the "popular jobs" and that you are treading into an uncharted territory.

But doesn’t that make it more interesting? It is like conquering a mountain no one else has ever climbed before. That is awesome. On top of that, there will be less competition.

Talk about a golden opportunity.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

3 Reasons Why We Shouldn't Cheat On Exams

Reason No. 1: Allah rewards you based on the effort not the results

If you give nothing less than your very best, Allah will reward you based on the results. That is what Allah expect of us – our very best. As long as we do it mainly for His sake.

Reason No. 2: We can’t control the results but we can control the effort

We choose whether we want to attend classes or not. We choose whether we want to study or not. We choose whether we want to ask questions or not. But, we can’t choose whether we get an A or not (at least not through legitimate means).

Imagine you’re trying to grow a tree. You work your heart out in planting the tree – you chose the best seed, the best soil, planted the seed properly, watered it, gave it the nutrition it needs, etc. You did everything that you can to get a healthy tree. You gave it your best effort.

But in the end, you can’t make the tree grow and bear its fruits. Your job is to plant the seed.

Prophet Nuh spent 950 years of his life to call his people to Allah but in the end, only a few accepted his call. He gave it his best for that long but the result wasn’t as he hoped for. Putting that in perspective, that makes our 4 years in university looks like nothing.

But does that mean that Prophet Nuh failed? Of course not. Allah judged him based on his effort. Imagine the rewards he received for his 950 years of hard work.

Reason No. 3: A result honestly earned is better

How can you look at your parents in the eyes and say that you’ve earned an A while knowing that you cheated your way there?

How can you watch your parents being happy for something that’s not even real to begin with?

A low grade earned through sincere hard work is better than a perfect grade earned through cheating and cutting corners.

One might be able to fool people with that fake grade, but one can’t fool oneself. Above all else, one can’t fool Allah.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Modesty is a Part of Faith

A few years back a friend of mine asked me whether it’s okay or not for a Muslim sister to wear jeans. Instead of giving her a quick yes or no answer, I gave it a bit of a thought and I figured that it’s better for her if I teach her how to catch a fish instead of giving her a fish.

So I came up with a simple 3-step guideline which is applicable to both Muslim women and Muslim men.

Step 1: Follow the Islamic dress code

We Muslims do have a “dress code” and a code means a set of standards. This is a huge topic in and of itself that covers from head to toe, but as an example, I would like to take one aspect of the dress code and that is the parts of the body one must cover.

There are certain parts of the body that we need to cover and the requirements are different for men and for women, according to situations.

When I say “different”, I don’t mean one is better than the other. It just means that they are different and there’s nothing inherently wrong about that.

These parts are called ‘awra which linguistically means “that which must be kept hidden”. It also refers to that which causes or should cause one to feel ashamed if exposed. It is also commonly translated as “nakedness”.

Since ‘awra is meant to be kept hidden, it makes sense why we shouldn’t wear anything tight or see-through. Even though technically speaking one does cover oneself with tight or see-through clothing, one doesn’t keep the ‘awra hidden. The ‘awra is still considered exposed.

This applies to both the men and the women, however I have to stress it a little bit towards the women. The Prophet made a prophecy that there will come a time when there will be a group of women who are dressed and yet they’re naked (because you can still see the ‘awra).

Abu Hurayra narrated that the Prophet (pbuh) said, "Two groups of Hellfire I have yet to see ... and the other are women who are clothed yet naked, ... They shall not enter Jannah, nor even smell its fragrance, even though its fragrance can be smelt for such and such distance." (Reported by Imam Muslim)

At this point I would like to emphasize that just because someone doesn’t adhere to the Islamic dress code, that doesn’t make that person less of a Muslim than any other Muslim. You’ve probably heard this phrase countless of times: nobody is perfect. That phrase is true the first time you heard it, and it is still true now.

We all make mistakes and we are all trying to be the best Muslim that we can be. One day you might see a sister without a hijab, but who knows, somewhere along the road she might be rockin' a hijab, a jilbab, a niqab, and eating a kebab, with her super-cool husband.

Step 2: Be comfortable

I don’t think I have to explain this point, but I would like to mention that I purposefully placed this step after step 1 which is adhering to the Islamic dress code and before step 3 which is…

Step 3: Be fashionable and presentable

Let it be known that Islam is not against fashion. Islam doesn’t prohibit us from looking presentable, as long as the dress code is not violated.

In addition to that, check out this Hadeeth:

Once the Prophet (pbuh) wore a beautiful cloak on Friday ... , gifted to him by a neighbouring ruler, and the people said, "We have never seen any garment like this!" To which the Prophet (pbuh) replied, "Are you impressed with this?! Verily the handkerchief of Sa'ad bin Mu'az in Paradise is better than what you see." (Reported by Imam Tirmidhi)

The main point here is simple: there is nothing wrong with looking good and wearing beautiful clothes, as long as we don’t attach our hearts to them. They are just things.

So if someone spilled water all over your fancy shirt, don’t go all berserk. It’s just a shirt.

Those are the 3-step guideline for how to properly dress up in Islam. These steps are the order of priority and keeping that priority in check is easier said than done - allow me to elaborate on that last point.

Some of us might sacrifice our comfort in the name of fashion. Wearing very uncomfortable clothes just to be seen as fashionable and hip. However, there are times when you have to sacrifice your comfort to safeguard the dress code.

For example, say that you work in a restaurant and your boss made is compulsory for you to wear shorts (the kind of shorts that make boxers look more modest). If there is no room for negotiation, the right thing to do is to defend your right to express your religion or to quit the job. That is not something that many of us can readily do because we are essentially sacrificing our comfort i.e. having a job and getting paid. But it is a sacrifice worth making in the long run.

But whatever the situation may be, when it comes to keeping our priority in check in terms of how we dress as Muslims, there is one key question that we have to ask ourselves, “Are we trying to impress the people or are we trying to impress Allah?”

Remember, modesty is a part of faith, and your faith will be tested.

Friday, May 02, 2014

How to Get Ideas Out of Your Brain

We all have ideas buried inside our minds. It is one of the things that make us humans; we think about things, we reflect upon those things, and we create magnificent things out of those reflections.

So I raise an eyebrow when someone says, “I don’t have any ideas!”

It is not that we don’t have ideas. It is just that we don’t listen closely enough to the ideas that are bubbling inside our minds. Our minds are constantly chatting with us; giving us thoughts, suggestions, stories, possibilities, etc.

Observe little kids. They are machines fueled by ideas in their minds. Whatever the mind says, they will do it – often times without hesitation. As time goes by, the ideas don’t go away. Inside, what happens is that they are kept quiet by rules, decorum, indoctrinations, and – interestingly enough – education.

Our ideas go from a noisy chatter to a soft whisper.

To make matters worse, we live in a noisy world. The hustle and bustle of everyday life can be so deafening that it drowns out the little voice in our heads. Imagine that, we can’t even listen to the voice that is closest to our ears.

Here’s what I think we need to do:

  1. We desperately need to quiet down. We need to isolate ourselves once in a while, take a break, sit down, and listen to ourselves.
  2. Search for a time when our mind is the loudest – on the toilet seat, while driving, in the gym, just before bed, while reading, while talking to people, while listening to lectures, or whenever it may be.
  3. Seize the moment by having a notebook handy (for the cool kids, a smartphone). Write whatever ideas we come up with, without censoring. Go nuts.
  4. Sift through these ideas. We might actually find something valuable amidst these ideas.

A bulb might light up.

This is a simple exercise, but pretty soon I think we would realize that we actually have ideas. We just can’t hear them, or maybe we often times choose not to listen to them.

Perhaps they are too ridiculous, too embarrassing, or too farfetched. Perhaps it is easier to just admit that we don’t have ideas, as opposed to dealing with these ideas in our minds that “aren’t any good”.

We sometimes shortchange ourselves too much. We underestimate what we have to offer to the world, and we rationalize our way out of doing some amazing things.

We just need to listen, and listen closely to the ideas in our minds.

Who knows, there might be a cure for cancer in there somewhere.