Wednesday, January 28, 2015

5 Things We Need to Know About Change

1. Change should be realistic.

Don’t put up this massive and idealistic goal. We need to control our zeal and set realistic expectations for ourselves. Otherwise, we are setting ourselves up for future disappointments.

Think of something more realistic, more doable and the risk of burning out is minimized. At the same time, we don’t want to have too small of a goal either.

Don’t be afraid to go bigger, but not too big that it becomes overwhelming.

2. Change should be gradual.

Things don’t usually change overnight. So we should take it one step at a time. Keep it slow and steady; don’t rush things. Move at a pace most comfortable to you; not too fast and not too slow.

The people around you shouldn’t push you to change as soon as possible. They should just be there for you to support you along the process. They should not be the obstacle that stops a person from moving forward or the reason people become demotivated.

If anyone has the intention to change, then we should support it. The point is that the person wants to change and we should seize the opportunity to help the person moves forward, even if it is just one small step.

A small step forward is better than standing still.

3. Change is hard.

Change requires time, effort, sacrifice, patience, endurance, motivation, and all the other things that are hard to hear and even harder to do.

But, we all know better that we should be better. We should improve, even if we don’t want to – just because we don’t want it doesn’t mean that we don’t need it.

Thankfully, we are not alone. There is no rule that says that we have to face it alone. So grab a few friends who will support us all the way, through good times and bad times – especially during those bad times.

Change is hard, but that is not a good enough reason to avoid change.

4. Change is constant.

Things change all the time. Animals change, plants change, the weather changes – change is constant in life. Living things don’t stay the same. If they do, then they will most probably be dead.

Change is a process that is constantly happening and we will never be a finished product because there will always be something that we need to change about ourselves. We will always be a work in progress.

5. Change is a choice.

Change will not start by itself. We have to initiate it. We can’t wait for something extraordinary or something horrible to happen in order for us to start the change.

We can’t all wait for “the calling”, and we can’t outsource the responsibility of change to other people.

People can’t force us to change. People can’t change for us. It is our individual responsibility to change. We owe it to ourselves.

There is a verse in the Quran that says, “God will not change the condition of the people until they change what is in themselves.”

Change starts with us.

Many of us choose to procrastinate change and we say things like “someday I’ll change”, which is weird because we have only 7 days in a week.

Last time I checked, "someday" is not one of them.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

K-Pop Hugs and Kisses

It is not that difficult to cause a stir in the community. Just find something sensitive in the community and just start violating. Before you know it, things get viral almost overnight (thanks to smartphones and social media) along with the reactionary voices that usually accompany them.

The Recent K-Pop Incident

What happened recently in Malaysia with the K-Pop concert was indeed appalling. At first, I didn't even know about the issue. I was in Singapore and my days were busy with my talk and sightseeing with my dad.

It was my wife who texted me on Whatsapp and brought my attention to the issue. This was her text: "I felt like crying, seeing well-covered Muslim women giving up their dignity to strange men. To make matters worse, these images are getting viral."

I watched the video and couldn't finish it because it was too hurtful. I wished I didn't watch the video to be honest. It flooded my timeline and curiosity got the better of me. After watching the video, I got really emotional and there were moments when I thought I was going to cry.

Sadness. Disappointment. Anger. A brewing of negative energy was building up inside of me and my fingers were itching to write something on the internet. But I managed to distance myself from the keyboard, because words laced with emotions might not be the words that I intended to deliver out into the world.

I allowed myself the time to digest and cool off. When one is calm, one can think better. Though I have to say that it is not easy to calm down, especially when something like this happened. In the Muslim community, traditionally or even in our modern times, we take the honour of women (Muslim or not) very seriously and we should take their honour very seriously.

In my head I was imagining those women to be my hypothetical daughters, my sisters, my nieces, my mother, or my wife. If I was their hypothetical father, brother, uncle, son, or husband, I would be devastated. Imagining it alone is already devastating. I wonder what it feels like if it really was the case.

Emotions & Ego: Our Greatest Enemy

As with any sensitive issue, our human emotions are our greatest enemy. When our sensitivity is violated, there is an urge to react immediately to it and that immediate reaction is usually driven by our emotions.

In that moment, the goal might not be to suggest or to move towards a long-term solution. The goal, in the heat of the moment, might be just to make ourselves feel better. When we get angry, yelling at people make us feel better. But does it solve the problem? Or, does it make the problem worse?

When there is a problem, however sensitive it might be to our emotions, we shouldn't dwell on the problem or make the problem worse. We should try to detach ourselves from the problem and not make it about us. We should try to think of what would be best for the community at large (not just the Muslim community).

We should focus more on the solution and focus less on our ego. We should not be looking for making ourselves feel better, but we should be looking for making the situation better.

It is easy and intriguing to lash out and to vent our thoughts and feelings in the wake of a sensitive issue, and lay back on our couches relaxing after we got a huge lump of frustration out of our chest. But the current situation is not about the self, and we should not make it about the self. We should not be thinking that people are offending us and attacking us personally, even if it feels like it.

The world is much bigger than our individual selves. We should step away from our ego and look at the bigger picture and aspiring towards a much more long-term relief for the community at large - not a short-term relief for our little selves.

The ideal is to figuratively see God in all situations and if we can't do that, then at least know that He sees us. That is the foundation of Ihsan (excellence). Ihsan is not about seeing us (our ego) in all situations, but it is about seeing God.

Even in a situation where it is personally offensive to us, we should try our level best to reflect our relationship with God and we should never ever left God out of the equation because the equation will never be complete without God. But it can be complete without our ego.

For example, during the saddest moment of Prophet Muhammad's (peace be upon him) life, when the people of Taif chased him out of their town with stones and the Prophet was bleeding to his sandals, the Prophet made a monumental du'a to Allah.

In that du'a, though he was physically and emotionally hurt, it was evident that he didn't put his ego before Allah because in that du'a, with everything that had happened, he said, "If you (O Allah) are not displeased with me, then I am content."

All he saw was Allah, as if his ego didn't exist.

Now What?

Having said all that, we are left with an important question: how should we deal with the recent K-Pop incident and where do we go from here?

We can do so many things. But just because we can do something, doesn't mean we should do it.

The main question to keep in mind is which option is the best option in the long run? We are seeking for a long-term solution that is best for all. Our decision won't just have an effect right here and now but might have an effect in the future. On top of that, our decision won't just affect ourselves and the people involved but it will affect the community at large.

There are a few questions that we should consider when coming up with a solution:

1. Is it really a solution, or just a way to make ourselves feel better and a way to pat our ego?

2. Is it in line with the principles of the Quran and the Sunna?

3. Is it just, wise, merciful, and good for all members of the community (Muslims and otherwise)?

4. Does it have any negative effects in the long run?

5. Does it harm any specific individuals?

6. How will it improve the understanding of the community (Muslims and otherwise) about Islam?

7. How will it improve the relationship between the individuals involved and Allah?

8. Will it bring people closer to Islam or away from it?

There are many things to consider. The point of these questions is to bring our attention towards the complexity of any issue. More often than not, it is not a black-and-white issue where you can just find an answer in an answer scheme somewhere. Life is not like a standardized exam.

A human being alone is complicated enough, but when we have many human beings in one place, you can imagine how much more complicated the situation can get. We should start looking at the community as a network of diverse groups and individuals, living together in a specific time and place, whose knowledge and understanding about themselves and the world are constantly evolving with the tides of time.

With that in mind, we shouldn't approach any issue like it will only affect us and no one else. We should care about how our actions will affect others. We should hold to the universal principle of wanting for others what we want for ourselves.

With that in mind, we shouldn't hold dear to old ways of dealing with new problems. We should hold true to the everliving Islamic principles but we should analyze each situation in its uniqueness and apply those principles accordingly. What worked before might not work now.

With that in mind, we shouldn't seek to fulfill our ego but we should seek to please Allah in all that we do. Harsh words won't solve anything, other than making ourselves feel better. Deal with people lovingly and compassionately, applying the wisdom of the Prophet in all our deeds.

Only then will we see sustainable change in the right direction.

I do not agree with what had happened on stage during that K-Pop concert. But that doesn't mean that I agree with all the negativity that resulted afterwards. Don't put out fire with more fire. Otherwise we will burn down the ship, along with everyone on board.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

7 Questions About Self-confidence

On 22nd of December 2014, I did a talk in South Korea about self-confidence.

During the Q&A session, I answered a few questions from the audience but due to time constraints, I couldn't answer all the questions sent to me on pieces of paper. So I brought those pieces of paper home and I answered them via email.

Now, I want to share those questions and answers here. Hopefully, something I said will be beneficial to someone who reads it.

1. What is the difference between perception and impression? What matters more?

I think there is little to no difference between the two. How you perceive someone is the impression someone gives to you (intentional or not). What matters most is not be fake and not to do things just to get people’s affection and approval. Show good akhlaq not because you want people to like you, but because you believe that is the right thing to do and that is what Allah likes the most from you.

2. We live in a society where criticism is seen as motivation, and usually the criticism is in the negative form. How can we take these kind of criticisms to improve our self-confidence?

Constructive criticism is indeed a form of motivation. People who constructively critique us are giving us useful information for self-improvement, even if the critique is in the negative form that we don't like to hear (e.g. You shouldn't have done that. You should do this instead).

Constructive criticism can sound negative to our ears but it doesn't mean that it is hateful or offensive. If it is, then it shouldn't be called a constructive criticism. That is actually a hate comment from a hater. If that is the case, then we should just plug our ears up because it is just not worth our time.

As recipients of these constructive criticisms, we should build a thicker skin and shouldn't be overly sensitive towards what people say. Don’t take it personal and learn to let things go, because we respect ourselves too much to let someone else control our emotions.

This world is filled with sharp tongues and if we are too sensitive, then it might be difficult for us to navigate through this harsh world with its various challenges. We are not here to gain people's praises and approval. We are here to gain Allah's pleasure.

3. If I am a quiet and reserved person, but my environment has a lot of wrong in it, what should I do? Should I change my personality?

Focus on what we can control and what is within our individual capabilities. Allah doesn't hold us into account for things that are beyond our control and capabilities. At the same time, we shouldn't underestimate our capabilities.

Sometimes we think that the only thing that we can do when we see a wrong is to hate it in our heart, but in reality we can do so much more than that. It requires self-reflection and honesty to figure out the extent of our capabilities in reality.

Not only that, while we should try to change things within our capabilities, we should also wisdom (hikmah) as our guide. Without hikmah, we might end up causing more harm than good. Hikmah requires knowledge, understanding, and experience.

We don't have to change our personality. What we should do is harmonize our personality so that it is in line with the Quran and the Sunnah. You don’t have to change who you are. You just have to find the best version of who you are.

4. How to find that social support?

Depends on what your ultimate goal in life is. Based on what your goal is, you will search for people who will help you attain that ultimate goal. Search in places where you think those people will be.

5. How to know if the people around you are your social support?

Do they help you attain your ultimate goal in life? If yes, then they are truly your social support and you should hold on to them. If no, then you should reduce your interaction with them (but don’t remove them completely from your life – reduce, not remove) and start looking for the social support you actually need.

6. How do I start a conversation with someone and to get the conversation going if I have no confidence in my social skills?

Practice, practice, and practice. It requires getting out of your comfort zone, which I can imagine would be hard for you (or anyone else). Self-confidence is mostly the responsibility of the individual. You can’t outsource self-confidence to other people. People can’t help you, until you help yourself.

7. I have a problem in believing what I really want to do. I’ve been stuck in between ‘do things that people will love’ (to avoid hatred) or ‘do things that I really want to do’. What do you think about it?

If the ‘people’ you are referring to are the general public, then you should stick to what you want to do (provided that what you want to do is not illegal or haram). Because at the end of the day, this is your life and you are responsible for it. Not them.

But, if the ‘people’ you are referring to are your family (especially your parents), then you should try to find the best way to discuss this matter with them. Discussion should be a two-way conversation, where you listen to what they want to say and they listen to what you want to say. Together, you decide on what is best.

They can’t know how you feel without you telling them and if you don’t build a good relationship with them first, it is hard for you to make them listen to you. Build the connection first, then the message can go through.


To learn more about self-confidence and how you can achieve it on your own, do join us for our upcoming SPEAK UP! English Speaking Seminar.

Details can be found here.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Sensitivity in Times of Crisis

It is heartwarming to see many Malaysians helping the people in need in times of crisis, more so in the recent flood disaster around the east coast region of the peninsula.

Regular people, young, old, men, women, and kids, join forces to lend a hand to others who are hoping for it. For a moment we forget our superficial differences and we unite on the basis of one common goal - our humanity.

But with all that positivity, there is bound to be negativity. False reports about flood victims are being shared all over the internet. People doubting other people's intentions when they are trying to help. Political stupidity making volunteer work difficult. All making the muddy flood waters even more muddy than it already is.

Though we don't know why people do such horrible things, we do know that they shouldn't do those things. Lack of sensitivity, especially when the situation calls for it, is an indication of lack of individual maturity.

Hiding behind a false username and tapping on the keyboard in a comfortable room become a sick enjoyment and an ego boost for the insecure. Thinking about the self when others are fighting for dear life hardens the heart.

We feel sorry for these people and if they want to change, then we want to help them change. At the same time, we will change with them, for we too have our own shortcomings.

The end of 2014 greeted us with two huge tragedies - the flood and the crash of a plane. Let the beginning of 2015 be decorated with compassion and love.

Hopefully, we can sooth broken hearts who are directly affected.

2015 won't automatically be great, if we don't put our collective effort to make it great. There is hope for us and we will keep holding on to it.

That is why, despite all the negativity, we are still here - trying to make a difference.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Community: How Do I Erase My Past?


I recently decided to cover up properly as a Muslim woman. I repented from my past sin but it is not easy to escape from the past. I made the mistake of posting pictures of myself online where I didn't cover my aurah properly. I feel ashamed thinking of how many eyes are looking at those pictures. 

I deleted all the pictures I have, but if I Google my name, there are still pictures of me out there. There are still pictures of me from a few years back.

On top of that, my friends are not helping me with my change. They ridiculed me and they keep talking about my old pictures. I fear people might think that I am a hypocrite. I fear that people who know me now will think badly of me when they discover my past.

What should I do?


Waalaikumussalam warahmatullah.

Thank you for your email and thank you for your willingness to share with me your story.

It is good to know that you are on the road to change for the better. That is great news! May Allah keep you steadfast on this journey. Ameen. It will be long and difficult, but not impossible. So always believe in yourself and stay strong.

We all have a dark past (maybe two) that we don't like for people to know. It is painful to think about. It is even more painful when our dark past is available on the internet. It is just the reality that we currently live in today whereby our lives and the internet are so intertwined. That is why it is always crucial for us to think twice before we post anything online.

Having said that, all is not lost. There is still hope. Allah does not hold us into account for something that is beyond our control. Yes, we made a lot of mistakes in the past but that does not mean that we have to live in the past. We can always move on by repenting sincerely to Allah. After that, all we have to do is to amend our ways as much as we can, within our limited capacity. Focus only on what we can control.

If we can delete those old photos, then do so. Delete all of them. If we know of friends who have old photos of us, then kindly ask them to delete those photos too. But for the things that are beyond our control, Allah will not hold us into account for that. It is almost impossible to delete them all. Allah wants ease for us, not difficulty. So focus on what is within your control and do your very best.

As for your friends, I am hesitant to even call them by that title - "friends". Real friends don't do that to you. Real friends will help you when you need them the most. Real friends will support you in good things and will advice you when you are in the wrong. Real friends will help you polish your relationship with God. Those are real friends.

I advice you to find those friends and keep them close, because you will need positive social support in this difficult journey to change. Reduce your relationship with those people who will only bring harm to your cause. Though we don't wish for anything bad to happen to them, we also don't want to torture ourselves by being in their presence.

Advice them if you can. But beyond that, leave them to answer to God. You can't control their tongues, but surely you can control your own. Don't reciprocate harm with harm. At the same time, don't allow yourself to be harmed. Find real friends.

People should not dig into other people's past. People should focus on who the person is now and what the person can be in the future. We are not doomed by our past. Allah gave us a way out and a way to move on; taubah (repentance). If Allah already provided us an open door, then who are we to shut it?

We should be concerned with making people better, not with gossips about their past.

You are on a noble path, my friend. Stay strong and keep on walking. This is a difficult journey so bring along a few friends with you; those who will stick with you in good times and in bad times. Insha Allah, you will be on your way to your destination.

I pray that Allah grant you strength, keep you steadfast, help you to stand back up when you fall down, and surround you with good company. May Allah cover up your past and reveal to the world who you are now, not who you were before. Ameen.

All the best!