Monday, October 26, 2015

Is There Harmony Between Islam and Culture?

The question of culture and Islam has been a huge one in my mind and the minds of so many Malaysian Muslims. Recently, this question has come to light again with the accusation of "arabization" of Malaysian Muslims.

In other, more "classical" manifestations of our lack of understanding in the harmony between Islam and culture, we see confusions with regards to gender relations, women's roles in society, dress code, social mannerisms, and "Islamic" food.

It seems like we have to move forward to a more back-to-basic, but at the same time, wider and deeper discussion about the topic. No longer can we rely on simple rote memorization, lazy copy-and-paste, and blind adherence to the text as a short cut way to practice religion. Especially when we are currently in an age of cultural mixing, thanks to the advent of social media.

Mixing can be beneficial, but detrimental if one doesn't have strong roots to begin with. Without proper understanding of objectives (maqasid shariah), awareness of cultural variations, and wisdom in application, confusion ensues.

This is for the lay Muslims, to equip ourselves with a good foundation to build our religion upon. Although we should never abandon the guidance of our teachers (trained and qualified scholars), we should also try our best to stand on our own two feet.

New questions arise constantly, and we need to be ready with the necessary tools to find the answers ourselves. We cannot expect our teachers to be there for us all the time to answer all our questions. To understand the concepts and the underlying universal principles is the key to unlock our mind, freeing it to explore and find answers - while still be wary of boundaries.

It is worrying when we become parrots with regards to religion; we simply copy and paste, with no regard to the objectives and the change of times.

On one hand, it is reflective of our lack in understanding even though we know a lot. We memorize but we don't understand the reasoning behind what we memorized. Like a student who simply memorized 2+2=4, but without understanding why it is so. When a new question emerges (e.g. 5+7), the student cannot answer because that's not what he memorized.

On the other hand, it is a worrying sign of our laziness in thinking deeply about our religion; to constantly question and to constantly struggle to find the best answer. To memorize or to copy-and-paste, seems like the easiest and most convenient way to practice religion.

Ease and convenience are not inherently wrong, but they aren't the best possible solution for all possible situations.

"Persons handing down legal judgments while adhering blindly to the texts in their books without regard for the cultural realities of their people are in gross error. They act in contradiction to established legal consensus and are guilty of iniquity and disobedience before God, having no excuse despite their ignorance; for they have taken upon themselves the art of issuing legal rulings without being worthy of that practice.... Their blind adherence to what is written down in legal compendia is misguidance in the religion of Islam and utter ignorance of the ultimate objectives behind the rulings of the earlier scholars and great personages of the past whom they claim to be imitating."

(Quote by Al-Qarafi, 13th century jurist, copied from Dr. Umar Faruq Abd Allah's paper entitled "Islam and the Cultural Imperative")

Friday, October 16, 2015

Aiman Azlan Academy

It has just come to my attention that I have been doing public speaking for about 4 years. I started off in 2011, while still being a university student at University of Toronto, Canada. The first invitation that I received was from Multimedia University, Cyberjaya.

It didn’t occur to me back then that I’ll be turning what I thought was occasional talk invitations to an actual career. So began my journey traveling all over Malaysia and beyond (Singapore, Brunei, South Korea, and Australia) to speak to mainly to the university level audience about youth-related topics.

In my limited experience, more often than not I would come across a similar issue among many university students, especially Malaysian students. Like a pattern that I am seeing again and again, it seems to me that many of our university students lack confidence in themselves.

So I ask myself: how can I help? Once you have identified the problem, you immediately think of a solution. The thing is, you can only offer a solution that you yourself have. You can’t offer people what you don’t have.

The next question I ask is: what do I have to offer? I know I can speak in public and I am used to it by now. I also know that I can speak in English fairly well, for someone who doesn’t speak English as his first language.

So I guess this is what I am offering: the skill to speak. I can share with people, especially the youth, the two skills that I know: how to speak in English and how to speak in public. Through teaching people these two essential skills, I would like to instil in people a sense of confidence in themselves.

That is the intention that I have when I decided to start this small company: Aiman Azlan Academy. I am starting small and I am starting slow. Using talks, seminars, workshops, online livestreamings, and books as my main media, I want to reach out to as many individuals as I can.

Just like with vlogging on Youtube or writing a book, I am learning as I go along. I could wait until I am “perfect” but we all know better by now that is never going to get the ball rolling. So I am using the “just do it” philosophy and plan my way as I traverse slowly down this road towards my goal.

To be honest, I have procrastinated long enough.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

How to Become Positive

It is not enough to think positively once in a while. We don't want positive thinking to be something that we do. We would like for it to become something that we are. We want to become positive, especially in bad times.

The sad thing is, it is not that easy to do. What is more sad is, often times it is easier to become negative in the face of a negative situation. Our emotional reaction to something will affect our overall state and our overall state will affect the people around us.

The bad news is, if we are negative, then our negativity will affect those who are around us. The good news is, the same thing can be said about positivity. The better news is, we can change from negative to positive by changing our mindset.

We have to intercept our negative thinking as it happens and modify it into something more positive. This doesn't mean that we deny the bad thing that had happened. We already established that it is a "bad" thing. We are only changing how we perceive it, so that we can change how we feel about it.

Our feelings can determine how we deal with the issue.

However, it is not as easy as it sounds. Thinking negatively when negative things happened is as expected. Bad things invite bad thoughts. So, changing this to something positive means that it would not be effortless, especially when we aren't used to thinking that way.

This change requires a lot of work and it can be mentally exhausting. To start off, we need to first pinpoint and identify the process as it happens in our mind. This requires self-awareness and self-monitoring.

Becoming self-aware, on its own, is hard enough. We find it easier to pay attention to other people than to ourselves. That's probably why we tend to judge others, but not ourselves. The Malays have a clever saying, "Kuman di seberang laut nampak, gajah di hadapan mata tak nampak."

It loosely translates to "You can see a germ across the ocean, but you can't see the elephant before your eyes. Meaning, it is easier for us to see the faults of others, even though they are small. But our own faults? We can overlook them even if they are as big as an elephant.

Self-awareness means that we look inward into ourselves and become aware with what's happening inside. Are we aware about the things that linger in our minds? Are we aware about the things that we say to ourselves, about ourselves?

When we are aware about ourselves, we need to constantly monitor ourselves. We can outsource that and give the job to another person, like a loyal friend to monitor our negative thoughts and remind us when a red flag comes up, but can anybody be with us all the time? No, not even our best friend can be with us all the time.

That leaves us with ourselves. The only person who can be with you all the time is yourself. Therefore, we need to equip ourselves with the necessary awareness about ourselves and what we do as we do it.

Self-monitoring enables us to catch ourselves red handed, when we are about to think negatively about something. That is a crucial first step, because identifying the problem is half of the battle. Once we have identified the negative thinking, through self-monitoring, then we can start to consciously modify the thought into something more positive.

Changing it into something positive is not enough by simply putting a positive spin on the situation. It also needs to be useful, meaning that the new thought should help us to deal with the situation better.

That is the goal of positivity; to deal with situations better, especially negative situations. The negative situation is negative, but it doesn't mean that we should feel negative about it. We may not be able to control what had happened, but we can definitely control how we perceive it.


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

Details can be found here.