Sunday, 23 November 2014

A Faceless Hero

I shall not mention his name but this is not because he is the person whose name is not supposed to be named like Lord Voldemort. Rather he was an ordinary Malaysian who believed in doing the right thing based on his faith and principles and later endured the consequences, whether they were pleasant or otherwise.

He was an uncle to my late mother and we in the family loved him dearly. Having obtained his basic education through the religious system, he went on to Singapore for the Bachelor of Arts degree from then, the University of Malaya. This aggregation of religious and philosophical background, I suppose, shaped him into a person with impeccable integrity, demonstrated thorough his public service records thereafter.

Throughout his public service life, he assumed many important positions with the Federal government, as a teacher, leading the Anti-corruption agency, being the officer at the ministry of education and ministry of public enterprise and was in charge of Islamic affairs, to name the few. Later in his life, he was involved in the setting up of the International Islamic University and became the first Registrar. When he retired he went back to teaching English to school leavers who were pursuing their Quranic memorisation certificate at an institution set up by the Federal government.

Being honest and living what he believed were his trademark. Off course, such conducts may not necessarily be appreciated by the power that be, resulting in him being passed over when it came to promotion. Many of his juniors bypassed him in the civil service hierarchy  He never felt upset and never regretted his decisions and conducts, until the end of his life. He always reminded us to be honest, say Bismillah (the name of the supreme God) and do what we think is right and let Allah determines the outcomes.

He related to me a number of incidences which he experienced which later on became the guiding principles in my life in being truthful to myself. When he was serving a state government, it was customary in those days for senior civil servants to enjoy wine and spirit after meetings. Being one of the junior officers, he was asked to prepare cocktails for the senior civil servants. Knowing that this was against his principles, he mixed everything up to the extent that the drinks became in consumable. He was never asked to do that job again after that.

There was once an occasion when he brought a number of Muslim scholars to Europe to see for themselves modern ways of living and realities. When they passed the red light district he could see the embarrassment on the faces of the scholars. That was the person he was, always want Islam to be understood in the context of its surroundings, not just from parochial perspectives as what many of us would normally do.

Due to his integrity, there were many instances that he did not carry the instructions from his superiors, which at times came from the highest level of leadership then, which he did not agree due to his principles. This resulted in him being in their bad books. That was an occasion when he was cold storaged with just a desk and a chair at Masjid Negara. People were hoping that he will give up and resigned. He persisted to stay on and eventually prevailed.

From his dying bed he reminded me "not to be afraid of people", meaning only and only Allah can determine my fate. Such a simple advise is really a heavy task to follow through. In the world where we seek worldly pleasures, not being liked by those who are in power in unthinkable. This is something which I am still struggling to apply.

People like him are very rare nowadays. Apart from financial gains, being popular and doing things asked from those higher ups, irrespective of the principles behind the instructions, would result in many other rewards such as titles and honours. We forgot that the ultimate stakeholders are those who are affected by the decisions we make and that finally all our conducts will be scrutinised in the hereafter (this is what Muslims are supposed to believe and their conducts should be consistent with ultimate test).

In my book, this uncle of my mother is a hero, notwithstanding that he is not a household name and many of his deeds are not known to the many lives who he had assisted.

May Allah forgive all his wrongdoings and place him with those who enjoys success in the life hereafter.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Misquoting Muhammad

This is certainly an interesting topic not just for Muslims but those whose life are affected by Muslims. In countries where Muslims form a majority, there would be numerous groups claiming to represent the true teaching of Islam.

Islam is premised on two sources of truth, the direct revelation from Allah which is known as the Quran and the commands, conducts and approval of Muhammad, the Prophet of Allah, known as the Sunnah. Beyond these two sources are opinions of scholars, which would only be counted if the opinions are based on the principles derived from the two earlier sources.

I first heard about this book, Misquoting Muhammad, written by Johathan Brown when I was watching discussion by Mohd Asri Zainal Abidin or more fondly known by Dr MAZA. Asri is a scholar who is not only knowledgeable about Sunnah but has been able to connect Islamic principles with today's realities, especially in the context of a multi-religion, multi-ethnic society like Malaysia. Perhaps, his fellowship at Oxford (he is presently there for a second time) provides him with better understanding of interfaith issues.

Jonathan Brown was not known to me as a Muslim scholar. However, since I knew about his book (which I have not read) I have been watching videos of him discussing Islam in places where Islam is not a dominant thought in the societies. I could sense that Muslims in those societies are under pressure to demonstrate that their believe are compatible with whatever prevailing main stream views.

This is an example of how Jonathan's way of thoughts seems to be helpful when Islam is discussed within a more complex and intellectual societies. A bit bored to those who prefer immediate explanation.

On the other hand, in societies where Muslims form the majority, Islam is exposed to the risks of being practices based on how it is understood from many Muslims who inherit whatever version of Islam without the need to question whether that version of Islam that they practice is compatible to even the Quran and the Sunnah. People tend to follow without understanding and worse, impose whatever belief that they have on others. I call this situation 'artificial superiority' especially when this superiority is perceived to be driven by legislative power.

I suppose listening to scholars like Asri and Jonathan would provide the perspective of Islam which seemed to be missing nowadays, the one which engages people both at their intellectual level as well as with their hearts.

Given the complexity of the world which we are living in, the issue of whether Muhammad was misquoted or even abused by his own followers will continue to be we us.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The White House in Kota Bharu

White House is the name of the residence of the American President located at Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC. This is one of the many tourist destinations in the American capital and one would not miss the opportunity to see for themselves the historical venue.

However, White House is also the name of a famous Chinese traditional coffee shop in Kota Bharu, the capital of Kelantan. It is located in front of the Muhammadi mosque, the state mosque. Although Kelantan is also known as the cradle of the Malay culture and most of its residents are Malays, Kelantanese are also known for their tolerance towards other Malaysians living in the state. 

Just imagine the Malays having coffee here after their morning prayers, the real 1Malaysia. In fact, having to add the number 1 to the name of this country could also be a signal of what is wrong with the present society. Perhaps, we had lost the essence of our society and are now living based on the reality as shown on TV or newspapers. Very American!

The White House is patronised by people from all walk of life and it is not easy to get a sit. I'm sure you could appreciate that for this sort of eating joint, calling in to reserve a table is unthinkable.

The main menu are half boiled eggs and toast, sounds simple but are the main attractions to this coffee shop. While the owner could be seen at the counter, there are a number of Malay waitresses serving customers their meal.

When I was there last week, I saw something amazing. An old Malay man who had difficulty walking was trying to get to his wheelchair. A group of young Chinese went to his assistance and helped him to be seated. That reminded me of the old Malaysia when we were not the most sensitive country in the world like today.

I suppose at the people to people level, life goes on and we have to learn to live together. However, for those who want to exert their parochial views, seeing people living together peacefully is an eye soar and they will raise all sort of nonsense to stir things so that people will react. While Muslims believe Islam brings blessing to the whole mankind, I wonder whether they forgot about that when some of them feel forcing their view on others is their birth rights.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The story of a tailor

He is operating from a space of around 600 square feet in Pertama Complex. To those who do not know him he is just another person that you can meet on our streets, not the kind of persons who keep on appearing in the media, saying things that they may not mean and for some unknown reasons people would be rushing to kiss their hands.

I can't recall exactly how long I have been his customer. Sufficient to say that I can just walk into his shop, choose the materials that I like, get myself measured and walk of. He will ring me when my shirt or pant is ready for collection, not deposit required.

"You have spoilt me" I told him yesterday. I am satisfied with his work to the extent that I would prefer his masterpiece over branded products. For him, every single work has to be perfect, to make sure his customers are satisfied. As a result, they will return with more orders. He reminded me of a common friend who kept on returning notwithstanding that the person could easily go and shop branded products in London and other similar places.

"I started at a very young age" narrating his story to me. "My father was a tailor himself. He allowed me to study until form five. Initially he thought I would have failed my form three but I surprised him when I passed" he went on in sharing his life experience.

His father then get him to set up his tailoring business at the present premise. "He helped me to set up this shop and told me that it is up to me to determine my future from then onwards. He also told me that if I fail, he will not bail me out" my tailor continuing with his story.

Fast forward today, apart from operating from his old premise he also has another space at the upper floor which he uses as his workshop. He also shared with me that he had acquired another lot, few lots away for RM 1.2 million. "My friends told me that I am crazy but I am collecting RM 8,000 rental a month" explaining his business decision in acquiring that property.

Mind mind was working very fast in figuring out how much assets he has, only at Pertama Complex. Easily he is worth more than RM 3 million!

According to him, by owning these assets he is not worried about being told to move away by the landlord. This also helps him to manage his cost. He shared the experience of his tailor friends who moved to more posh places and eventually pay exorbitant rentals like RM 30 thousand to RM 40 thousand a month. "Easily what I charge you would be doubled if you were to get them in Bangsar" reaffirming me that I was given a great deal.

Suddenly he introduced me to his son who was doing his cutting work, in front of my tailor's wife "He just came back from UK with a masters degree in robotics" explained my tailor. I quickly told his son to design a robot who can replicate his father's skills. The son smiled at me.

On reflection, a simple business could be meaningful and rewarding. Assuming he funded the study of the son from the earnings of the shop, that could have cost him a bomb. Something which some of us may not appreciate as we keep on relying on the government for scholarships or loans.

I suppose his success could be replicated by those who are operating at the nearby MARA building. The location is not far apart and you have this person who only went to school up till form five and seems to be having a wonderful life as a living example.

By the way, my tailor is amongst the highest user of Ermenegilo Zenga materials in town!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

True to label

In modern commerce, product or service description is a very important practice as consumers rely on these labels in making purchasing decisions. As commerce becomes more complex and the products and services themselves grow in complexity, labelling is regulated in many countries in addition to sales practices.

When we buy a car, we expect the car to have a reasonably functional engine with all other parts operating as what they should. When a brand new car has no engine, irrespective of how other parts are working, a car would not function like a car. So, what appears to be nice may not be so if there is something wrong in the manufacturing processes. Here, a car without engine is not about defects in processing but a pure cheating case. Of course buyers are expected to test drive the car before deciding whether or not it should be purchased. Failing to do so exposes them to the risk that the car has no engine.

In the financial services industry where products literally could vanish into the thin air if poorly constructed using poor quality assets, being true to label is something that regulators would expect religiously (this may no longer be appropriate as religion itself is being ignored in many societies). This is the reason why some of the products need to be approved by regulators, especially if they are sold to retail investors who are not expected to have the sophistication to understand the product details. Given that these products are purchased for many reasons such as retirement planning, it is important that the risk factors associated with the products and the way they generate returns are properly disclosed in the ways that could be understood by would be investors.

The important of product labelling goes beyond just cars and financial assets. One of the major investment made by most people is education. Not only attaining education can be costly, the whole journey could be fairly lengthy. Just recall how long we were required to go though the schooling system before we  were eligible to attend colleges and universities. I am sure all politicians in all countries would be promising high quality affordable education as a reason why they should be elected. Hence, the issue of being true to label would be applicable to them as well, I suppose.

I have been on advisory boards of a number of tertiary education programmes offered to public. On of the tools to promote those programmes are through prospectuses issued by the relevant institutions of higher learning. Just go and pick one, I am sure there are many nice words being used to describe what the programmes entail. Shouldn't these prospectus be subjected to the same expectations that they are true to their labels?

To me, offering education programmes is similar to selling dreams. Prospective students are allured to the programmes on the promise that they would have good job and career prospects. In fulfilling their dreams and in believing the promises made, people eventually enrol into the promoted programmes.

What if they fail to attain what were promised? Who is going to be responsible for their shattered dreams? Worse, some of them would only realise that these promises are not true much later when they realise the qualifications that they have would not allow them to progress further at the workplaces. Perhaps, equating a degree to a professional qualification may risk such line to be crossed especially when there is no such practice being applied in a particular industry globally. If universities could be ranked, even the degrees may not fit to be grouped together when the universities awarding those degrees are not at the same ranking. In situations when a university is not even ranked, such concern would be amplified!

Islam is very strict about business transactions and there are series of rules about this. References here would be handy in understanding how much Islam values trust and ethics in commerce. Some of the prohibitions are very clear about the needs for vendors to sell products which are true to their labels. It would be interesting to observe how many Muslims realise this and apply the concepts at their workplace. Given the multi dimension of commerce nowadays, the requirements and prohibitions are not limed to goods only but the concept have to be applied across all aspects of commerce to the extent that they are applicable.

So, for Muslims out there who are trying to promote their products or services beyond what they truly are, you may be crossing the line of your own faith.