Friday, November 25, 2011

Islamic New Year 1433

Yes, we in Malaysia celebrate Ma'al Hijrah or the Islamic New Year. But only as a formal and ceremonial occasion orchestrated by the goverment. Year in and year out - it's now 1533 H - there's the usual congregation with invited guests and also opened to the public. There wiil be the usual do'a and al-quran recitals, lots of speeches, some religious show, songs and dances or pantomime, and the price giving ceremony to winners of the Ma'al Hijrahs' personality Awards.

A big do indeed. But it's no national celebration like Aidilfitri or Aidiladha, CNY, Deepavali, Christmas and the Gregorian New Year. It often goes without any recognizable reception in the homes of the average Muslims from all races in Malaysia, although that day is a public holiday and replaceable if it falls on a day that's already a public holiday.

It is the same in other Muslim countries. The muslim New Year has never become an important day to review one's performance in the past year, renew one's resolves and set new goals for the next year etc as is done when ushering in the Gregorian New Year. But in actual fact the first day of Muharam is a very important date in the history of Islam since it was the day Prophet Muhammad SAW and his friends migrated from Mecca to Madinah and started establishing and expanding the influence of the religion. The event is known as the Hijra. - moving from a state of ignorance or irreligiousity to following the path of righteousness as set by Allah through the last of His Prophets and the al-Quran. For the Muskims as a whole hijra means leaving all that is bad and prohibited or disdained by Allah and turning over a new leaf. It is equivalent to reviewing ones performance in the past year and setting new resolves and goals, very much like we are expected to do with the coming of a new year on the Gregorian calender.

Muslims are supposed to hold a special prayer (solat sunat) at the mosques like on the day of celebrating Aidilfitri and Aidiadha. All mosques should be holding that prayer. But are we doing that? In Malaysia we have the big function as already mentioned which does not include a mass prayer. Is this because Prophet Muhammad had not prescribed explicitly that a mass prayer should be held on the occasion of Maal Hijra. The same can also be said about his birthday - Maulid Nabi. Yet tbe celebration is more widely held. Shouldn't there be, therefore, an attempt to make Ma'al Hijrah more meaningful to all Muslims, young and old. After all It's the day that Islam really began to establish itself as a world religion.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Value Conflict- We Sometimes Undo Our own efforts..

On the one hand we are trying to make Malaysians, especially the Bumiputras, self-reliant, competitive, and not depend on subsidies or government assistance to seek progress. Special rights and quotas are being weeded away to give way to open competition and meritocracy. Even the concept of achieving an equity in capital shares has been thrown overboard just like ensuring bumiputra participation in any new capital venture. A foreign company can now operate in the country without any bumiputra share or involvement at all...

Yes indeed. The Bumiputras have been so dependent on government protection, subsidies, grants, quotas etc such that they cannot compete on their own. (That's the assumption anyway). So now let them learn to compete on their own steam, no handicap whatever, no special treatment. We race on the same ground - all races, one Malaysia.

But are we (or the government) not at the she time undoing some of the new values we are trying to nurture? So many funds are being set up to help those for whom each specific fund is established. I wonder how the Auditor-General can be able to audit all those funds since they are not being controlled by specific government agency. But more. Government seems to be giving assistance here, there and everywhere, mostly in cold cash, like giving school children a handout of RM100 each. So mush money seems to be splashed around in the spirit of "Yohoho, Merry Christmas." Big projects.big spending and big money seem to be the talk of the town, while at the same time government is encouraging people to save and spend money wisely in view of the anticipated global recession.

Everywhere around I see the signs of conspicuous consumption with the increasing number of shopping malls and complexes cropping up in KL and other major cities. Is this the harbinger of the arrival of a high income nation with inflation fast tagging along on its heel? And yet our growth rate is not reaching anywhere near what it sued to be at 7-8%. We will be lucky to achieve a 5-6% growth rate in the next few years.

Well, I hope I'm totally wrong and off the mark. Only that will give us some comfort that things will always be much better than before. This itself is a value conflict - one aspiring for a better life hoping that he is wrong and not hoping to be right.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Giving Schoolchildren RM100.

A hundred bucks may not be much nowadays. But parents don't usually give away RM100 to their kids for kicks. Once they get into the habit of receiving the big ones for their pleasure, the tenner, the fiver and the little ones mean nothing anymore. Give them a tenner and they might just pull a sour face with a nasty pout of the lips.

Kids from wealthy families in the city maybe used to getting the 100 and 50 smackeroo. Must we now spread that expectation to the poorer kids in the rural areas? Government's intention of giving them the handout as emblazoned by the papers maybe good but that could revive the old dependency on government subsidy and aid syndrome, among the kids of today.

Kids are learning a lot of things from the school today, more than just from the books amd teachers. The school is a melting pot of juvenile behaviors as nurtuted by many families. All the good and bad habits developed in the familly are brought to the school by the kids and are slowly rubbed onto each other through friendship and emulation. It is in the school that children picked up msny of the offensive habits that parents do not tolerate or approve at home. It is there that habits like bullying the young and the weak, cheating to get around certain problems, buying favors and influence from schoolmates, ganging up to protect oneself from other groups and cliques, and even learning to commit little crimes and misdemeanours for kicks as a group activity.

One of the less hihlighted things that children learn in school is spending and saving money. They are given some pocket money everyday. While some received a lot and have no problem of buying whatever they want from the school canteen or even the shops and shopping complexes around their school, others received barely enough to feed themselves during school- break. They thus learn to borrow and cheat some friends with lots of money to spare.

Now, how would the sudden gift of money from the government or any other rich benefactor, affect the spending habit of the children with little money to spare? They would probably go out to buy whatever they have longed for all these while, go on a spending spree that they had never experinced. Of course a hundred ringgit won't take them far but enough to have the experince of being "rich" - a false experince surely for they will be poor gain after the money is spent. Then what? They might expect another handout from the government and if they don't get it, their attitude towards the givernment might suddenly change.

Yes, the gesture of giving money to the needy children in school is certainly good. But as Confucius said, give a msn some fish and he has food for a day. But teach him how to fish and he will have food for the rest of his life. Wouldn't it be better to let the children earn the money somehow? Or put the money in a savings account and let the children learn how to operate and build up the account. That would be more useful to them as a learning experince than to be "rich" for one or two days and then becoming poor again, or feeling even poorer and envious of the rich after the experience. Unless, of course, the government will continue to give the handout off and on, and let the children develop a dependency syndrome that government is trying to stamp out from the poorer Malaysians.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Brief weekend in Penang.

Nothing's more invigorating than visiting a place which has not been visited a long while. For Penang, a long while could mean just a year or two. My last visit was when the airport was being renovated and we have to wait outside the building amidst road repairs and construction work to get in or get out of the airport. The crowd was chaotic.

While expansion work still continues, much of the renovation is now complete. With the lower and upper level division of the traffic flow into and out of the airport, congestion has been reduced considerably. And there are now several alternative routes that could be taken to and from the airport. So said Mr Babjan who picked my wife and me from the airport and also sent us home today. A most charming private transport owner and operator.

We stayed at a posh new hotel in Queensbay, close to the Queensbay Mall. From the hotel we could see the new bridge being built striding the channel past Pulau Jerejak. I don't know how close it is to that island but since it used to be the grand residential place for ISA visitors, I sure wish to pass by it one day when the bridge is completed. Or maybe even visit the legendary island which has lost its scary reputation after the ISA is abolished.

I had also observed the island from the top of Bukit Bendera. That was our rendezvous the next day - I mean Bukit Bendera not Pulau Jerejak about which I have read quite a lot from ex-ISA detainees who became famous writers. No, they didn't write about the island but their experience as a political detainee on it. The top of Bukit Bendera is more accessible now with the introduction of the buggy ride costing RM30 for a ride with four or six passengers, ( No reduction there but you get a bigger buggy!) . I had a chance to see many of the palatial bungalows hidden in the rich forest foliage atop the hill, owned by rich and famous Malaysians.
A dilapidated canopy-walk facility down to the seashore remained unrepaired after the main trees connecting the rope-bridge was struck by lightening some years ago. It looks like a very precious visitors' item but neglected by the authorities concerned,since the bungalows were not opened to the public.

The funicular railway taking people up Bukit Bendera has of course been modernized and can take up to a hundred passengers on one trip up or down. available every 10 minutes. No queuing is enforced and during peak hours the holding area can be pretty jammed up. I do think that queuing could bring more order and comfort while limiting the number of passengers can allow for a better viewing of the hill vegetation, the scattered farm houses and of course the top or the bottom of the hill. I did not, however, see any major changes in the scenery due to the development of new items of attraction, although some years had passed since my last visit. Nor had the refreshment center or the toilet facilities improved much,

We were in Penang to see the Penang Beat Prelude, a international show of drums sand percussion music performed by artists from Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. It was a most captivating show although starting it off with a price giving-away ceremony by the Head of State for various art competitions, stole away some of the excitement. The performances themselves were awesome and we did not leave the show, half of the time standing up at the back, until 11.30 pm. Although terribly exhausted that night after the show, Miss JY, the young and vibrant State Director of Tourism, found time to have a late nightcap with us at the hotel lounge,together with her most spirited magazine-editor friend, Miss TSA.

We flew back to KL this afternoon with a memory of Penang that is clean, a haven for exotic food, and vigorously growing with new industrial and commercial centers taking shape everywhere over land reclaimed from the sea. What did we bring back beside a delectable memory? Piclked fruits, of course, including jeruk buah pala.. We. of course. did not miss Nasi Kandar Kayu and Cendul, before leaving the island.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Different World....

I spent the Aidiladha holidays in my village of origin (which according to the Negri Sembilan Adat Laws includes my wife's village), and bought all the newspapers available for my reading pleasure. They include two or three papers that do not qualify to be considered as the mainstream news media. In fact two maybe considered as the voice of the opposition.

Reading the two latter papers, I found myself in an almost totally different world. The names of people and places are the same but the stories have a slant that makes me feel quite foreign, or an alien who has dropped into a strange and chaotic world. The front pages suggested that this country is so rich that the wife and daughter of it's number one leader could spend a few hundred thousand ringgit shopping from just one foreign department store. Then we have a report on the government financial expenditure as examined by the Auditor-General. God. We seem to pay some RM27 million for an armed combat vehicle which other countries bought at some RM4-5 million. Thus the bill for more than 200 vehicles went up to RM6 billion or more. My maths does not allow men to remember such amount of money whereas only a billion or a little more should have been sufficient if the purchase was not made through an Agent.

Well, who cares if we have so much money.Even a drinking glass which normally costs RM2-3 may cost RM150 or more if we chose one made of crystal. A ceiling light can be bought for less than RM100 but an imported chandelier may cost you a few hundred thousand ringgit. The world offers something for the poor and also for the super rich. But when a comparatively poor country buys a Rolls Royce for its ambassadors, we begin to question the wisdom of the decision makers. However, Malaysia is not that poor and is aspiring to become a high-income nation in 2020. Should we, therefore, start to lead a life of what the economists refer to as high consumption? There is no doubt that government doles out billions of ringgit in assistance, subsidies and bail-outs. No problem. But yes, we have problems when you can't even take care of all the poor and helpless, provide those incapable of doing normal work with a comfortable living allowance, and allow beggars to walk the street begging for a living.

Whatever the reason for purchasing the more expensive material for national defense and national prestige, there is no justification for extravagant wastage. The Auditor General's Report seem to show that rich government organizations are spending far beyond their allocations and making the budgeting process a mere farce.

The voice of the opposition I refer to painted a picture of us living in a totally corrupted nation with corrupted leaders all around us. We are surround by tragic incidents, inhuman sufferings and criminal offenses including murders and rapes. We are among the damned and the doomed. God, no wonder some foreign countries have a totally different picture of life in this blessed country where even the oppositions and the critics live in comfort and plenty. Sometime I wonder if I am really looking at the real or make-belief world around me. It's easy to get confused.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

May Aidiladha Be a Blessing to You.

Aidiladha is here again for the Muslims, another festive occasion but withb a different message and objective from Aidilfitri. It's to commemorate the sacrifice of a beloved son, Ismail, by prophet Ibrahim (AH) as an obeissance to Allah's injunction. Only when he was about to slaughter his son who faithfully submited himself to be sacrificed, did Allah replace the son with a sheep. Thus, the prophet's and his son's undivided piety and subjugation to Allah was proven as well as Allah's magnanimity and kindness. Subhanallah.

Millions of Muslims are now gathered in Mecca al-Mukarramah to perform the Haj, one of the rites being to perform the Wukuf at Arfah. Here all the pilgrims, irrespective of their social or economic standing in life, race and color, will meet to perform the mandatory prayer - the biggest gathering of Muslims, symbolic of the grand assembly of all human before Allah at Mahsyar on the Day of Judgement. On that Day everything that you did in your life on earth will be evaluated and your Book of Life given to you. If it's handed to you with the right hand, you're destined for Heaven; if it's handed to you with the left hand you are bound for Hell...

The Wukuf takes place on the 9th of Dzulhijjah, which this year will fall on Saturday the 5th of November, 2011, followed by Aidiladha on the 6th. On that day of mass gathering and prayer for the Haj pilgrims in Arfah, Muslims all over the world are advised by Prophet Muhammad SAW to fast since that day of fasting can dissove his or her sins for one previous year and for the whole of the next year. This seems to be a most importsnt promise by Prophet Muhammaf SAW which only a few Muxlims have observed or even know about. The emphasis given to Aidiadha had always been on the quban - the sacrifice of animals ( cows, camels, sheep etc) after the Aidiladha prayer in the mosque. This of course will be the day of celebration itself when Muslims will recite the Takbir ( Allahuakbar), Tahmid (Alhamdulliah) and Tasbih ( Subhanallah). The celebration and recitation after prayers will go on for four days. One can compare this to the month long celebration for Aidifitri, after a month of fasting.

So, the celebration for Aidiadha seems shorter and so is the fervor, although the case is reversed, they say, in Kelsntan. We don't even see the shopping complexes and the city streets dressed up heavily for the occasion. Aidiladha seems to be more a commemoration for the pilgrims who will be annointed as Hajis, rather than a celebration. But do Muslims really appreciate the full significance of the occasion in terms of it's most importsnt goal -- for all Muslims to get together in prayer (especially in Mecca) irrespective of their positions in life, racial origins and the color of their skin, to sffirm that they pray only to one God that is Allah, and that they are brethren before God. As the pilgrims in Mecaa do, they should drop all their differences, accept each other ss equal before Allah, and perform all their obligations to Allah and all humanity with goodwill, humility and compasion.