Monday, August 26, 2013

The Illusion of Wealth

Reflect a while on how your life was ten years ago, twenty or even thirty. Are you really far richer than you were then? Some of us will remember the days when RM10 (or US10 in USA) was quite a lot pf money and can buy us many things. You could have a good meal for just RM2 or RM3, see a film at the cinema, and still have enough money for the bus fare to go home. You could buy many items for the kitchen at the sundry shop or even the wet market. Now you can't even get enough of one food item for that amount of money in the supermarket. And don't walk into a shopping complex with that modicum of dough unless you only wanted to do some window shopping!exquisite but cheap furniture available on credit

Today, your income must have increased five to ten times, from RM200 to RM1k or RM2k if working in the village as your cooly and your own boss, or RM2k to RM10k or RM20k if employed in the city. ( You can't live in the city with an income of less than 2k). So, you can consider yourself to be rich, belonging to the upper or lower middle class. Your standard of living has improved tremendously with flashy cars (obtained on loan), a big comfortable house ( obtained on loan),lovely and expensive furniture (secured with the help of a credit card), with no fear of walking into the supermart or shopping complex because you're armed with a gold or platinum credit card. No luxury hotel or connoisseur restaurant is too expensive for you for you don't need to have hard cash in your wallet. No fear of having to wash dishes for not being able to pay the bill.protons can look like a BMW

So, you do feel very rich. But are you? Unless you're a business tycoon, a rich real estate or property owner ( mostly inherited from your rich father or forefathers), a powerful political leader holding public office or a top executive in a very successful and wealthy company, you still worry about paying the bills or making the monthly deductions from your bank account at the end or the beginning of every month. They keep increasing, always faster than the increase in your monthly income. Every now and then you've to apply the brakes on spending or tighten up your belt, although you don't starve like the villager who can't earn enough to feed his can be dressed up like a millionaire

But you certainly don't feel much richer than before. In many cases among the lower income people, you just feel much poorer off. It is the scintillating glass and steel buildings filling up the city, the huge shopping malls and supermarkets, the modern transportation systems and the millions of cars bought on hire purchase jamming up the roads, the sprawling housing complexes with houses bought on long-term mortgages, the branded and fashionable clothes, household appliances, furniture, toys and electronic games made available by the modern factories, that make us all feel rich and enjoying a very high standard of living. Even if you're still struggling to make ends meet, to keep your bank balance in a healthy state of preparation for a rainy day ( and it rains often in Malaysia), often miss your installment payment for the house or the car but not often enough to cause the property to be auctioned away or the car to be repossessed,you still enjoy a modern and comfortable life with your family. The richness and high quality of life around you make you feel rich although you are not.

That's what I'm referring to as the illusion of wealth. Modern life makes you feel rich and sophisticated even when there's hardly any surplus in your bank account every month. You can afford to furnish and decorate your home like a rich man, buy smart and branded dresses for yourself and family, buy food from the supermarket like the wealthy guys, and enjoy the shows in town like the well-to-do, even though you can hardly afford it. So long as you can service your loans and pay the monthly installments on all the things that you've acquired on credit, you will appear as rich as the next guy.

That's the illusion of wealth in modern living. The economist will, of course, explain it in a different way. Put it in anyway you want, the illusion is still there. It will only stop when you can no longer pay up your monthly dues in full.

Monday, August 19, 2013

If Politics Rule Humanity...

Politics like modern firearms and weapons of mass destruction seem to have many commonalities as illustrated by the world wars and current development in the Middle East. Both have to do with power- -power to protect or destroy. Both can be a blessing or a curse. Those who hold political power can dictate terms to those who don't, even when they are in the minority. Those who hold the power will utilize it to retain that power for as long as possible with little concern for human life. And those who hold the power always think that they are right and the others are wrong....the smoldering and shredded sky

Politics, in the hands of the "wrong" hands, can be as dangerous and deadly as the modern weapon of mass destruction. What is 'wrong' or 'right' can be determined by those in power. Thousands upon thousand of lives can be vanquished in the process of the struggle to gain control of the power or trying to retain it once secured. Once political and weaponry power assumes control over a society, human ideals and consideration, human values and sensitivities, and human faith in God and fear of purgatory seem to be entirely forgotten. Men become like animals, willing to kill whoever they consider as enemies without question or conscience. Nay, they become worse than animals, for animals do not kill their own kind on a massive scale, although they have no religion, no reasoning power, and no conscience.weapons of death

This seems to be the moral of the story as told by the world wars of the past and the bloody political unrest tearing the Muslim countries in the Middle East.It's not a story of trying to gain freedom and independence from the superpowers of the world anymore. It is a story of people professing the same religion and praying to the same God - Allah the Most Beneficent and Merciful- allowing political power and the destructive forces of modern weaponry which they have acquired in the past to retain that power and force their will on their fellowmen who don't agree with the way they run the sate. They are killing all those who oppose them, those who appear as a threat to them, and those who stand in their way, committing some of the most bizarre acts of savagery and cruelty in the interest of holding on to the power - and doing it in the name of Allah the Most Beneficent and Merciful. Iraq (which has been returned to the Iraqis), Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan etc are in the grip of such a calamity now, when political interest rule over religious and cultural affinity and human life is held to ransom. The political power in Iran is reputed to prosecute Muslim activists from the Sunni mazhab(sect) and if found guilty send them to the gallows, including women who normally follow the mazhab of their husbands or parents. In all these countries, the age-old enmities between the Shiah and Sunnah groups of Muslims seem to be intent on destroying each other, using political power and the destructive force of modern weapons to weed away the "enemies'. the powers in control

No one can actually say who is right and who is wrong. Left to political and military judgement, affinities and mutual interest determine whose side you are on. That's politics and the need to control power. What should disturb the conscience of a Muslim more is the fact that politics has ruled human mind more than religious faiths and beliefs. All Muslims subjugate themselves to the same God i.e. Allah. They read and obey the same holy book - the al-Quran. Yet, they do not hesitate to kill each other because of the differences in mazhabs as already anticipated by the Prophet, Muhammad SAW.
They do no hesitate ro kill each other because of the love for power over men and the material world. They feel that they are strong and powerful enough to rule over their fellow countrymen even against their wish.

More importantly, they have friends who support their hold onto power because it serves their own interest. That support is their excuse for holding on to power even if they had to agree with killing off all their foes, although they are as much a Muslim as they are. There is no more fear or repulsion in the shedding of human blood, the blood of their own fellowmen, a fear that Allah would punish them for doing so at the end of the day or in the afterlife. Their friends and supporters give tham a wrong impression of their right to rule over other people and decide on their fate, that they have the right to kill off all enemies.

That's when politics ruled humanity and the fear of God and Allah has been displaced by the greed for power, political, military or both.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Aidilfitri - Return to Human Fitrah.

Like all other good Muslims with just an average knowledge os Islam, i've always celebrated Aidul Fitri as a day of festivities to celebrate the end of Ramadhan, the month of fasting. For a whole month we have been denying ouselves food and water in the daytime,from about 5.30 am to 7.30am in Malaysia, without excusing ourselves from undertaking the normal daily chores. And at night we must perform an additional 11 to 23 rakaats of prayers in addition to the five daily prayers of 2, 4, 4, 3 and 4 rakaats which are compulsory. The 'tarawih' and 'Witr' prayer are voluntary like many other additional prayers but highly recommended as performed by Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him).

So, everyone knows how trying the fasting, additional prayers and additional stringency in the observation of good conduct for the Muslims in the month of Ramadhan can be. Thus when the month drawa to and end, the muslims are ready to celebrate and feast around until the tummy groans with indigestion.

Beginning with the 1st of Shawal, there will be a month long feasting and festivities,with open houses and get- togethers of family members and friends.a typical hariraya gathering of family members

That's what I used to know about and enjoy when Aidil Fitri comes around. Like others anticipating and enjoying Christmas, CNY, Deepavali etc. i love the festivities and the feasts that the auspicious day bring. The beautiful clothes and warm well-wishes that greet us are something to wait for, a whole year.

Then I learned about the true meanibg of Aidil Fitri. It means comiNg back or returning to the original nature of human beings - the human 'fitrah'.and what does that mean? As far as i'm concerned it means a return to the original nature of Man as created by Allah with all the perfection and good aatributes that only Allah knows how to create. The human being is so perfectly created both physically, mentally and spiritually that no human creation can ever match. The soul breathed into the lifeless form of the child in his or her mother's womb in the fourth month of pregnancy is a part of Allah's breath (roh), and is both pure and incontaminable. It only bocomes encrusted ( some say not even contaminated) by the the banalities of temporal life to the extent that human being cam be entirely consumed by his greed and material interest.exchanging smiles and family news

Fasting and the other religious prescriptions imposed on the Muslim in the month of Ramadhan are supposed to cleanse the Muslim from all the worldly encrustment or contemination of his soul so that he or she becomes as clean as when he or she was born. In other words it is as if he or she is reborn, without any of the sins that the temptations of life had brought upon him or her.

Well, the concept is most appealing but whether a month of abstenance from thefrom this pointnonward. temptation of life can clean up years of indulgence is another matter. Of course you've a chance of doing it every year and a good Muslim is supposed to continue the good things he had learned to practise in the month of Ramadhan in the other months of the year. A Muslim who doesn't benefit from Ramadhan is considered a tragic case. The month is considered as a training period for inculcating all the good values of a Muslim.

So, let's hope that Muslims all over the world who had just completed an intensive character training and will be a much better Muslim from this point onward. Let's hope that our brothers in the Middle East will stop all kinds of enmities between each other and come back to the basic fitrah of being peaceful, considerate and kind to each other. Otherwise the objectives of Eidilfitri would have no meaning for them.