Monday, January 01, 2018

Giving New Year resolutions another chance

In the spirit of New Year resolutions doing the rounds, I have a story to share. My friend Rabiaa Dani gave up making resolutions a long time ago. She found it hard to keep her promises made at the start of each year. The issue had given her a lot of grief over the years. Frustration ensued when her New Year resolutions went out of the window, often culminating with her beating herself up.

The first few days were good but she would falter after the first week. She felt bad about her lack of willpower and would feel depressed and unworthy of respect or value. So she decided that she would no longer make them. However, unknown to her, she would review this decision at the end of 2017.

What happened? Rabiaa and her husband attended a talk by Ustaz Dato' Badli Shah bin Alauddin at Komplex Darul Baraqah in Manjoi, Ipoh, Perak on December 28, 2017. The Ustaz from Pahang is one Rabiaa's favourite preachers and she hardly misses his religious talks on television. This was the first time she had seen him in person and she was looking forward to absorbing the valuable nuggets of wisdom that Ustaz Badli Shah consistently provides at every session. The Ustaz did not disappoint and Rabiaa went away feeling that her life right now was prime time for resolutions, that the decisions she made now would determine the quality of her life in this world and the world hereafter we will all eventually return to. Her husband felt the same way and the pair had lots to talk about on the way home.

Ustaz Badli Shah began his talk by urging Muslim listeners to emulate the determination of animals to survive despite daunting circumstances. He gave the example of migratory birds whose survival instincts have astonished scientists and researchers. Why do they endure hardship to travel thousands of kilometres to warmer places when winter arrives. This article offers "fresh insight into why and how they do it." Malaysians must be like the migratory birds, said Ustaz Badli Shah. Malaysians need to develop coping skills to facilitate their resilience to personal and professional upheaval now and in the future.

Birds do not kill themselves when the going is rough; why should humans feel that ending their lives is the only solution to their problems. If plan A does not work there is always plan B, C, D, E until Z. Why stop at C? When you hit  a snag, turn to God the Almighty for help. Make dua, recite zikir (remembrance), read the Quran and do not miss the obligatory prayers.

"If you do not get what you like, like what you get," said Ustaz Badli Shah. "Do not give up easily when attempts at improving yourself fail." Rabiaa felt that the Ustaz was talking directly at her when he said this. An optimist will have a better chance of overcoming adversity than a pessimist.

Try not to judge yourself harshly and underestimate your capabilities. Each individual has talents unique to herself or himself. Focus on these talents or keistimewaan (strengths) as you find ways to overcome your troubles.

The elderly also have a special place in Ustaz Badli Shah's talk. It would foolish to ignore or dismiss the contributions of seniors, he reminded listeners, many of whom were golden agers. Younger members of the audience heard that retirees have an important role to play in their lives -- personal and professional -- and they would do well to remember this. No one is too old to change nor to make contributions to society and country. History has many stories of people who achieve success at a relatively late stage.

As this is the time of the year for resolutions perhaps a decision to reevaluate our relationship with our Creator would be a good start to 2018. We need to seek forgiveness from Him for all our  transgressions. We also need to reassess our ibadah (acts of worship) to ascertain if we have truly done our best. Have we also performed well at the workplace? Do we cheat our superiors by being dishonest?

There is also the issue of our relationship with family, extended family, friends and neighbours. How are we doing in this department?  Last but not least, let us introduce non-Muslims to the beauty of Islam.

We can all benefit from a certain amount of seclusion for contemplation and introspection. Rabiaa is ready to keep her resolutions. How about you?

Happy New Year!




Saturday, October 14, 2017

Earning your second chance

People rarely get second chances. When we make a serious mistake we seldom get an opportunity for a do-over. Those we have hurt will remember our transgressions for a long time. Maybe forever.

Published accounts remind us of the agony of former prisoners and rehabilitated drug addicts who are denied jobs, housing and other services on account of past convictions. They want desperately to clear their records of past crimes however minor these might seem. They want to take a path towards a new start that will help them improve their circumstances.

Quite simply, they need a second chance. They want to have a shot at a normal life.

But there are conditions attached to the privilege of being bestowed a second chance. Offenders must take full responsibility for their actions and honestly regret what they have done.

Islam's concept of taubat  (repentance) states that wrongdoers must demonstrate sincere remorse, sorrow and guilt, promise not to repeat their mistakes and do good deeds as Allah has instructed.

Against that backdrop, should Malaysian society give the bogus dentist in Malacca -- who practised dentistry after watching YouTube tutorials -- a second chance?

The Sessions Court in Melaka had slapped a fine of RM70,000 on Nur Farahanis Ezatty Adli on Sept 29, 2017 for running an unregistered  private dental clinic, an offence under the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act 1998 which carries a maximum fine of RM300,000 or maximum jail of six years or both upon conviction.

However, she was released from prison after serving only six days out of her six-month jail term for failing to pay the fine, thanks to supporters who had raised enough money to settle the penalty.

What are we to make of the fundraising campaign mounted by supporters including well known NGOs to keep Nur Farahanis out of jail?

Obviously, they believe she does not need to serve her prison sentence. Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia's lead activist Datuk Nadzim Johan had said that Nur Farahanis, 20, was an intelligent woman who was merely helping to fix simple braces on her friends based on what she had learned from Youtube.

He was quoted as saying that "we need to help her and we also believe that there are some good reasons for us to help her".

"I do not want to say that the charge was unfair. We feel that we should try to help someone who is trying to free herself from poverty and challenges of life," he said.

The Muslim consumer body felt that she should be given another chance since she was still young and had no prior convictions.

It later clarified its position on the issue.

It is hard to imagine giving cheats and others of a similar ilk a new lease on life but psychologists say forgiveness is fundamental to human relationships. Yet we find it hard to make allowances for offenders and give them breaks to make up for past wrongs.

In the case of the bogus dentist the task is made harder by her unrepentant behaviour, if media reports are anything to go by. There is a suggestion that her actions were "not normal".

This is a serious matter that we should reflect on carefully. Quacks attract vulnerable and ill-informed patients by offering cut-rate prices for inferior dental care.

The authorities must do more to prevent people from falling for the lies and deceit of quack dentistry, medicine and pseudoscience.







Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Feeling of gloom and doom after the Keramat tahfiz fire

Police say they have solved the fatal tahfiz school fire case following the arrests of seven teenagers connected with the deaths of 23 people including learners as young as six years old at the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah tahfiz centre on September 16, 2017. The suspects had allegedly set fire to the tahfiz centre in Jalan Keramat Hujung, Kuala Lumpur after a name-calling incident between them and some pupils of the school. Apparently they had used two cooking gas cylinders and an accelerator to set the three-storey building on fire early Thursday morning.

Police are investigating the case as murder and causing mischief by fire. Police had picked up the suspects between 6.30pm Friday and 2.30am Saturday at different locations in Datuk Keramat, thanks to leads from CCTV recordings and initial forensic evidence that suggested foul play.

It is tempting to believe that the case has been cleared up, but in reality many factors promise to complicate the issue. The Keramat tahfiz tragedy is the latest in a series of fires that had hit religious institutions in the past two years, according to fire department statistics, quoted by ALJAZEERA. Of  the 1,083 fires that were recorded during this period, 211 were burned to the ground. The worst incident took place in 1989 when 27 female students at a religious school in Kedah died after fire destroyed the school and eight wooden hostels.

Predictably, the most recent incident has renewed calls for better regulation of religious schools which are mostly privately run. They come under the purview of state religious authorities and not the education ministry. Apparently there are more than 500 registered tahfiz schools in Malaysia but many more could be operating without licences.

The question is, have things improved over the last two years? As it often happens in Malaysia, there would be angry hue and cry for action when disasters strike but it would be business as usual after a week or two. If remedial efforts had been initiated to tackle the tahfiz school situation then people don't know about it.

It is disturbing to learn that the suspects -- all school dropouts between the ages of 11 and 18 -- showed no remorse, according to a New Straits Times report. Six of the seven suspects had tested positive for drugs. Two of them had been detained before, one on charges of vehicle theft, another for rioting. They were said to be on drugs when they started the fire. Reportedly, they are children of immigrants living in the Datuk Keramat area. Notwithstanding their crime, these suspects are as much victims as the tahfiz pupils who had perished in the fire. They need help to recover from the mess that they are in now.

One of the most frequently asked questions about them was, where were their parents when they embarked on their dastardly deed? Why were they allowed to roam the streets during the hours when most normal kids would be sleeping? But are we prepared to assist them? Do we even care about their well-being? Quiet introspection can be extremely valuable at this stage.

Did anyone ever imagine that Malaysian kids would resort to arson to exact revenge for a perceived wrongdoing? And why is this alarming aggressive behaviour surfacing now? Boys and girls today also have a hard time showing respect for authority, responding to simple instructions and completing tasks, among other things. They seem to be falling further and further behind.

We cannot say we have resolved the Keramat fire disaster until we address all the issues that had led to the blaze. A calamity of this magnitude should be one of those defining moments in Malaysia's  progress but do we have what it takes to bring both quality and commitment to the cause of keeping our children safe?