Sunday, July 19, 2015

Aidilfitri 1436H / 2015M

The aidilfitri celebration, like most other religious and cultural festivals in Malaysia, is a time when family members gather for the chance to reinforce or renew relationships. It is a time when sons and daughters, who work in the city, make the trip back to their respective home-towns or villages to spend the first day of Syawal with their parents. For those whose parents have already departed, it then becomes a day of remembrance and reminiscing the memories of hari raya days of a long time ago.

I am very lucky to still have both father and mother to celebrate this special ocassion with. However, for the past two years, the annual family gathering had been a bit different. Last year, my father spent his hari raya in the ward of National University Hospital in Singapore. He was suffering from pneumonia and was hospitalised for a total of 42 days. This year, on the third day of fasting, my mother had a heart attack and was transported to the same hospital in an ambulance. She was discharged just 2 days before Aidilfitri, after undergoing treatment for 24 days. She is now staying with me for a short while before I have to send her to be re-admitted to another hospital for further therapy.

Praise be to the Almighty. I am counting my blessings each day.

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri to all my friends and readers. May all of you be in good health and joyful spirit.

Masjid Ubudiah in Kuala Kangsar, Perak. Pic taken in May 2015.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Cave of The Seven Sleepers

On the outskirts of Amman, the capital of Jordan, there is a historic site where it is believed that seven young men hid in a cave to escape religious persecution from their tyrant ruler. They fell asleep for what they thought to be a day or so, but turned out to be for a much longer period. Upon rising from their slumber, one of the youths went out to the nearby town to buy food and when he wanted to pay for his purchase, the shop owner discovered that the coins offered came from a time when a different emperor ruled many years earlier.

This story of the People of The Cave or As-habul Kahfi, is well-known in Islamic teachings and even has a parallel in Christian tradition. The story is mentioned in Surah 18 of the holy Al-Qur'an, beginning from Verse 9 to Verse 26. While popular accounts put the number of the young men at 7, the Qur'an does not give an exact figure. Verse 22 indicates the possible number at 3 or 5 or 7, but with a gentle reminder from the Almighty that such an uncertainty should not be leading us to arguments amongst ourselves. Only the Lord knows... plus a few others. And who might these few others be, I wonder.

Another interesting aspect of this story is that the young men had a dog with them. This pet canine kept watch at the cave's entrance, possibly deterring any unwanted parties from venturing into the cave and discovering the hiding place. Such a loyal trait that has been recorded in divine revelation.

Within those 18 verses that tell the story of the cave-sleepers is perhaps another important lesson for the Muslim faithful. Verse 23 and 24 are translated as such :

23 - And never say of anything, "Indeed, I will do that tomorrow,"

24 - Except [when adding], "If Allah wills." And remember your Lord when you forget [it] and say, "Perhaps my Lord will guide me to what is nearer than this to right conduct."

The said verses impart to us the need to cite the phrase `Insha Allah', meaning `if Allah wills' whenever we mention our intention to carry out something in the future. There is an interesting backstory to this.

Prophet Muhammad (sallalahu alaihi wa-sallam) faced a lot of scepticism and doubters during his early days of preaching to the people of Makkah. The leaders of Makkah sent two of their men to check with the Jewish rabbis of Madinah on Muhammad's claim of being a prophet. Since the Jews are people of the book, they would have more knowledge about such matters. The men described the new prophet and his teachings to the rabbis who then told them to ask Muhammad (s.a.w.) three questions, the answers to which would reveal the proof of authenticity.

 "Ask him about three things which we will tell you to ask, if he answers them then he is a Prophet who has been sent (by Allah); if he does not, then he is saying things that are not true, in which case how you will deal with him will be up to you. Ask him about some young men in ancient times, what was their story? For there is a strange and wondrous tale. Ask him about a man who traveled a great deal and reached the east and the west of the earth. What was his story? And ask him about the Ruh (soul or spirit), what is it?"

The men returned to Makkah and relayed the questions to the Prophet (s.a.w.) who accordingly replied, "I will tell you tomorrow." He had neglected to add, "Insha Allah".

The Prophet (s.a.w.) waited for Allah's revelation to enable him to give the answers. A whole day passed and the revelation did not come. As more days went by without any divine assistance, the people of Makkah made more fun of him and accused him of not keeping to his word. The Messenger of Allah was very sad to face such ridicule. It was only after 15 days that the angel Jibreel (alaihi-salam) came to the Messenger with the revelation of Surah Al-Kahfi which had the answers to questions posed by the rabbis. Indeed, also contained within the surah is the subtle reminder on the proper etiquette when promising to do something. Allahu-akbar!

And so my friends, what about the questions concerning the man who traveled a great deal or about the Ruh? Perhaps I will explore the answers to these questions in future postings... insha 'Allah.

Signboard at the cave site
Entrance to the cave located at a hill slope

Footnote : Apart from this place in Jordan, another site in Turkey called Ephesus also claims to be the Cave of the 7 Sleepers.

Monday, July 6, 2015

A picture paints a thousand words

In almost all of my non-fiction articles in this blog, I have included a photo or two of the subject matter in question. A well-taken and relevant photograph helps to make the post interesting. In my early days of blogging, I have sometimes resorted to 'borrowing' some images from cyberspace because my own stock of original photos had not reached a sizeable collection yet. When this happens, I would credit the original website by providing a link within the article. I'm not sure if this would suffice as an acknowledgement of copyright but I make sure that none of the borrowed pics are used for commercial gain.

Nowadays, all the pics which I use to accompany any of my posts shall be my own original photos. After 8 years of blogging and hundreds of published postings, the number of photos I have uploaded to the internet is quite substantial. And if we are to include the photo albums I have on my Facebook account, the overall quantity is not insignificant.

Which now brings us to the reverse situation where any one of my photos available on cyberspace could be borrowed by another person. I had thought of this possibility some years ago. I wouldn't mind if my pics are being used by another party as long as they credit the source. But I guess in the super-duper huge borderless world of cyberspace, this seems to be an unrealistic request.

Two days ago, a friend shared a link on FB for the recipe for char kway teow, the so-called `wet' version that's so popular up north. When I first glimpsed at the photo accompanying the recipe, I thought it looked so familiar. I scrolled through my hard-disk for the stock of my original CKT pics (yes, I now have quite a few) and sure enough, I found the same photo which was snapped in 2012 when I sampled the dish at a roadside outlet in Taman Perling in JB. I had uploaded that photo both in this blog and in the Johor Sedap FB page.

Screenshot of the FB link
The original photograph, taken using a Blackberry
I then clicked on the link where the full recipe was shown. It is a page run by someone primarily to sell slimming products targeted at the fairer sex. Beneath the recipe was written `copy-paste', meaning that the page administrator had copied the recipe (and presumably the pic) from elsewhere. I did further search on Google and found that the recipe/article is actually an app on Google Play.

So how do I feel that a pic of mine is being used by someone else? I'm not sure yet... in one sense it feels fine that one's handiwork is good enough to be used by others. On the other hand, a simple credit to the original source would be nice too.

Anyway, just to let you know that the stall where I had this plate of CKT is no longer operating, or perhaps has moved to another location. A bit sad, really... because the taste wasn't too bad. Comparable to the ones I have tried in Butterworth and Bukit Mertajam in Penang.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Iftar in the Little Red Dot down south

I have previously written that the most significant event by which I mark the passage of time is the coming of the holy month of Ramadhan. Not my birthday or my wedding anniversary, but the arrival of the fasting month every year.

Tonight we are already entering the 13th day of Ramadhan of the Hijri year 1436. I have yet to put up a post to mark the occasion. So I guess I'd better squeeze in something before the month of June leaves us. Otherwise this effort of blog revival would not seem serious enough.

Last Saturday, I made a trip across the Causeway to the Little Red Dot to visit my parents. That's what some people call the tiny island nation of Singapore. I kid you not... just google those 3 words and the search engine will give you the city-state as the top result.

My mother is actually at the National University Hospital, recovering from a heart attack that occurred the previous Saturday. She is now in the normal ward after being in the ICU for 6 days. Alhamdulillah, she seems to be getting better although, for such an ailment to befall any senior citizen of her age, the overall effect of the attack is yet to be ascertained. Nonetheless, there is much we can be grateful for and to continue with our prayers.

Since mom is not at home, I had to look for somewhere to break my fast. Small matter actually. After about two hours of keeping mom company, I headed out to the old Masjid Hajjah Fatimah at the Beach Road area of downtown Singapore. My father is presently there on part-time duty as a muezzin (bilal, in Malay). In fact nowadays, he spends most of his time at this particular mosque, which is quite a distance from where he lives in Bukit Batok. There is another mosque just across the apartment block of his house, Masjid Ar-Raudah, but he still prefers the travel to Hajjah Fatimah, even though it means taking two different bus routes to get there. I don't have to ask him why, because I can well guess the answer. Sentimental reasons. Beach Road (or more accurately Kampung Glam) is the area where he grew up. No doubt, the kampung house of my late grandmother is no longer there but I'm pretty sure nothing beats the feeling of being in familiar surroundings of one's childhood days.

Masjid Hajjah Fatimah was built in 1846. Wow, that is a really long time ago. It is fairly small in size by modern standards but has unique architecture and historical connection. It is now a national monument of Singapore. One of the famous characteristic of this mosque is its leaning minaret, which is off-centre by 6 degrees.

While my father made the call for Maghrib prayer, which is also the indicator for the end of the daily fast, I sat down in the verandah together with other muslim brothers to break our fast. It was a simple meal of rice porridge plus mutton briyani served in a tray, to be shared at 4 persons to a tray. The meal was cooked in the mosque compound and paid for by donations from anonymous well-wishers. Simple and humble communal feasting at its best.

An old minaret surrounded by modern towers
Waiting for the time to break fast
Mutton briyani rice to be shared, with rice porridge for starters

Friday, May 29, 2015

Someone watching over me (Part 4 and Final)

Headnote : This is the 4th and final part of a short story that took too long to complete. The preceding parts can be read at the following links -> Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

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'I am so sorry… I didn’t know Amir has departed. I wish I had tried to look for the both of you much sooner.'

‘Now don’t be,’ my host graciously replied. ‘You couldn’t have known. It all happened quite suddenly, you know. My husband was out back tending to his favoured orchids when he collapsed. I was in the kitchen then, making him some tea. I heard something fall but wasn’t sure what it was, so I called out to him. When he did not reply, I came out to have a look. That’s when I saw him lying on the ground and his body jerking all over.’

She paused for a while. Her head was turned towards the orchid garden located at the rear of the sprawling compound, indicating to me where the incident occurred. We were sitting in the spacious verandah which the husband had built with his own hands. It was late afternoon of a bright and sunny day. A slight breeze was blowing and conditions were ideal for an afternoon nap, had it been different day. The verandah was constructed so that it faced open paddy fields, flat and green as far as the eye could see. In the distance, you could make out the balmy silhouette of Gunung Jerai, an imposing mountain overseeing acres of flat countryside. A truly magnificent view. I could well understand why my late friend had decided to uproot his city upbringing and settle down here. Indeed, it has become his final resting place.

My host turned back to me and continued, 'I was panicking at the time. I sought the help of some neighbours who took him to the hospital. He was there for one night but left us the following morning. Massive stroke, the doctor said. I informed as many of the relatives and friends as I could.’

She looked at me apologetically. 'I am sorry, I didn’t know how to get in touch with you. You went missing.’

It was my turn to say, ‘Don’t be. My fault.’

Amir and I had been very close friends while we were at university even though we studied different courses. We were housemates and shared many common interests, like movies and music. I was the best man at his wedding. I continued to be close to the couple for some time until their daughter was born. By that time, I was aspiring to start a family of my own but I wasn’t finding success in the courtship game. After two broken hearts, I took a job posting overseas and made myself oblivious to the happenings of friends or family back home. Two decades on, I decided to call it quits and come back. Amir and Maryam are the first friends in my Jejak Kasih list… and that’s why I am here now.

As I reminisce, a sweet young lady came to the verandah carrying a tray of hot tea and a plate of freshly-fried `cucur ikan bilis’ with some homemade chilli dip.

‘You remember this girl?’ Maryam asked me, as the young lady placed the refreshments on the table in front of us. She was of course, referring to their one and only daughter whom I last met when the girl was still a baby. Without waiting for my answer, she turned to address the girl, ‘Farah, this is the gentleman you have been asking about all those years ago. A very good friend of your father. The one in your baby photo where you’re sitting on his lap.’

I could see the young lady blushing. We exchanged pleasantries before she excused herself so that her mother and I could continue our conversation.

‘She’s all grown up now,’ I said. ‘How old is she? Twenty-one, twenty-two?’

Coming to twenty-three, her mother replied. ‘Amir told me that you were there during the time of her birth. And during the time when I was in that delicate state. I don’t think I had thanked you for keeping him company during that difficult time.’

I could have replied by saying that her thanks were not necessary, but kept silent because I could sense that she has more to say. There was a glint of tears at the corners of her eyes.

‘I had thought that my time has come. I would be leaving my husband and our little girl. But as you can see, it is Amir who has left us first.’ She wiped the tears from her eyes before they had a chance to fall down her cheeks.

‘I wish to tell you something… I hope you don’t mind. Something that happened during the time when I was in hospital. Except for Amir, I have not told this to anyone else. Not even to Farah.’

‘I don’t actually remember much of what happened during delivery. I must have passed out. But what I remember was the feeling of pain… intense pain. I really thought I was going to die. I kept praying to Allah Almighty… please, please take the pain away. Or if not, then please take me away. And then I remember the blankness. Cold and dark. And the pain came back again. It was like that, in cycles. I don’t know for how long.’

‘I thought I heard people whispering but all I could see were blurry figures. I thought some of the figures were beckoning me. I wanted to move and I wanted to speak but I couldn’t. And then it became dark and cold again.’

‘I heard a voice. A soft tone, not speaking but reciting. I recognized a phrase. Something familiar. “Salaamun kaullan mirabbir-rahim (peace, a word from a merciful Lord)”. Was I dreaming? I tried to open my eyes to see who was reciting those familiar lines… but I couldn’t. So I recited the words myself. Peace… and it felt peaceful, no longer that much pain. I think I drifted off to sleep.’

‘And then later, I don’t know how long, I heard the voice again. I fought hard to open my eyes. I saw a dim figure sitting by my bedside. When my eyes finally managed to focus, I saw that it was a middle-aged woman dressed in uniform. Not white like the other nurses but in light blue. She must be the head nurse or matron, I thought. She stopped her recitation when she saw me open my eyes. “Oh, you are awake,” I heard her say. “Praise be to Allah Almighty. They all thought you’ve gone, my dear… but I’m not one to be giving up so easily. I’m staying by your side until you come back.” I wanted to say thank you to her but my mouth just made mumbling sounds. She shushed me and told me to rest. “Go back to sleep, my dear. But don’t go too far. We’ll talk again tomorrow.” And I went back to sleep.’

‘The next day, or what I think to be the next day, I heard the soft voice again. This time I woke up quite easily and could see it was the matron of the night before. I manage to say the salaam and she replied in kind. I was able to speak a few words but she told me not to talk too much as I was still fairly weak. She then told me to continue to pray and be strong. Have the will to live, she said, because you have a beautiful daughter and a loving husband waiting for you at home. If you continue to recover like this, the doctors will let you go home in no time. It felt so wonderful to see a smiling face after those many hours of being in the dark and cold of nowhere. We chatted for a bit more before she advised me to go back to sleep. Before dozing off, I managed to look closely at the name-tag pinned to her uniform. Khadijah was her name. I managed to mumble a “Terima kasih, Kak Jah.” I heard her reply, “Sama-sama, Maryam” as she tucked me under the blanket and brushed my forehead with her nice warm hand.’

‘I finally recovered and later was allowed to go home where I saw my little girl for the first time. The most beautiful baby you’ll ever see. Amir told me that I had been in coma for five days. It was touch and go, he said. The doctors weren’t too confident that I would make it.’

‘I asked my husband to arrange to send some flowers to the hospital ward as a thank-you gift. On the accompanying card I wrote a brief note of appreciation to all the doctors and nurses for their good work. I made a special mention of gratitude to Matron Khadijah for being so kind and watching over me during the most trying period.’

‘A day after the flowers were sent, I got a call from the hospital. It was the Head Nurse who wanted to say that the flowers have been received. But she wanted to ask me something else. The matron by the name of Khadijah that I mentioned, could I describe her please? Well, I said, she’s middle-aged, slightly plump, fair skin, soft voice and the sweetest of smiles. Yes, that’s her, I heard the Head Nurse say. Well… if you know who she is, then why are you asking me?’

‘There was short silence. “Err… I’m sorry Puan Maryam, I’m just checking to be sure. Matron Khadijah is no longer with us.” What? I asked back. You mean she has resigned or retired? I just had a chat with her a few days ago.’

‘I heard the Head Nurse hesitating in her response. “Matron Khadijah works… err, I mean used to work with us. But she is no longer here. She died of breast cancer, five years ago…”’