With education and entrepreneurship at the core of everything I do, this blog serves to provide you with information from my perspective, based on my knowledge, skills and experience on various issues close to my heart namely, general education, peacebuilding, public speaking, civil society and theatre/ drama.
Note: The original posting of this was first published on my Facebook. This post here comes with a few additions.
The recent ‘I want to touch a dog’ event in Malaysia has stirred quite an interest with the Malaysian Islamic authorities. Islamic authorities are claiming that such an event was an insult to clerics and were seeking to misguide Malaysian Muslims.
What has long been seen as a taboo topic, suddenly opened and thrown out in the open and has gotten the Islamic community in both Malaysia and neighbouring Singapore split and divided on this discussion. While most of the robust discussions have remained on online platforms, it is clear that we are seeing once again, a rise in the number of Facebook clerics, who make their appearance to share their knowledge of Islam to others.
And there are clerics on both sides, debating the merits of why it was a good and bad event.
(I’m curious to hear MUIS position on this) (I came across this link on MUIS website with regards to Guide Dogs but is applicable to all kinds of dogs nonetheless)
But at the end of the day, as a Muslim, I think it is more important to ask of the intention. Even when you commit a crime, in passing judgement, your intention plays a very important role towards how the sentence is passed.
So anyway, Malay-Muslims (have to emphasize on this because I only hear from Malay-Muslims) LOVE to say this, “yang penting nawaitu” (what is most important is the intention) and the organizer’s intention I believe was clear when he mentioned education – ‘to help overcome their fear of dogs and bring Malaysians together to promote tolerance and understanding that goes beyond culture, race or religion’.
Even for myself here in Singapore, it’s been close to 2 years that I’ve had plans to organise a similar event but hasn’t quite had the capacity or time to stretch myself to organise one.
The event would have the following objectives:
- To educate Muslims and non-Muslims alike on what sertu is and how one performs the sertu (I’m sure many of us wouldn’t know how to because we believe it’s better to avoid than to go through the hassle)
- Muslims to get over their unfounded fear of dogs (Muslim parents here have a habit of saying that it’s Haram to touch a dog)
- To clear misconceptions and to educate Muslims and non-Muslims on Islam’s relationship with dogs
I, for one, grew up never being scared of dogs and wouldn’t keep my distance from them. I was raised in a family that loved animals and I also knew that our family leftover food were being fed to the dogs at my dad’s workplace because he would often collect the bones of the chicken we ate and leftover rice to be packed and given to the dogs every single morning when he went to work. (May God bless my dad for his loving soul)
While we won’t be keeping dogs at home because we may need to sertu the whole house, this doesn’t mean that we cannot learn to love these animals the same as how we love cats or hamsters or birds or rabbits. And while I’ve been told that there is no need for such an event because Muslims could always go to an animal shelter to show love and care as well as to touch the dogs, how many Muslims would actually bother to go to an animal shelter to visit much less volunteer and volunteer specifically to care for the dogs?
We just happen to live amongst people who keep dogs as pets and the likelihood of us meeting a dog daily is much higher than the chances of us going to the animal shelter to care for the dogs there.
If sertu is our concern, then all we need is just soil. If soil is a concern, then buy the sertu soap (can support a fellow brother’s business also).
While we continue to debate this issue in Singapore, I believe that my other Muslim friends in the Arabian peninsular and in Indonesia are probably puzzled because they have dogs living in their household and have been living with them for a very long time.
Yes, we can argue and debate based on mazhab but none of the mazhabs ever said that touching a dog is haram. I just have the opinion that I will do what I feel is just and right in how I deal with people and animals because at the end of the day, what really matter is, as how everyone puts it, “nawaitu” (intention).
Just like how when my students like to ask me if I’m Malay or Chinese, Muslim or Christian and all I’ll tell them is that I am of the human race and it doesn’t matter what religion I belong to because what matters more is whether or not I am a good person and whether or not I am a good teacher.
As for me, ‘I have touched dogs’.
As a Muslim living in Singapore, I grew up attending secular school on the weekdays and madrasahs on my weekends or in the afternoons after secular school ends. And every Friday, like every other Muslim globally, I go to the masjid for my Friday prayers.
Friday prayers for me, have always been some sort of a holiday. When I was younger, Friday prayers meant leaving school earlier and coming back to school slightly later. When I began working, Friday prayers meant shorter working hours on Fridays, which transitioned perfectly into the weekend.
Friday prayers, is also significant for the poor because it is considered as their day of celebration. A day where the congregation will donate to those who beg outside the masjid. In this day and age, even in Singapore, we still have people who beg and while I question the legitimacy of some of those who beg because I have seen them use a mobile phone, speak impeccable English and travel in a car to beg, I’ll save that for another day.
Friday prayers is also not considered to be complete if one does not arrive early or in time to listen to the sermon. The sermon, is considered to be part of Friday prayers and no one is allowed to talk during this period of time. You are expected to listen to the stories and advise given by the Imam.
In Singapore, our sermons are written and prepared by Office of Mufti. All sermons across all masjids in Singapore will speak to you of the same story and same message, except for one masjid which is owned by the Johor Sultanate.
In the years that I’ve travelled and attended Friday prayers in the different masjids across different countries, I discovered that between the different countries, sermons or Friday prayers were conducted differently. In Brunei, before the commencement of Friday prayers or even the call for prayers, a tahfiz would be reciting verses of the Quran welcoming the congregation. In Malaysia, when the names of Prophet Muhammad’s sahabahs are called, the congregation do not echo praises for them. In Indonesia, it’s a bit different as well.
And across these Southeast Asian nations, the sermons were always delivered the same way, one where the tone was always serious and I thought that this was the standard way of how sermons were delivered globally until I went to the US. I was living in Irvine and there were only two places I go for my prayers, one was at the Islamic Center of Irvine and another was at the University of California, Irvine itself, where prayers were held in a space shared by all the other religious groups.
In both locations, the sermons were delivered differently.
The Islamic Center of Irvine delivered its sermon much like how it is in Singapore but with personal stories. Given the fact they are not subjected to the same standards of Singapore masjids, minus the personal stories, the atmosphere was pretty much the same although the people in attendance were attired differently and had a different take on sermons.
People were more comfortably dressed in whatever and however they want to worship God – in bermudas which covered below their knees and even in basketball jerseys (sleeveless).
But the sermons at the University of California, Irvine, were the ones that I enjoyed the most because they were lighthearted and were filled with personal stories of the Imams, who were mostly students. The student-led or alumni-led congregation resonated deeply with me on Islamic issues without forgetting the lessons of Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace Be Upon Him) life. Congregation were tickled at times by the stories that were shared and it made Islam as a religion seem friendlier compared to how it was always perceived as.
Most recently, I attended a Thanksgiving Mass at a Catholic Church here in Singapore. I thought that it was similar to my experience at the University of California, Irvine. The Bishop was sharing the stories from the Gospel and also included his own personal stories at the same time. This made the sermon extremely lighthearted and connected deeply with the congregation, myself included.
The messages delivered were by all coincidence, my personal reflections through my “Before I go to bed tonight”, but most importantly, the messages and the way the sermon was delivered was in-touch with personal and recent events that everyone could relate to.
I couldn’t help but feel that this was the missing piece in the way our sermons were being delivered in our masjids. The way our sermons are delivered gives the impression that much should be focused on death and life after death when instead, we should perhaps try to give better focus on how a Muslim should live our lives, without losing focus on what comes in death and life after death.
Or maybe our sermons already do so but as how I was once told, “It’s the messenger, not the message”.
Surely, it would be awesome if we could experience how Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) delivered his sermons and how he gave advise to people. Though we read and we know how he did it, never having experienced it, we wouldn’t know how it feels.
I’m an idealist, an optimist and sometimes, a realist, but in all the things that I do and believe in, I believe that we are all selfish people. We do things not for others, but for ourselves, and if others feel as if they are being appreciated because of what we do, then that’s great for everyone because everyone comes out happy but essentially, we are self-serving people – at least that’s what I believe in.
Earlier this afternoon, a friend of mine send me a text asking me “What do you always practice to love yourself?”
The question, provided me with a lot of information and it had to do with one thing that we all search for in life, HAPPINESS. We all want to happy and we all want to love and to be loved in return. There’s no denying about that but in this time and age, most of us get sucked in to our jobs that we forget the meaning of love and happy.
I don’t think any of us can remember how much love and happiness we were born into.
We were the product of love and happiness (doesn’t matter the situation by which you were conceived, because someone loved doing it and was happy to do it is the reason why you were conceived in the first place). We are the very product of someone or a couple’s love for each other (or sex) and were happy to commit to that act (at that point of time).
For the more religious, we are the product of two individual’s love for God and his commandments to procreate.
So, while we are the product of love and happiness, why do some of us struggle to always be happy and loved?
Well, our environments and experiences play a big part but more importantly, WE are responsible for what we choose to happen to us. We are responsible for how happy or loved we want to be, no one has the authority to do that because they do not have that control over us.
And how do we learn to be happy or to love ourselves enough to not be distracted by what happens around us?
Here are 3 simple steps that you can practice. It’s the same one that I practice.
- Spend time with yourself, for yourself.
Do the things you want for yourself. You don’t need to constantly be around people all the time. I’m a social person but I do appreciate being alone and I do enjoy being alone. Watch movies at the theatres alone. Laugh out loud alone. Get reconnected with your inner self. That’s what’s most important.
- Love yourself first before you learn to love others.
You’ll get to this stage once you’ve spent enough time with yourself. When you know what you love, you’ll learn how to love others the same way you want to be loved. Not everyone may agree with how you choose to love them because they have their own opinion on it but at the very least, you’ll know that the relationship will not work out and you can move on without having to hate the person. For you, it’s just, incompatible. That’s all. No hard feelings.
- Share your love.
There’s only so much love you can keep to yourself. Sharing your love will help others learn to heal and move on with their lives. I’m not asking you to begin planting love seeds everywhere you travel (as much as you’d want to be Don Juan) but walk with a smile on your face, with a skip in your step and with a song in your heart.
There’s no one size fits all remedy to this. Everyone does things differently and experiences things differently but if you’ve never tried this before. Then you probably should.
This was written with Lots of Love
Don’t get me wrong when you read this. I’m not asking you to lead an unhealthy and unfit lifestyle. NO. I believe that you should keep yourself fit and healthy and lead a great lifestyle but this post gives a great reason for all NSmen out there who want to earn the $500 coveted GOLD for your IPPT but are unable to because you are just not fit enough to run.
So, to begin, let me tell you first that I come from a sports background, creative background and business background.
I used to compete in short and long distances, do the long jump, played a winger in my school’s rugby IVP team and played a defender for a local club. I also happen to perform a lot and write a lot as well. Professionally, I now run a business merging these elements and I am definitely passionate about National Service (6 Commanders Award, an appearance on TV and a MHA Award surely does it right?).
I’m not boasting but some people just need credentials before they’ll believe anything they read (I know plenty of my friends do!). So, there you go. Of course, it’s not an awesome track record but if you really want to know how you can earn that $500 or more without getting a GOLD for your IPPT, then you can read on, otherwise you can stop here.
Okay, so you decided to continue. That’s great!
Taking into account that you probably only receive $16.15/- for every half a day recall (I could be wrong but I’m just working with a number) for you to come and take your IPPT, should you get GOLD, you’ll earn $500, SILVER gets you $300 and a PASS with Incentive gets you $200.
So, your total amount earned for a day would be $516.15 (GOLD), $316.15 (SILVER) or $216.15 (PASS with Incentive). Not bad for a 4 hours of work right?
If you’re familiar with the Marshmellow experiment, then you’ll love this because delayed gratification could get you more, and here’s how it works!
Because you can retake as many times as possible in a year should you fail your IPPT, that increases your ‘earning power’ and if you signed up for RT, you have to complete 20 sessions. During the period that you are taking your RT, you are still allowed to go for IPPT and you still have the opportunity to earn those monetary incentives.
So, this is what you may want to consider.
Retake your IPPT countless times is going to be ridiculous but let’s set it at 20 times for the whole year. So for every IPPT that you go for, you earn $16.15, multiply that by 20 and you earn, $323!
Attend 20 sessions of RT at $16.15 per session, multiply that by 18 because you want to take your IPPT on the last 2 sessions before you end and wing it. So, over 18 sessions, you earn $290.70!
Now you take your final IPPT and you get a GOLD, so that means you earn $516.15!
So, in total, you would have earned $1,129.85!!
Now, of course, when you attend your RT sessions, you also need to be mindful that it’s a great opportunity for you to network with others.
But if you’re not looking at the big number and prefer to look at the Time Spent vs Income Earned (or Return on Investment), then of course, going for GOLD on the first try is what you should be going for because you would have made $129/hr in comparison to my alternative solution, $6.89/hr.
Which scheme works well for you is something that you have to decide.
One thing for sure, I enjoy going for RT because I just have time to spare in the evenings and since I already do my exercises on my own, why not just go in a group and get paid for it anyway. I make new friends, expand my network and possibly reconnect with old mates of mine!
On the job front, as long as there are people still going for RT, we are still ensuring that the PTIs have a rice bowl.
I haven’t written much this year in view of my busy schedule but the next few posts deserves an entry.
Going into the competition, I was only informed a month before the auditions date by a friend of mine, who teachers at Tanjong Katong Girls School. The information for the competition was just received then and she wanted to send a team to the competition and had sought out for my help, knowing that I train students for drama and have also taken part in competitions as well as sent students for competitions and have also judged drama competitions.
But this competition, was new for me. I’ve never watched the competition much less know what it’s all about but as with most things I do in life, I do it because it’s a challenge and because I know I will enjoy the process.
Training the girls was a challenge, for all of us – Teacher in Charge, Students and Myself. My friend was juggling between her work and this, the students were juggling between school, CCA and tests and performances and me, well, I was pretty much just trying to see how much time I can have with them.
My minimum time required – 6 Days, I ended up with only 5 days.
With the theme made known as Storytelling focused on Folklore, that made me feel at ease since I’ve been doing so much Malay Folklore over the years of teaching drama and I also run ‘Pentaskan Ceritamu’ under By Definition Pte Ltd to schools. So, there was absolutely no way I was going to let this out of my sight.
Meeting the girls for the first time, I had a plan in mind. An idea of sort with nothing concrete but I really needed to know what the girls knew and understood about Malay Folklore. Apparently, not much with the exception of one person who seemed to know almost every single story because she had been helping her teacher previously prepare slides on them. I guess that worked to our advantage.
Ideas aside, I took a few days to prepare my script and on the day I was to pass the script, it rained so bad my motorcycle broke down in the middle of the expressway! So, that’s how I lost ONE PRECIOUS DAY.
But all that aside, I was lucky because these girls were already drama trained. I could skip the basics and jump right into the script and directions. But I had another challenge, not everyone was present at the same time and my rehearsals were often only 1hr long with them since most of the time, they’d be chatting away BUT these girls were committed and dedicated to giving the best that they can.
And that’s what they did with 4 days of rehearsals with me before the preliminary rounds, followed-up by another two days of rehearsals with me, with the final script that had an additional character in. With that, the school holidays set in and they were left on their own to prepare with preparations with their teacher in charge.
The next time I saw them, was during the Finals.
I never had the chance to do any final rehearsals with them and off they went on stage, and perform they did. While they didn’t get as much applause as another group did, they sure did score the right amount of points because they walked away the winners.
This victory for them was sweet for me as well as I walked away with the ‘Best Scriptwriter’.
I hope these girls will continue to put in the same amount of effort, commitment and dedication to their studies as well as their life.
And I must say, that I am impressed by them because when they began, they admitted that they grasp of the Malay Language was not as good compared to now. Imagine how much of a difference drama can make to any student if they had the opportunity to explore the many uses of the Malay Language beyond the classroom.
Because the Malay Language, just like any other language, needs to be used often in order for it to come alive. And for schools which do not believe in sending students for such competitions, I do hope they’d reconsider because the experience, though cumbersome for you as teachers, will bring greater benefit to your students in the long run.
The experience they get just from participating alone, will bring out the best in your students.
You’ve got to trust me on this because I was a student that enjoyed taking part in such competitions/performances.
I promised that I would share a transcript of my speech. So, here it is.
This is dedicated to my Peacebuilder friends back at University of California, Irvine, especially to my fellowship supervisor, Dr Paula Garb, who’s a conflict negotiator as well as to the other groups of peacebuilders that I had the opportunity to meet.
I also dedicate this to my Israeli and Palestinian friends who now have some peace in their lives.
A very good evening fellow Singaporeans. It brings me great pleasure to be standing here, once again, surrounded by many who believe in peace and in making a positive change, not just in Singapore but overseas, in Gaza.
At the last event that we organized, the war or massacre had taken the lives of 800 Gazans. Today, a month after that event, after more than 2000 dead Gazans and 69 IDF soldiers dead according to IDF or 150 IDF soldiers dead according to Hamas, a truce is finally in place.
A truce, that would perhaps be considered a victory in all instances to Gazans. A victory, because several deals critical to restoring normal life were reached in the demands for a truce by Hamas, which signaled a defeat to Israel, in my opinion.
When this event was first planned, there were many concerns. Some of those concerns were:
- How many people would turn up, compared to the last event?
- Would this event still be relevant if a truce was called?
And we agreed, that while numbers mattered, it was important that this event continued nonetheless because a truce does not mean that the conflict is over and more importantly, the Singapore community also needs to learn and know that civil activism is a long process and change cannot happen overnight.
At the last event, I mentioned that it is important for us to ‘Respond, not React’, in any given situation, to ensure that we are aware, responsible and accountable for the actions that we choose, and not let it be a knee-jerk reaction to a situation.
Today, we are to talk about solutions for peace, positive peace that will ensure the walls that separate Israel and Palestine, can be overcome.
This truce we see today, this is negative peace. Peace in a volatile situation whereby conflict can erupt at any time. Peace in a situation where there is still much distrust. Peace in a situation where civilians on both sides, still do not have access to each other.
Steps & Solutions
To achieve positive peace, to overcome the wall, the first and most important step is already in place – the truce.
The next step, is for both sides, civilians especially, to begin talking to one another, to engage one another in conversations to build trust, to build relationships with one another, to find commonalities with one another, so they know, that at the end of the day, they want the same thing, share the same hopes and dreams.
This, I learnt from my mentor, Eboo Patel, who is on Obama’s Council for Interfaith Relations, who shared that to find peace, conflicting sides must find commonalities that they can work together and agree on.
Putting Theories into Realities
Commonalities, is also something that all of us, not just here in Singapore, but also in many parts of the world, share, when it comes to this conflict.
Most of us believe and agree that the occupation must stop and I also believe that we also agree that violence is never the solution to resolve any conflict.
But a conflict such as this, requires a lot of people power, not just from the people in Palestine, but internationally and a conflict such as this, also requires a lot of support from the international community because this is not just a conflict between two states.
It is a conflict which involves citizens of the world, just like any other conflict in any part of the world. And we, cannot afford to sit comfortably in our homes, as bystanders to this conflict, only sending our prayers in private and messages of goodwill through Facebook, because a conflict such as this, requires a visual, it needs to be seen and it needs to be heard.
It needs to be seen and it needs to be heard, so governments can get involved. It needs to be seen and it needs to be heard, so people involved in the conflict know that they have support from the global community. It needs to be seen and it needs to be heard, because activism requires action to be taken.
Change through activism can happen, but let’s do it through peaceful, nonviolent means.
In 1915, Mahatma Gandhi, organized peasants, farmers and urban labourers to protest against excessive land-tax and discrimination. He led several peaceful campaigns nationwide and advocated for others to practice nonviolence and truth in all situations.
He was a man, who lived a peaceful, nonviolent life and was active in civil society. Without him, we may not have India today and the concept of nonviolence would not have been well-known.
In 1955, a young pastor and other civil rights activists held demonstrations, drawing attention to racial discrimination, demanding civil rights legislation to protect the rights of African-Americans. The young pastor, was of course, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, and his peaceful mass demonstrations attracted more than 250,000 protestors to Washington D.C where he delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech. Through his peaceful demonstrations, positive change was made and African-Americans now have equal rights as any other Americans.
His peaceful demonstrations took close to 10 years of activism before a change was seen.
Importance, Impact & Effects of Actions
And if we, Singaporeans, truly believe in this cause for Palestine, that they deserve to be recognized as a state and that the walls have to be brought down, then we need to continue to be civilly active, to participate in civil activism that is peaceful, to help push for statehood for Palestine.
And being active in civil society is important because change can only happen, when there is enough pressure on the people in power, and the people in power will always listen when there is a large crowd of people who believe in the message that is being delivered.
While it’s true that the internet is a great platform to gather people and to hear opinions, but the internet only gives a number, which could be a number of people internationally or from bots. But when people come together in numbers, in real life, those numbers become a reality and that is what’s most important.
The impact and the effect that the news carries on the number of people who ‘Like’ a certain cause or page is vastly different as compared to the impact and effect when a news outlet covers an event with thousands of people involved.
Newsworthiness counts as well in civil activism.
If a police officer arrests one of the speakers here today because he wasn’t registered to speak and one of you records the incident, and this incident goes viral, it will get picked up by the news outlet because it is newsworthy.
Not only that, the police force will also be put under pressure to answer queries as to why a peaceful gathering with people speaking peaceful things are being arrested in a democratic country, in a space where individuals are supposedly allowed to speak freely without the need for a permit?
So my dear Singaporeans, we can also help to seek solutions for peace to overcome the wall, even though we are far from Palestine.
We can take theories, and turn them into realities by taking action, by remaining active in civil society.
Ask our friends to contribute actively in online discussions, to participate in events such as today and to encourage others to join in as well because the impacts & effects of what we seek for, is the long-term effect beyond the truce we see today – a recognized peaceful statehood relationship between Israel and Palestine, without walls.
This is a journey, a very long journey that we need to carry on because though the conflict may be age old, but the people involved aren’t and while our activism may die out, the people involved in the conflict might die should the truce be breached.
The irony of mentioning about the Police because even though I was a registered speaker with NParks, they still came up and approached me because I wasn’t one of the approved 3 speakers under the permit issued (I was informed that permit classified this event as ‘Religious in nature’).
After seven weeks of war between Israel and Gaza, they have finally come to a truce.
While the war may have seen more than 2000 Gazans (Mostly civillians consisting of females, children and elderly) dead and 69 according to IDF/ 150 according to Hamas (IDF Soldiers) dead, this truce is more of a victory for Gaza than it is for Israel.
It is a victory for Gazans because, they have won demands to:
- Remove Israeli blockade of their borders. This increases the current crossings from 2 to 5, with Rafah border under negotiation with Egyptians.
- Widening of their fishing zones
- Lifting of money transfers
Moving forward, there are major reconstruction and rebuilding of life work that needs to be done.
Homes, Schools, Hospitals, Places of Worship need to be reconstructured but normal life, needs to resume most importantly.
The living will continue to live without the dead, will envision and will forge a better future ahead for themselves as how their fallen friends and families had once hoped for.
Most of these rebuilding and reconstruction will be reliant on one very important key resource – CLEAN WATER.
As such, being far away from Gaza, the least we could do, from Singapore to Palestine, is to contribute what we have in excess, our wealth.
So, let’s try to contribute and encourage others to do the same as well so that we can collectively be a part of the rebuilding process in Gaza.
And do join us this Saturday, 30th August at Hong Lim Park for another Peace Gathering event. This time, we will be hearing speakers talk about solutions to overcome the wall.
I will be there. I hope to see you there as well.