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.
March was a really exciting month and seems like April is going to look like a very long one as well. Every Saturday in March, I saw at the judges table, on invitation from National University of Singapore’s Persatuan Bahasa Melayu Universiti Kebangsaan Singapura or better known as NUS PBMUKS, to judge quatrains for a Pesta Pantun competition.
This year was the competitions’ 20th anniversary and aside from the regular local teams/schools that took part to compete, this years’ competition was opened to teams from across the causeway, Malaysia, and what a competition it was.
Competition was tough and clearly, standards in language and delivery were different between the two countries.
Nevertheless, one thing remained in the world of quatrains, ENTERTAINMENT VALUE.
Quatrains, always had one thing that I enjoyed the most, was its’ ability to send out subtle messages in the most entertaining manner. Of course, some messages aren’t so subtle but take pot shots at the other.
These days, not many people speak in quatrains and well, while we may have lost a small part of our daily culture, I am also thankful that we no longer speak in quatrains except on certain occasions or otherwise, it’d be really tiring to get a message across and if you’re someone who is unable to read between the lines, quatrains will leave you lost.
Aside from Pesta Pantun, By Definition Pte Ltd was also busy judging for a Storytelling competition organised by Tiong Bahru Youth Executive Committee (YEC). So, that’s two events in March.
No, I couldn’t do it so got one of the #TeamByDef family members to do it instead!
And just yesterday, in support of a collaborative effort between Chong Pang CC MAEC, Woodlands CC MAEC, and Woodlands Galaxy CC MAEC together with Masjid Darul Makmur and Masjid Petempatan Melayu Sembawang, we took up two booths at Masjid Petempatan Melayu Sembawang, the last standing kampong mosque in Singapore for a ‘Jom Balik Kampong’ event, selling cold drinks and our traditional games.
Response from the crowd was very encouraging as we marketed and sold many of our traditional game items, games that we usually conduct in schools. So yes, we are now also plying our wares to ensure that our traditional games can continue to be played even at home.
So, if you’re looking for traditional games to play at home, look no further.
Of course, as these items are personally sourced out, we always keep a limited stock in supply. So, if you’re keen to get your hands on them, drop us an email (email@example.com) to order and once the games arrive, we’ll let you know!
And finally, I’m really excited for the end of the month.
From Pesta Pantun in Singapore to PISMA, a regional pantun competition in Melaka held over 4 days and yours truly has been invited as one of the judges. All praise to God really for the opportunity. Without Pesta Pantun, I don’t think I would have received the invite at all.
So, I’m really looking forward to the 5 teams from Singapore Polytechnic who will be representing Singapore! That’s happening from 29 April to 2nd May. And yes, I’ll be sourcing out for more traditional games in my travels.
Today, I woke up and as per usual, I was scrolling through my Facebook updates when I came across a Berita Harian link which a friend had posted, I thought long and hard and assessed all angles possible as to why the journalist had decided to use the word ‘HANFON’ instead of ‘Telefon Bimbit’ to describe, handphone.
So, I took out my mobile phone or handphone and checked on my Kamus Pro app as to whether or not Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) had decided to adopt and accept ‘Hanfon’ as an official Malay word.
I typed ‘handphone’ and I got nothing. I typed ‘mobile phone’ and I got nothing.
I typed ‘phone’ and I got 2:
- n (colloq) telefon: can I have your address and – number?, boleh beri saya alamat dan nombor telefon kamu?
- n (phonetics) bunyi, fon.
So, I saw the word ‘fon’ for the second one. MAYBE, I missed something out. I mean, I’m conducting Malay programmes in schools and it’s my personal responsibility to use the correct words and terms in the classroom. Perhaps, in the course of my busy schedule, I could have missed out on something.
So, I searched for ‘hanfon’ in the same Kamus Pro app, which is the official Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) Malay Dictionary application, the same organisation that researches, writes, prints and distributes Malay Dictionaries which Singapore students and teachers (and I hope those who use the Malay Language as part of their work) use.
The search was futile.
Okay, so maybe DBP isn’t updated so I google searched for ‘hanfon’ and the first hit I got was that it was a WELSH translation on mymemory.translated.net which meant, ‘SENT’.
So, at this juncture, is where I feel extremely angry because the reporter had not exercised personal and professional responsibility to ensure that they were using the right words to report in a national publication read by thousands and used by thousands of students and teachers in schools.
I cannot imagine the horror of Malay Language teachers trying to explain to students that ‘hanfon’ isn’t a Malay word and that it cannot be used in writing compositions but then again, how can the Malay Language teacher justify it when a professional writing for the official Malay newspaper in Singapore is using improper words.
For us, Malays and Malay Language Teachers to claim that Malay Language is not being used by students and the young properly, and have difficulty to teach it isn’t just the responsibility of Malay Language Teachers alone. It is and should be the responsibility of all who use the Malay Language, especially so if you are a working professional publishing the NATIONAL MALAY LANGUAGE DAILY.
To cut corners in view of space constraint and switch with using a word that does not even exist in the Malay dictionary is simply irresponsible, lacks integrity, lacks professionalism and clearly, shouldn’t even be allowed to in the first place.
If this improper and unjustified use of the Bahasa Melayu continues at Berita Harian, I cannot imagine how the future of Malay journalism will look like.
So, I’m appealing to all of you reading this, to not only share this post but also, to write in to BH to provide your feedback. That is about all we can do.
It’s been a few days since I returned and now that I’ve had time to rest and do my cleaning up, the experience has begun to settle in me. There’s so much to talk about so I’m going to try to arrange my reflections as best as I can in chronological order – Pre-Umrah, Umrah and Post-Umrah.
I mentioned this in my first post (MY UMRAH – The Beginnings) that I started talking about going for an umrah about 2 years ago. Some might consider this as being given ‘hidayah’ or guidance but really, I think this whole journey began much earlier than that, probably as young as when I started learning about Islam.
As a Muslim, we abide by the 5 pillars of Islam followed by the articles of faith.
So, if we look at the pillars of Islam and articles of Faith, I believe that ever since I began learning about Islam, I must have expressed my intention to go on a pilgrimage at an early age and perhaps, God must predestined me to visit his home. The question would have been, WHEN?
Fast forward to about several years ago, something happened to me in the mosque. I remember I was performing the ‘iktikaf’ early before Friday prayers and was all alone in the mosque. My eyes were closed when suddenly a loud deep voice called my name out asking me to repent before it was too late.
I was jolted out of my rest and searched around me but there was no one around. I knew I had heard a voice and it wasn’t my imagination because the voice left my heart beating profusely. I wasn’t sure what that was but I was sure that it had to be a sign from God.
So, to say that I perhaps only made plans to go on this umrah 2 years ago would perhaps have been unfair but 2 years ago, I made a resolve that I had to go would be more apt. I made my bookings quite late actually, on Deepavali (what a way right? Festival of Lights) and immediately after I made my bookings, I began to physically and mentally prepare myself which was why if you had been following me on Instagram, you’d have noticed me going on runs.
Not that it was necessary but I really wanted to prepare myself well. I knew that there was going to be a lot of walking involved with the circumambulating the Kaabah plus walking/jogging/running during the Sa’i. Hence, I really wanted to be physically ready and began my runs with my intention focused on God. I suppose in doing so, I was also mentally preparing myself for this journey.
Besides my own preparation, I also had to attend two classes to learn about performing the umrah organised by the travel agency. This was essential towards preparing all pilgrims for the DO’s and DONT’s especially when one is in ihraam.
Once classes are complete, all that’s left is to pack your bags.
The 5th rule not mentioned in the photo above is ‘Proper Procedures’ – One needs to perform all of the above in accordance to proper procedures which have all been listed out in the photo.
One of the most important things to take note of when you’re in ihraam, is that there are DO’s and DONT’s as well. If you break the rule, you have to pay ‘DAM’, which is a penalty. There is the small penalty and the big penalty depending on the seriousness of which rule was contravened.
It all sounds like a lot to do but really if you think about it, it’s really about exercising one’s self control at a higher level, above and beyond what Muslims usually do which is why I think God made performing the Hajj the last one on the pillar for Muslims.
I haven’t been on the Hajj yet but the Umrah is a smaller version of the Hajj. It is perhaps half of what Hajj pilgrims have to go through, which means that the challenge, is only half as well. When I have the opportunity and should I be invited, then of course, the next phase will be to perform the Hajj.
Having gone through the umrah, like all who have been there, I definitely want to go there again. I haven’t had the opportunity to do several things yet like praying in the Kaabah at Hijr Ismail and Multazam.
Do I feel different now that I’ve been on an umrah?
I certainly learnt a lot more about my religion and because of a higher appreciation for Islam, that’s probably why I feel different.
Have I changed?
That’s perhaps too soon to answer and is best not answered by me. I have to let others who interact with me be the judge. I’m not sure if change is a good word too, I’d rather use improvement.
What are my future plans?
I definitely want to go for my Hajj and perform another umrah again, where possible, once a year for my spiritual retreat. I don’t think there is a better way for a spiritual retreat than to go for an umrah. Only this time, I’d like to also visit Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, Israel which is another revered mosque in Islam. It being the mosque where Prophet Muhammad had ascended to the Heavens.
But besides that, I’m probably gonna take up Arabic classes and attend religious classes once again. I’m also considering pursuing a proper studies in Islam to fulfill a wish my dad once had of me. While I wasn’t prepared in the past because I was too young and rebellious, I think I’m a bit more open to the idea now.
How things will change or evolve over the coming year or the future, that is something for me to work on. But for now, I’ll need time to come out with my list of things to achieve by the end of 2016 and also to reflect on my 2015.
From Madinah, we travelled between 5-6 hours through the desert before we reached Makkah. Throughout the bus journey that I was awake, I thought about how arduous the journey must have been for Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the small group of Muslims who had to leave their home, properties and for some, family members to make the migration through the desert where the days could be extremely hot and the nights, extremely cold either on foot or/and on camels.
As we approached to enter the city of Makkah, I was reminded of how excited I was to see buildings after a long drive from Los Angeles through the desert to Las Vegas. What an irony indeed, from Sin City in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2013 to the Holy City of Makkah, Saudi Arabia in 2015. Both located in the desert with contrasting differences.
Throughout the entire journey, we were all in ihraam and within the hour of our arrival in Makkah, we performed our first umrah close to 0100hrs, setting us up for a meeting with the Kaabah. This would be my first meeting with the Kaabah, also known as Baitullah or God’s house.
Walking towards the Kaabah, I had many things running through my mind – what might happen to me being one of the biggest question.
And then there it was, the Kaabah. Nothing happened. I didn’t get emotional as how I’ve heard others tell me before. I felt weird. And soon, I was circumambulating the Kaabah. This is WHEN IT HAPPENED.
I didn’t cry but I was told that the devil will whisper in your ears to distract you and it truly did. I swear that I have never been more distracted in my mind and heart at the same time about my faith. I was close enough to just stop circumambulating and leave by the second round because of thoughts that out of nowhere, entered my mind but I somehow managed to find myself back through continuous recitations of ‘Astaghfirullah’ which means I seek forgiveness from Allah and complete all 7 rounds.
This was then followed by the Sa’i or running/walking/jogging between two hills, Safa and Marwa, 7 times. This process of Sa’i was a different challenge from the circumambulation. This time, I found myself questioning about my abilities as a person because as history has it, pilgrims perform the Sa’i to remember and reflect on Hajar (Hagar), Prophet Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) wife, who was left near the Kaabah with young Prophet Ismail (Isaac) with one bag of water left by Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) as commanded by God.
Hajar then ran between the two hills 7 seven times in search of assistance before God sent down an angel to dig out ‘Zam Zam’ water from underground to provide sustenance for Hajar and Prophet Ismail (PBUH). Once this was done, cutting of at least 3 strands of hair is required before one has completed the umrah.
The whole entire process takes between 2-3 hours.
This is where I finally understood why plenty of adults have told me that it is better to perform one’s umrah or haj when younger. Why? Because you need to be physically and mentally healthy and strong.
Each time we need to perform our umrah, we need to leave Makkah to enter an area where the meeqat is located for us to make our intention. This area is also referred to as ‘Halal land’ whereas Makkah and Madinah is considered ‘Haram land’. In this particular trip, I performed a total of 4 umrah, the first and compulsory umrah is the arrival or welcome umrah. Subsequently, it was umrah Jiranah, umrah Tanaheim and finally, umrah Hudaibiya.
Besides performing umrahs, we were also brought sightseeing or in this case, visiting of historical places that have been mentioned in the Quran. Visiting places of importance to understand where the Prophets before us have been.
These places include:
– Location where Prophet Adam and Hawa (Eve) had met or were reunited on earth
– Location where Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) had gone to sacrifice his son, Prophet Ismail (Isaac)
– Location where Prophet Muhammad had hid at when he was escaping from his Quraysh tribe
– Location where Prophet Muhammad had received his first revelation as God’s Messenger
These visits gave a lot of context and insight into how life was like, especially how the Prophets had climbed mountains in the middle of night, in complete darkness to seek solace or fulfill God’s requests. With a better understanding, then there is more appreciation for the sacrifices and challenges they made.
Being in Makkah though, is a totally different lifestyle from Madinah. I can’t speak for everyone but I found myself sleeping between 3-5 hours per night and really walking a lot more than I was in Madinah. Schedule seemed to be a bit more tight as well as between each call for prayer to the next with the exception of Subuh, is only about 1-2 hours each time.
But I suppose, it is okay to have a lack of sleep when you’re in Makkah because you never know when you’ll be ‘invited’ by God again and you want to maximise your time in prayer or in trying to gather as many good deeds as possible.
There is a believe that one prayer in Makkah is 100,000 times better than one prayer in any other mosque in the world. This benefit also applies to circumambulating the Kaabah, performing the umrah and even, just looking at the Kaabah. With such a carrot being dangled at you, why won’t anyone want to maximise that opportunity.
But that’s not all, there are special areas within Makkah and Kaabah itself that God has given his guarantee to fulfill anyone’s prayers. Those areas, like Raudah in Madinah, has people hustling over it day and night.
However, the most important benefit of Makkah is perhaps God’s word that when anti-Christ or Dajjal comes to earth, it will not be able to enter Makkah and Madinah. Therefore, all who remain within these two cities will be protected and safeguarded by an army of angels.
The first stop for my umrah was Madinah, the city Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had migrated to due to extreme torture and hatred towards Muslims in Makkah.
The journey took approximately 5 hours by bus from Jeddah’s King Abdul Aziz International Airport, a special airport which is used specially for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims. All praise to God, immigration clearance didn’t take long compared to a friend of mine who had to wait 5.5 hours to clear. We took about 1.5 hours.
The scene at the airport itself gave us an indication of how packed this umrah was going to be. Our flight from Singapore which had a stopover in Dubai, mostly consisted of pilgrims from Indonesia.
As we arrived in Madinah, I continue to have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was appreciative and excited at the opportunity to be here, to be able to be in the presence of God’s Prophet to mankind, Muhammad (PBUH) and on the other, I worried about unpleasant experiences.
But all that changed the moment I laid my eyes on Masjid Nabawi, one of the most majestic and one of the three highly revered mosque in the world (Masjidil Haram in Makkah and Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem are the other two).
I did not let slip the opportunity to perform my isyak prayers there when my roommate asked if I wanted to join him and his brother there before the group had a proper tour. Walking to the masjid, I was beaming with excitement and immediately, I fell in love with the mosque the moment I stepped into its compound.
The intricate architecture was breathtaking, the marble floor was cool to walk on and I looked forward to pray at Masjid Nabawi at every prayer because the entire atmosphere was unlike any other I’ve been to. There were areas within the mosque where one could sit to read and be corrected on your Quranic readings by a tahfiz al-quran (expert at Quranic recitations) but the highlight of the mosque is the resting place of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his two closest companions who later became the Caliphs after his passing, Sayidina Abu Bakr and Sayidina Umar as well as a small area within the mosque referred to as Raudah.
It is an obligation for every Muslim to greet Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his two companions when you are in Masjid Nabawi, and so that’s what we did after our prayers. Immediately, you realise that your faith is being tested as large groups of people would start moving in the same direction.
Some at slower speeds and some at faster speeds, either hustling their way through the crowd or following the flow of the crowd. If you’ve ever been to a sell-out concert, that’s how it’s like, except that instead of hearing people hurling vulgarities at people who push and shove, you hear people reciting verses from the Quran or ‘Sabr!’ (Patience).
And this scene is how it’s like on a daily basis. Besides paying your respects to the Prophet and his two companions, everyone also wants to pray in the Raudah area. The many columns in this area represented many different things that have happened during the period of God’s final messenger, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), stay in Madinah and is also one of the reasons why his companions wanted to pray at those areas.
Besides that, it has also been mentioned that Raudah will be one of the gardens in paradise and prayers or supplications made in Raudah will be granted. Therefore, it is no wonder why everyone wants to have the opportunity to pray and supplicate there. And all praise to God, I was given 3 opportunities to pray and supplicate in Raudah. I hope my prayers and supplications are accepted as much as I hope everyone else’s is.
Aside from Masjid Nabawi being the centre of attraction in Madinah, there is also another special mosque, one which Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had built himself when he first came to Madinah, Masjid Quba. This Masjid is a little further from Masjid Nabawi and is also the first mosque you’ll see when you enter Madinah.
Life is Madinah was slow paced and I enjoyed it a lot. I didn’t feel the need to rush to pray as I always had more than enough time to find a comfortable spot in the masjid, to read the Quran or to just perform the ‘iktikaf’ by either resting or reflecting on my life or to pray. In fact, I actually realised that I didn’t even visit the malls or restaurants in the area until I was asked along because otherwise, I would have just sat in the masjid.
So, when people tell me they love Madinah, I understand why now because I love Madinah too. I love it because of the slow pace and also because it is where I get to be close to the Prophet. I truly hope that perhaps, you’d have the opportunity to one day be ‘invited’ and be able to visit and pray in Masjid Nabawi.
The day finally arrived. It has been a lifetime, literally, since I began learning and listening to stories about the prophets (peace be upon them) and my opportunity finally arrived when I was ‘invited’ (Muslims believe that God needs to invite you to visit his home in Makkah) to visit God’s home this year.
I began talking about going on my pilgrimage about 2 years ago, jealous at my friends who have been ‘invited’, but also motivated to visit as age was catching up and I feared of dying carrying too much sins.
So, I began looking through my options a few months ago, stuck between my conventional backpacking vs following a tour group before finally settling on the latter as the former might be overstepping my boundaries, not in terms of travel but in terms of my understanding of the rites required to perform a proper umrah.
So, I made my booking online with Shahidah Travels on Deepavali, the second agency I approached after the first seemed to have a full flight to and fro, and attended 2 classes that they organised to orientate all pilgrims on the rites to be done as well as to mentally prepare us for the challenges that lie ahead.
During the classes itself, I had a mix of emotions. Unsure of what to feel; excited, nervous, scared, especially when we were reminded that, “We have been invited to God’s home. It is a privilege.” I almost teared at that point thinking about how much disappointment I have caused God for all the things I have done in my life and yet, still be receiving his grace and love to repent and to visit his home before it is too late.
The few weeks leading up to the trip, the same emotions kept running through me. I have been told of stories of people arriving in Makkah but not being able to see the Kaabah or people being lost for days because they had spoken in arrogance or people suddenly turning crippled, unable to walk because they had commented on someone else.
I wasn’t sure if I would be ready to face my creator in his home, to ask for his grace to grant me a place in the heavens. But this is something that I had to do before my days on earth come to an end. I don’t think anyone else would be.
So, when I began planning on what to pack along, I decided, that if I was going to go for my umrah, I wanted to share it with as many people as I could. And the best way I knew how to, was to pack in items that has been given to me and to pray that hopefully, the people who lent me or gave me these items that I’ll be using, will be given a share of the deeds.
This would also be more meaningful for me.
And for those of you who are already following me on my Instagram, I’ve also began sharing some photos of the places that I’ve visited. It is my hope that through sharing my journey, you may also be inspired and motivated to want to visit or to learn more about my journey itself. The hashtag for this journey is #ABD2UMRAH.
And as for this blog, I’ll update my journey and experiences from time to time, to share with my non-Muslim friends who may wonder about what umrah is all about.
For now, I hope you can keep me and the group I’m with here in your prayers as much as I am keeping you in mine.
At the turn of my 30th birthday, I reflected on my life and told myself that I had to do or achieve a list of 30 things before I turned 31. This list was of course, a list of goals for me to work towards, rather than something that I really needed to achieve.
At the start of 2015, I had my list. I knew exactly what I wanted and perhaps needed to achieve. These were the things that would keep me motivated, focused as well as kept me in good momentum for the next decade or rest of my life.
I lost my list along the way because I had hand-written them but I never lost the spirit of trying to achieve the list.
Now, because the list was finalised only in January and my birthday is in December, that gives me an additional month to finish whatever else that I’ve set myself out to do.
Though I can’t quite remember all the 30 things on my list and also because things took several changes along the way, here’s the list of things that I’ve managed to achieve or done thus far this 2015:
- Got myself a 400cc motorcycle, a Super 4 Spec 3 – awesome deal
- Invited as judge for NUS PBMUKS ‘Pesta Pantun’ competition
- Climbed ‘Danau Tujuh’ – an alternative to Mt Kerinchi as it was closed
- Launched By Definition Pte Ltd‘s first book, ‘Lagu-Lagu Rakyat – Belajar Bernyanyi Bersama’, the first fully illustrated phonic friendly Malay sing-a-long book in collaboration with my very good buddy, Reyza Hamizan.
- Conducted an overseas youth motivational programme
- Grew By Definition Pte Ltd’s clientele and number of projects
- Performed in ‘Semoga Bahagia’ production
- Emcee-ed several functions
- Watched Maroon 5 concert ‘LIVE’ in Singapore
- Joined a political party, Singapore People’s Party (SPP)
- Stood as a political candidate for General Elections 2015 as an SPP candidate in the SPP-DPP team at Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC
- Passed my IPPT
- Ran my first injury free 10km run (the first 10km in a long time)
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle (balance of exercise and healthy diet)
- Met a gorgeous lady who became my partner
- Booked and God Willing, my mini pilgrimage to the holy land
I’m far short from my intended list of 30 things but I’m happy with what I’ve managed to do in a year.
To put everything into perspective, there’s only so much I can do in a year. 30 things may have looked too much to achieve given time and situational constraints.
Looking back on the past 3 decades of my life, I can’t say that I’ve had any regrets. I’ve done pretty much most of the things I really wanted to since I was young and while I’m far from the multi-millionaire appearing on FORBES and TIME magazine cover page by 26 years old that I had set my sights on since I was 12, I’m still on path towards that dream now that I know what needs to be done.
Moving forward, to start the next phase of my life on the right track, I’m really looking forward to my upcoming pilgrimage and because I’ve received several requests from dear non-Muslim friends who are interested to know more about this, I’ll be blogging my experience from time to time throughout my entire journey.
While my experience may differ from others, I hope that the information and journey that I will share with my dear non-Muslim friends (whom I hope will read la hor) will be helpful to them as since we may have shared experiences, it will be an emotional journey for us as well.
For now, I need to think about my 10 year plan before I break it down into my yearly goals.