Monday, 28 June 2010

The Pearl

The Pearl is tale of fortune and misfortune, or rather, mistaking one for the other.

Kino, a pearl-diver, could not believe his eyes when he pried open an oyster to find the most magnificent pearl he has ever seen, the fabled Pearl of the World. After spending all his life in poverty, Kino believed that this would change his life. His eyes envision a brighter future for his infant son, Coyotito. His heart full of hope.

In its 89-pages or so, the story of The Pearl is an allegory of every man's fate, fortunate and dreams. We all dream of that chance of a lifetime. We imagine it to occur in such way or in such form. What we don't realise is how we're setting ourself up for disappointment by narrowing our view of what is good or bad. Kino's life did change after getting the pearl, although it wasn't the change he imagined.

Nobody can really tell if something is going to bring benefit or harm. Yet we continue to make judgements about things to happen in our life. To this Allah SWT says in Surah Al-An'am verse 17,
If Allah touch thee with affliction, there is none that can relieve therefrom save Him, and if He touch thee with good fortune (there is none that can impair it); for He is Able to do all things.
Was Kino wrong for being happy? Was he punished for it? In all honesty, we might reacted in the same way if we were in his shoes. Perhaps our assurance lies in believing that every benefit and harm is from Allah, and nothing is inherently beneficial or harmful. He can change benefit to harm as easy as he can change harm to benefit.

The bad things in life can turned around so long as we keep extending our prayers and continue to believe. But it's hard to do so if keep prejudging every thing that God sends our way.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Bad marriage, bad health

Can marital rows make us unhealthy? According to scientists, definitely.
Being married is only good for you if it's a good marriage. In one study in Ohio, immunologist Ronald Glaser and his wife, clinical psychologist Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, recruited 76 women, half of whom were married and half divorced or separated. Using blood tests to measure the women's production of antibodies, they found the immune systems were decidedly weaker in women who were either unhappily married or emotionally hung up on their ex-husbands.

They followed this through with a study of 90 newlyweds who were made to sit face to face discussing "volatile" subjects such as housework, sex or in-laws. Many of the seemingly happy couples quickly descended into hostile behaviour, and in these couples the scientists found the largest declines in immune-system function over the 24-hour period. Fascinated by the implications, Kiecolt-Glaser went even further. She had read about a strange tool – a small plastic suction device – used by her dermatology colleagues which left eight small blisters when used on the arm. Forty-two couples had their arms "blistered", then talked to each other for half an hour, the first time on easy subjects, then the following day, after more blistering, on topics that might create a row. Kiecolt-Glaser found that after the episodes in which the couples bickered, the blisters took a day longer to heal and in the couples in which the bickering was particularly nasty, the wounds took a full two days longer than that.

The message was clear: if you fight with a loved one, it isn't only bad for your relationship, but bad for your body. Kiecolt-Glaser was unequivocal: "Learn to fight without hostility and derision, but if staying married means constantly fighting, from the point of view of your health, you're better off out of it."

Something to think about the next time you and the hubby/wifey find yourselves in a fight.

[ More marital life revelations: The myth of wedded bliss ]

Monday, 14 June 2010

Imam Syafie: Pejuang Kebenaran

Imam Syafie: Pejuang Kebenaran is history novel by Abdul Latip Talib, also known as Pak Latip. In case you haven't heard of him, Pak Latip is perhaps Malaysia's most prolific history novelist, with a dozen or so titles to date. In fact, history novels are not his only forte. Pak Latip have also written teen novels and poetry.

Imam Syafie is one of the four major scholars of Sunnah wal Jamaah. His ideas and teaching, the Syafie mahzab (denomination), is followed practised by large percentage of Muslims including the Muslims here in Malaysia and South East Asia (myself included). Since I'm not knowledgeably qualified to discuss the merits of each of the four mahzabs, I will avoid from commenting on it.

It's also noteworthy that Pak Latip has also wrote novels on all the other three scholars, namely Imam Malik, Imam Hambali and Imam Hanafi. I think it's best that I start with my own Imam.

As a novel, I think this book is an excellent introduction to life and times of Imam Syafie. Pak Latip's style of writing brings to life much of the events in Imam Syafie's life. The idea of history novels is to make readers feel that they witnessing the events as if they are there as it happens. I could picture myself in the room as Imam Syafie's mother discusses with his younger self about sending him to study in Madinah, although I do feel a bit like I'm spying in on a very private family moment.

Born into a very financially adverse condition, Imam Syafie's path as a scholar was envisioned by his parents even before he was born. His father passed away shortly before his birth. Imam Syafie and his mother Ummu Habibah al-Uzdiyyah had to return to Makkah, his parent's place of origin. Nobody would anticipate that the move would make it possible for a young boy from a poor, single-parent family to pursue an education. Living close to Masjidil Haram allowed young Imam Syafie to follow the lectures given by the Syeikhs there. Just think that there could many other poor young boys at that time, perhaps even as intelligent as Imam Syafie, who are obstructed from being educated because of their family could not afford it.

The issue of economy and education was one of the assignments my lecturer gave me recently. It was clearly a broad topic. I had no idea where to begin. I did some reading and wrote a short paper on it. I did not get the marks that I hoped for, but I did learn a lot. I also missed a very important point that my lecturer was trying to make, which is education is always dependent on the economic situation.

I tried to argue that it's supposed to be the other way around, but the more I ponder the more I realise that his point has more truth to it. Imam Syafie almost missed out on education because his family was poor.

Can we solve the problem by opening up education for all? Developed countries like the U.K. have tried with the hope of empowering its society and workforce. They succeeded, but they also ran into an unexpected problem.

The increasing enrolment in learning institutions and reliance on academic qualifications did not match with growth of the the job market. There are more Bachelor degree holders than jobs that require Bachelor degree. As a result, the qualification requirement was raised. A job that originally asks for a Bachelor degree now requires a postgraduate Master degree. The Bachelor degree has now become less valueable. This phenomena known as “academic inflation” is not only afflicting the U.K. but also developing countries and many industries all over the world.

Academic inflation is subject from another book, so let me return to this one. I believe this is a very commendable effort by Pak Latif, educating readers about one of the most important and respected scholars of Islam. The history novel approach makes the subject very accessible for many readers including teens. I suppose it's comparable to watching a biopic film, as opposed to watching a documentary. Like any form of storytelling, dramatisation is added to make the story engaging and relatable to the reader.

The strength of history novels is also its weakness. Dramatisation can alter facts and sequences of events that occurred in favour of making the story interesting. Certain details such as the weather, time of day, personal actions and speech (especially self-reflection) can be disputed. After all, who can really say what goes on in other people's head, alive or dead?

But, no matter. History novel and history books are two different horses of the same stable. Both capable of transporting their readers to new places of discovery. I recommend readers of historical novels including myself to continue our journey with history books, to unravel history as it is as best as possible documented; to ponder, compare, critique and most importantly to learn the lessons therein. As matter of fact Pak Latip's history novels are based on history books, not simply other history novels.

As a history novelist, Pak Latif has opened the door for us. As a history student, he is inviting us to come in.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

The Lost Continent

Apa orang lain suka, belum tentu kita akan suka. Atau boleh suka.

Ada seorang pembaca yang saya sangat hormat pendapatnya. Beliau seorang peminat tegar Bill Bryson, dan saya faham kenapa. Bill Bryson adalah salah seorang penulis travel humour yang paling terkenal serta terbijak. Beliau juga dilantik menjadi chancellor Durham University, satu pengiktirafan yang bukan calang-calang.

Jadi saya mencuba Bryson. Selepas The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America dan buku ini, saya rasa, terima kasih sahajalah.

Berbalik kepada The Lost Continent, catatan kembara Bryson merentasi Amerika Syarikat. Kata bekas rakan sekelas saya yang juga seorang Mejar, Amerika itu empat zon masa besarnya. Empat! (Jumlah rasminya ialah enam, jika Hawaii dan Alaska diambil kira.) Cuba bayangkan!

Matlamat Bryson ialah untuk menjejaki semula laluan yang pernah dilalui oleh bapa beliau dahulu semasa membawa mereka sekeluarga makan angin pada musim cuti. Bermula dari pekan asal beliau Des Moines, Iowa, Bryson merentasi berpuluh-puluh pekan kecil, bandaraya serta pusat tarikan pelancong untuk membawakan Amerika yang kita jarang-jarang ketahui, dari kaca mata beliau. Dan dari sini segalanya mula hilang tarikan sedikit demi sedikit.

Bryson adalah seorang penulis yang sangat lucu. Saya amat percaya inilah tarikan utama buku-buku beliau. Cubalah jengah ke bahagian buku travel, saya percaya judul-judul oleh Bryson akan ada paling kurang sebuah dua. Kebanyakkannya adalah best seller.

Saya sendiri ada masanya tergelak besar, digetelek narasi yang sinis. Tetapi lawak beliau juga sering kali asidik dan agak juvenile, hampir apa-apa beliau boleh jadikan modal lawak, termasuk ahli keluarga sendiri. Agaknya orang di Amerika sangat tahan kutuk.

Sekurang-kurangnya pengetahuan saya tentang Amerika dan sosio-budayanya ada bertambah walaupun sedikit. Maaf, Encik Bryson, pengetahuan Tuan sangat luas dan penulisan Tuan sangat menghiburkan, cuma lawak Tuan yang membuatkan saya rasa nyilu.
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