Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Islam in Malaysia: Facts and Perceptions

Source: Matahari Books
Discussing issues involving Islam is often not easy, even among Muslims.

Take the issue of zakah money as an example. Every year we hear about how much zakah money has been collected in this or that state, usually in millions of Ringgit. The Selangor Zakat Board collect RM336.8 million last year, according to their website. While this is undeniable a good thing, the bigger question that every Muslim should be asking is how are we spending the money and are money going to the deserving recipients. RM336.8 million is a lot of money. Shouldn't the zakah board release annual statements on how the money is distributed, since it is money of the Muslims? Where is the assurance that this money would not be mismanaged or wasted?

I still have faith in the honest people works in the zakah boards. At the same time, I believe it is time we become more professional in handling the affairs of the Muslims, and that includes becoming more accountable. We cannot simply operate on the basis of trust alone. After all, syaitan never discriminates.

And this is among the many arguments brought forth by Ustaz Dr. Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin (Dr. MAZA) in his book, Islam in Malaysia: Perceptions and Facts.The book is a compilation of Dr. MAZA's writting in his Mingguan Malaysia column, Bicara Mufti, published between 2006 and 2008. I admit it has been years since I last read Mingguan Malaysia, and I had no idea who he was other than how he was often portrayed by the media as the firebrand young mufti from Perlis with a supposedly Wahabbi leaning. At least that's how I perceived him.

That perception caused some reservations on my part when I first picked up this book. There are a lot differing opinions in interpreting the practices of Islam. At best, these 'disagreements' provide flexibility and room for discourse. At worst, we would be seeing rifts and bloodsheds, sometimes over trivial matters.

According to Dr. MAZA, at the root of many of these issues is the Muslims' blind adherence (taklid) to religious teachers and authorities. Many Muslims simply accept everything that they hear from Ustazs even if the thing sound far-fetched or even ludicrous. One example he gave was about how some Ustaz like to repeat the story about some pious walis who prayed 1,000 rakaah of tahajjud a night. Dr. MAZA deconstructed the story by pointing that assuming a rakaah takes about a minute (which is a very short rakaah) and there is only about 600 minutes in a night from 8 PM to 6 AM; going for 1,000 rakaat in night is neither mathematically nor logically (nor even humanly) possible. On the other hand, a hadith narrated by Ummul Mukminin A'isyah RA reported that Rasulullah SAW use to pray not more than 11 rakaah in one night.

Islam actually encourages the use of individual intellect and common sense. Muslims should be encouraged to ask questions by looking at evidences and reasoning, and a religious figure, even someone at the level of a mufti, should not be exempted from scrutiny. This is sadly absent from the Muslim ummah of today. Making things worse are narrow-mindedness and rigidity, qualities that are opposite to the lines of thinking exemplified by our noble scholars in Islam. Imam Al Muzani, a student of Imam Syafie, told that his teacher warned against accepting any of his teachings that contradicts evidence, reasoning or thought.

There so many of hard-hitting points raised by Dr. MAZA that I am just astounded at how his column managed stay in a mainstream (read: pro-government) newspaper for two years or so. His writing was originally collected in Mengemudi Bahtera Perubahan Minda and this book is the English translation of it. The translator, U-En Ng, does a good job in preserving Dr. MAZA's voice along with his wit. I found some words were translated rather literally than technically like zakah (which is not exactly the same as 'alms', as viewed by a few non-Muslim English speakers including my SPM tuition teacher), dakwah (also, not quite the same meaning as 'preaching') and muhasabah. But for most parts I see that Ng made the effort to get Islamic terms defined as accurate as possible. Kudos to both Ng and Matahari Books. I hope is the first of many Islamic books coming from the publisher.

Whether you are a Muslim or not, this book will give you a lot to think about. And especially for Muslims, a lot of work to be done.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Fatimah's Kampung

(Source: The Asian Journal of Humanities)
If you ever need to teach your children that even bad things happen to good, honest people, then this is a book you should get.

I don't mean to sound so negative. I actually would do the same for my children, especially if see them overdosed on simple tales of good versus evil, black versus white, and so on, because you and I both know the world is grey and grey comes in so many shades... Wait, wait... Before you think I'm suggesting that should we raise our children to become a bunch of cynical, disillusioned zombies without a speck of hope in their heart, I think I better start again.

If you ever need to teach your children about the realities of development, urbanisation and their impact on the lives of ordinary people, then this is a book you should get. In fact, this is what the author and former geography lecturer, Iain Buchanan, had in mind when he wrote Fatimah's Kampung.

Fatimah lives in Kampung Hidayah, a village that is sitting on a very prime land. But we won't see that until later. First we will be taken for a tour around the peaceful kampung, populated by very friendly people who, like many other kampung people, take good care of each other. Close by is a small forest where a tiger, Pak Belang, lives, and therein other beautiful flora and fauna as well, plus a beautiful mausoleum where a very respected man named Bismillah Wali is buried.

The first half of book reads like a good guide to life in a kampung. Friendly neighbours, wooden houses, grandma telling stories; all of which reminds me of my parents' kampung, and even though my maternal grandparents lived in a semi-urban housing project, they lived next to a kampung and I used to ride my grandfather's black Raleigh bicycle through it. I've never lived in a kampung but I have lived near them enough to know a thing or two about the kampung life. I say this because I'm totally blown away the details that Buchanan had capture in his paintings throughout this book. They will make you (if you are like me, a hardened city dweller) want to pack your bags and go for a holiday in a kampung.

The next half is when reality sets in. Developers are salivating over Kampung Hidayah and the last person to stand in their way is a member of the Royalty, the Sultan. Buchanan is bold in having this character in this story because Tuanku and particularly his grandson, are instrumental in bringing about the impending doom change that awaited Kampung Hidayah. I really hope that this book will not end up in the hands of some narrow-minded reader who would bellow that this book has committed lèse majesté by suggesting that the Royalties are in cahoots with greedy developers. And actually I should be more worried about when my children ask, "Abah, why the new Sultan and the developers want to tear down the houses of these poor kampung people? Why are they forced to live in flats? Where are their children going to play? Where, Abah, where?"

I could, and I should, try my best to answer these questions because after all that is the purpose of this book. But if my brain is overstressed by work or other worries, I would tell them in very gentle way to, "Go ask your mother."

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Straight to the point(s)

  1. Saya rasa saya nak tiru-tiru gaya blogger lain yang menulis menggunakan poin.
  2. Saya sangat sibuk sekarang ini. Saya ingin membaca buku yang saya ingin baca tetapi terpaksa membaca buku yang saya terpaksa baca. 
  3. Apa pun, masih membaca. 
  4. Oh, dan saya kena menulis. Panjang. Saya jarang menulis panjang-panjang sebegini.
  5. Kemungkinan besar tahun ini, seperti tahun lepas, saya tak akan dapat ke Pesta Buku (huhuhu...).
  6. Di antara sebabnya ialah saya telah borong sakan awal bulan lepas, kononnya hadiah kerana berjaya mengurangkan pembelian buku.
  7. Hakikatnya, ia cuma pembelian yang dikemudiankan. Banyak sama juga.
  8. (Sebenarnya masa masih ada cuma tidak sesenggang dulu. Sepatutnya saya banyak-banyak bersyukur.)

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Cooler ways to handle your .zip files (for free!)

Zip files are super useful. We usually use zip files as a container to put many files in one place, and being compression tool, we can even reduce the size of the total files.

It's good to know that nowadays zip files are readily supported by Windows and Linux. And we no longer need shareware like WinZip or WinRAR to unzip a .zip file. Shareware is a type of software that lets us try them for limited trial period. Once the trial period is over, some features of the shareware will be disabled and we are asked to pay for the shareware's price before all the disabled features are enabled again. WinZip allows us to use it for free for 45 days before it starts telling us to buy it.

I'm sure WinZip and WinRAR are fine if you chose to use them. Me, I like to tread the freeware path. Zip file programmes have matured over the years, including the freeware ones. Some of them are not only super useful but also super cool-looking.

First up is PeaZip.

PeaZip may not be able to make your zip files smell fresh, but it will undoubtedly make them look fresh. Everything from its icon to its user interface is designed to us want to use it and recommend it to all our family, friends and even that guy we work with but whose name we don't know. PeaZip can tackle normal .zip files as well as other less familiar formats such as ACE, BZ2 and ARJ (just heard of this one, actually). On its own, PeaZip is a worthy alternative to Winzip.

Can hamsters handle zip files? It can, if its name is HamsterZip.

Looks may not be everything, but HamsterZip's sleek look is difficult to overlook. HamsterZip focuses on simplicity of use. Creating zip files with HamsterZip is as simple as drag-and-drop.  HamsterZip may lack some of the fancy features of PeaZip, but as a basic (and cool-looking) zip programme, it's everything an average zip file user needs. If you have space for only one zip programme, HamsterZip deserves your consideration.

Don't care much for looks? Then go with 7-Zip, my good friend.

7-Zip might lose points for coolness factor, but serious zip users tip their hats to fella. I use this myself more than the other two because of one important feature: the ability to check zip files for errors called Test Archive. PeaZip has this feature as well since it is based on 7-Zip, but error checking is easier with 7-Zip. When I'm downloading or I received zip files from someone, I would run 7-Zip error checking to see if the file has any problems. Errors mean the zip file might not have downloaded or copied properly. This feature also saved me a lot of time and trouble because there are programmes that can open zip files without unzipping them.

Average zip file users can go with any of the three (or all three, if you like). For power users, 7-Zip is highly recommended.

Do you know any other and perhap better zip file freeware? Share with us via comments.
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