Sunday, December 30, 2007

What is happening to Malaysia?

The Other Malaysia
by Farish A. Noor
25 December 2007

At the time of writing this, I am in Cairo in the company of my Egyptian friends who are Muslims, Catholics and Copts. Eid has passed and I attended several dinners and celebrations where Muslims and Copts celebrated together, visiting each others’ homes and ate til we could not eat any further. What is worse, Christmas is upon us and so once again Muslims, Catholics and Copts will be heading for the communal table for the communal feast and there will be much licking of chops, munching of bread, gobbling of sweet deserts and drinking for everyone. It is all simply too pleasant to believe, yet it is real and this is what life is like for many in Cairo, the ‘Mother of civilisation’ and home to more than twenty million Egyptians from all walks of life.

What is most striking to the outside observer like me - though rather banal for the Egyptians themselves - is the fact that in all these celebrations ranging from Eid for the Muslims to Christmas for the Catholics and Copts the word ‘Allah’ is used to denote that supreme and singular divinity, God. Catholics and Copts alike exclaim ‘Masha-allah’, ‘Wallahi’, ‘ya-Rabbi’, ‘Wallah-u allam’, and of course ‘Allahuakbar’ day in, day out, everywhere they go. The coptic taxi driver blares out ‘By Allah, cant you see where you are parking??” as he dodges the obstable ahead. The Catholic shopkeeper bemoans “Ya Allah, ya Allah! You can only offer me two pounds for the scarf? Wallahi, my mother would die if she heard that! Ya-Rabbi, ya-Rabbi!”

Yet in Malaysia at the moment yet another non-issue has been brewed to a scandal for no reason: The Malaysian Catholic Herald, a publication by and for Catholics in the country, has been told that it can no longer publish its Malaysian language edition if it continues to use the word “Allah” to mean God. Worse still, the country’s Deputy Internal Security Minister Johari Baharum recently stated that “Only Muslims can use the word Allah” ostensibly on the grounds that “Allah” is a Muslim word. The mind boggles at the confounding logic of such a non-argument, which speaks volumes about the individual’s own ignorance of Muslim culture, history and the fundamental tenets of Islam itself.

For a start, the word ‘Allah’ predates the revelation to the Prophet Muhammad and goes way back to the pre-Islamic era. Christians had been using the word long before there were any Muslims, in fact. Furthermore the word is Arabic, and is thus common to all the peoples, cultures and societies where Arabic - in all its dialects - is spoken, and is understood by millions of Arabic speakers to mean God, and little else. One could also add that as “Allah” is an Arabic word it therefore has more to do with the development and evolution of Arabic language and culture, and less to do with Islam. It is hard to understand how any religion can have a language to call its own, for languages emerge from a societal context and not a belief system. If one were to abide by the skewered logic of the Minister concerned, then presumably the language of Christianity (if it had one) would be Aramaic, or perhaps Latin.

The Minister’s remark not only demonstrated his shallow understanding of Muslim culture and the clear distinction between Arab culture and Muslim theology, but it also demonstrated his own lack of understanding of the history of the Malays, who, like many non-Arabs, only converted to Islam much later from the 13th century onwards. Among the earliest pieces of evidence to indicate Islam’s arrival to the Malay archipelago are the stone inscriptions found in Malay states like Pahang where the idea of God is described in the sanskrit words ‘Dewata Mulia Raya’. As no Malay spoke or even understood Arabic then, it was natural for the earliest Malay-Muslims to continue using the Sanskrit-inspired language they spoke then. Surely this does not make them lesser Muslims as a result?

The ruckus that has resulted thanks to the threat not to allow the publication of the Malaysian language edition of the Christian Herald therefore forces observers to ask the simple question: Why has this issue erupted all of a sudden, when the word Allah was used for so long with narry a protest in sight? At a time when the Malaysian government is already getting flak as a result of the protests by Malaysian Hindus who insist that they remain at the bottom of the economic ladder despite fifty years of independence, now it would appear as if the Malaysian government cannot get enough bad publicity.

The administration of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi came to power on the promise that it would promote its own brand of moderate Islam that was pluralist and respectful of other cultures and religions. But time and again the Malaysian public - first Hindus and now Christians - have felt necessary to protest over what they regard as unfair, biased treatment and the furthering of an exclusive brand of Islam that is communitarian and divisive. The latest fiasco over the non-issue that is the name of God would suggest that Prime Minister’s Badawi’s grand vision of a moderate Islam has hit the rocks, and is now floundering. Just how the ministers and elite of this government is to regain their course is open to question, but what is clear is that some Ministers should get their basic knowledge of their own religion in order first.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Visit to the Dentist

After a two year procrastination, I finally dragged myself to see the dentist. After so long, one thing that struck me as constant from dentist to dentist is this:

1. They always ask if I had had braces before, which I haven't.
My childhood dentist (who committed suicide when I was in high school) was a really good one, years before he became a little strange (by asking Ron to pull out six of his permanent teeth to do crowning all because he had coffee stains). Anyways, he advised me to remove all my gigi taring as I had large teeth and small jaw. I listened and now I don't have that 2 protruding teeth at both sides of my mouth. I still have bunny teeth though but it could have been worse.

2. Dentists usually are usually quite awkward when it comes to small chat.
I commented that he had a busy day ahead with so many patients waiting for him outside (I was number 16 and had to wait for three hours) and he started talking about how this happened because it's year end, people feel happier and that bonuses are being paid and if I look at the malls this weekend, it would be crowded. I was saved by the fact that he had instruments in my mouth and merely grunted.


I finally finished reading the last Harry Potter! So sad that it’s finally over. But there was this portion which I had somewhat glossed over, when Harry was having that conversation with Dumbledore and the moaning baby on the floor. That was… weird.

And as it’s been some time since I last read the 6th book, I couldn’t remember many things like Draco disarming Dumbledore with regards to the Elder wand’s owner. So I had a good session with my colleague who cleared all my confusion.

Another thing, I was expecting a bit more for Neville since there were hints about him being the Chosen One instead of Harry. Thought there was going to be a twist somewhat.

Eat, Sleep and Grow Fat

I had a great Christmas, spending time with my family in Singapore. Although we went to several shops, I didn't buy anything except a coffee plunger for making (don't cringe, Ron) Chinese/Japanese tea.

It was a Christmas filled with so many presents! Each of us had a Christmas stocking filled with well-thought of gifts from Grace and Matt (I have yet to read the instructions on how to use the cockroach bait).

And the food! Matt and Grace went all out to give us Western meals and made sure the veggies they cooked were what I consumed! Yay! I've never had so much veggies in 4 days! Thank you, from the bottom of my bowels.

We had the traditional turkey, ham and a German pork knuckle for Christmas lunch and I must say this was one of the best turkeys I have eaten in the recent years. It's not too dry nor was it too tough. We ate and ate and ate. Man. Now I have to start thinking of how to get rid of all this festive flab.

Sorry, my photos didn't turn out very well so here's only a couple of shots.

Christmas lunch arrived in a pretty basket

I can almost smell it again...

Matt carving the turkey

Portuguese Settlement

For the many years that I’ve been in Malacca during Christmas, this was the first time I set foot into the Portuguese Settlement and was I really blown away by all the lights!

Apparently every year, they have a friendly competition to see who has decorated their house the best and some houses really decorated every shrub, tree and corner of their homes. Walking along the brightly lit path, flanked by furiously blinking lights from the houses on both sides, some set up booths at their porches to sell Christmas items or food. Most homes had their gates flung open, welcoming visitors and neighbours as children ran from one home to another. I just loved the neighbourhood friendliness of it all.

Martin, my regular belacan supplier who cut his own album on Portuguese songs, walked around with a guitar and sang Christmas carols to add to the festive mood. Many dressed in Santa suits, kids wore elf masks as they surrounded him and sang along with him.

At the Portuguese Square, a stage was set up with massive speakers blasting more Christmas carols surrounded by more stalls.

Here are some photos of the houses. More on my flickr.




I walked away with a warm fuzzy feeling. Next year I’ll be more prepared and take a tripod or a gorillapod for better pictures.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Human Hummingbird

This is my colleague doing the hummingbird. Taken during my company's recent off-site at Bukit Tinggi. We were playing charades and another game which required animal actions and he invented this:


This year, there is tax exemption of RM1000 for books and magazines. So far, I have only spent about RM350. Two more weeks and RM750 more to spend!

The Complete Gary Larson which is over RM500 sounds very tempting. And I've just finished reading James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small, which I enjoyed as I love animals.

Speaking of books, I'm upset to hear that Terry Pratchett is having Alzheimer's.

Company Dinner

How could I forget to blog about this?? Last Saturday my department had a Staff Appreciation Night. We don't have annual dinners nor company trips as my company is huge (with over 7000 employees so logistics would have killed the organisers).

So my department of over 350 staff were treated to a dinner for the first time. And, ahem, because I was one of the staff who were going to receive awards up on stage with my Group Managing Director, I felt like I needed to dress up a little.

So early morning, I rushed to Bangsar Village II (as recommended by my CG member) to do my nails. Unfortunately, I didn't realise I needed an appointment and the staff told me to come back 6 hours later. SIX? Bad Luck #1. So I rushed to another place in Aman Suria, PJ and thank goodness they said they would be available in an hour.

Then, when the girl was doing my nails, she clipped one of my cuticles until it bled. I was in such pain but determined to have my french manicure, I grit my teeth. Oh, and when I stepped out from the shop, late for my hair appointment in Pyramid, there was already bubbles forming under one nail. Bad Luck #2.

Hair studio. Recommended by my colleague. The experienced lady was too busy so I ended up having this young chap do my hair. I felt like I had stepped into one of those old Chinese movies and dressing like the Wong Fei Hong era would have suited my hairstyle to the T. And he had all my hair
pulled from my face, making it rounder than ever. I protested but because there wasn't time, I left with my head down as I ran all the way to my car. Bad Luck #3.

On the way to my friend's place, I decided that I would do something about it. Who cares if I was going to be late. I don't want to feel uncomfortable the entire night when I was supposed to be enjoying myself. So I went to the nail studio again (they were a hair saloon too) and got them to touch it up. I still wasn't totally comfortable with my hair but heck, I resolved that I WOULD enjoy my night, stupid hair, bleeding finger, being late and all.

And heck, I enjoyed myself and took loads of silly photos that night. Will get it from my colleague and post some up soon.

Golden Compass

It was ... so-so. Okay, so I was half expecting it to be of LOTR quality. But because I read the book a long time ago, I had only a vague memory of the plot lines and did remember parts of the movie as it happened. Found it a bit choppy though. Star studded cast with a mix from LOTR (Gimli, Saruman, Gandalf) and James Bond (Daniel Craig and Eva Green). At least I now know the pronunciation of the word daemon.

I'm horrible at movie reviews so I'll stop here. Let's just say I wouldn't go out and acquire myself an original DVD set when all 3 movies come out.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


It’s crappy when your boss leaves before you do. The changes and confusion to come is not something most would look forward to. But above all, when your boss is someone who has evolved into a mentor, that’s when it’s the most crap.

One thing I learnt from this boss is that all of us felt we were believed in, that we could reach that star that seems to be just out of reach. The entire team went beyond our capacities because of this faith. No such thing as a stupid idea. The calm anchor when the storm rages. No such thing as “Don’t you dare speak to me like that!” and believe me, there were many occasions when I went beyond the line. No raised voices. Ever.

Motivation is at an all time low. On one hand, you comfort yourself with a, “Would I get the chance to work with him again in the future?” then you realistically remember that he never has rehired anyone who has worked for him before. Then you start to wonder, “Who were you actually to him that he would want to rehire you again?”

But yes, I will be honored to have that opportunity again, as any of us would.

Earthquakes in Malaysia

Yes folks, we are experiencing earthquakes in Malaysia. It has happened twice already in Bukit Tinggi, Pahang. Both times, it measured a 3+ on the Richter Scale.

And did I ever tell you that I once experienced tremors a couple of months back when there was an earthquake in Indonesia? I staring at my computer screen at work when suddenly felt as though I was having a massive dizziness. Holding my head in my hands, I tried to steady myself when I realized everything was actually moving. My colleague looked up at the same time and we exclaimed “Earthquake!” and we got all excited.

The rest of my colleagues couldn’t feel a thing and declared I was hallucinating.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Youth Camp

I just came back from a Youth Camp, even though I'm no longer a youth. It was rather fun, although I still felt a little out of place, being one of the oldest there. The camp speaker is a senior pastor of a local church who is one year older than me and speaks really well.

The youth had a blast of a time, with games and acting, singing and dancing. I got to be one of the judges! I had a great time watching them perform, laughing throughout the afternoon.

One of the committee actually introduced me as a quiet, gentle-wouldn't-hurt-a-fly girl. And yet at work, I'm known to be the one holding the whip. Two very contrasting characters. Hmmm... perhaps once I get used to the youth, then they'd know me better.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

20 Seconds

You know that question, what would you say to a celebrity should you bump into them in a lift? It just doesn’t happen, you know?

Anyway, yesterday I went for another event, the “Oh hi dah-ling, so good to see you!” of which I have been invited to for the last few weeks, rubbing shoulders with the local celebrities. Now the last party I attended, I crashed into the gigantic pair of scissors that was used for cutting the official ribbon. Plus I got drunk after a couple of sips.

So last night, I went prepared. I had dinner first before going so that I could drink without getting drunk. Upon reaching, I stumbled over the tail of some animal floor mat as I walked in. Luckily, I didn’t crash onto the floor. What a klutz.

As I was about to go home, I was leaving with my colleague when he suddenly turned and greeted someone. I whipped around and saw it was Reshmonu. I extended my hand and exclaimed:
J: Hey! I went to the same uni.. I mean, college with you!
R: Sunway?
J: Yeah! But you probably won’t remember me!
R: Er… sorry! *grin*
J: *stupid grin* (trying to figure if I should whip out my business card)
R: But it’s great to meet you again
J: Yeah! *grin* Ok, see you!

My mental 10-second practice was “Hi! You may not remember me but I was friends with the Sudanese girls when we were in Sunway, do you remember them? You fainted behind one of them after class? Yeah, that one. Oh, by the way, I’m Jo and here’s my business card. Yes, you did the launch last month for my product although I didn’t liaise with you then. But do keep in touch!”

Sigh. I’ll update whatever embarrassing thing I’ll do at the next party.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


I'm reading the news about protesters of a religion that is demanding the execution of a teacher for naming a teddy bear the name of their prophet.

I don't think I need say more.

Corridor Survey

My colleagues and I have been doing a survey on the guys, asking a somewhat sexually harassing question, which always bring a lot of laughter. The question is, which body part of a girl would you normally check out first?

It started off by asking the guys at my office and our husbands first. So here’s my results:

Legs – 4
Boobs - 3
Butt – 3
Face - 3
Waist – 1

So far, the legs category is leading with the others fighting for second place. So right now, boobs look overrated.

The other finding was equally amusing. The reaction of the respondents. Some balked and tried to weasel their way out before finally giving one preference (although these answers would be considered not really accurate – one tried to say “brain” *rolls eyes*). Some have been extremely forthright, “BREASTS!” even as the question left our lips.

We have just embarked on asking the girls which body portion we look at in guys. So far the butt rules.

Rubik's Cube

A couple of weeks ago, I spotted my colleague playing about with a Rubik's cube. He completed it in front of my eyes in 2.45mins. I was hooked.

So I've been practising with a lot of guidance from him and I'm pleased to say that after two weeks, I am now able to complete the entire cube. At this point, I still need to refer the last few steps to a self written manual.

At first I was toying with the idea of getting one myself but when I saw the original selling for RM110 in a shop in Mid Valley, I knew I could live without one! Then another colleague saw one selling for RM2 and got it for me. I'm now happily practising with the the cube that saved me RM108.

It's also funny to see strangers reaction to it when I'm doing it while waiting for my food to appear. They stare with rapt attention. I think this will start a craze here in Malaysia.