Thursday, March 29, 2012

Last journey: Raja Ashman Shah (1958-2012), Mazlan Nordin (1925-2012)

Sheikh Raja Ashman Shah

Another blessed Friday ... another soul has flown.
 إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ
Al-fatihah. My deepest condolences to the family of HRH Raja Ashman Shah ibni Sultan Azlan Shah, the Raja Kecil Sulung of Perak (1958-2012). May Allah (swt) grant them strength and patience in their moment of bereavement.
My most sincere appreciation of his advice to "have only Allah in your heart" and to "stop complaining, consider yourself lucky" during my irregular visits to the zawiyah at Damansara Heights for the Naqshahbandi al-Haqqani zikir sessions.  
For more information, do read

It's been a week since one of Malaysian Journalistic Giant left us.
It always takes me awhile to deal with loss and grief.
Especially if the deceased is a public figure, whom I admire from afar.
His intellect as a journalism mentor, his prolific writings, his ability to write equally well in English and Bahasa, his wide readings, his concise analyses, his tenacity for sharing his take on the world around him, even to his last day on earth ...
Innalillahi wa innalillahi raji'un.
Semoga Allah mencucuri rahmat ke atas roh beliau dan himpunkannya bersama roh mereka yang beriman. Amin

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Stairway To Heaven

You may ask, what does a humanitarian visit to a village in Battambang has to do with one of Led Zeppelin's greatest hits?
Of course, Robert Plant's lyrics have been analysed, dissected and interpreted to refer to a society obsessed with materialism. But I have my own more literal meaning of the song title and lyrics to refer to the pursuit of 'buying' or 'investing' in our 'space' or 'lot' in Heaven, Jannatul Naim, Syurga Firdausi, Paradise.
It may indeed be a parallel or the inverse side of our obsession with the material world - with the scramble for power and wealth, along with the accumulation of gadgets, designer labels, 'stuff' - and our place in the sun, or the lime light.  Just translate or convert that into a fixation on the number of points in terms of heavenly rewards we have earned or the elevation in our spiritual status which will put us above our fellow brethren.
I'm sure many of us have gone through times in our lives when we were haunted by our conscience, guilt and remorse, compelling us to seek redemption and atonement of our past sins.  Times when our souls yearned to be close to our Khaliq. Times when we simply wished we could do away with worldly desires.
But being the social animals that we are, once we are in our own cliques, circles of friends or part of a spiritual fraternity, the herd mentality kicks in and we start to make a distinction between 'us' and 'them'. The haves and the have-nots in the realm of spiritual hierarchy, the more devout and the lesser ones. And how to climb up that spiritual ladder to God's Heavens.
Just like believers of other faiths, many Muslims now believe that they can buy or bribe their way to Heaven's Gate. And there are indeed ustazs/ustazahs (who increasingly now double up as brand ambassadors and motivational speakers) who tell them that money does make a difference, from ensuring their mode of transportation (cows, goats or sheep) to Jannah to protecting them from being preys to proselytising Evangelists.
Talking about ustazs and ustazahs, in my quest to be 'a better Muslim', I have met many who compromised their scruples to please or entertain their customers, clients or members of the audience. Instead of advising their students to refrain from indulging in material excesses, for example, they in turn talked about their expensive purchases to keep up with the well-heeled congregation.
I'm also amazed at the naivete and gullibility of many ladies who patronise talk series at the mosques or lecture halls or enrol themselves in Arabic/tajwid/feqah classes. Pray tell me, how can I have 'istiqamah' (commitment) when I see blatant exploitation and abuses by the speakers and teachers whom I have entrusted my learning to?
Now, when it comes to charity, surely even ustazs have to be made accountable for the money that their students have collected and given to them to improve education among the children in their villages of origin. I, for one, will not rely on blind faith alone when I hear a flippant, verbal report about some MYR40k being 'lost in transit'.  But it's not an enviable position to be when I'm the only one or among the few who could see past the emotional smokescreen.
In any case, what started as an ambitious documentary project to capture the life of a former child refugee made good and the launch of a madrasah (built from donations from my fellow Arabic classmates) at his childhood kampung fizzled off when the battery of my video camera failed to be recharged. Just as well, I don't suppose any producer in his right mind will buy a 'doco' on the 'opening' of a incomplete school building (gaping door and window frames, sans tables and chairs).
To add salt to injury, only two hours were allocated for our visit to Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat (since we were not supposed to be in awe of any monument built to honour Hindu and Buddhist deities). Forget about visits to the museums, handicraft centres or cultural performances - they were not even listed in the itinerary.
A rather patchy recollection of Battambang:
The statue of the prince who lost his fighting stick in the river, Stung Sanke, which cuts across the predominantly rural province. We were told that Battambang literally means 'the lost stick'.
The markets in Battambang province reminds me of the 'pekan sari' (day markets) in rural Selangor. You can find fresh produce, such as 'limau' (tangerines) in the big baskets in the foreground, as well as assorted preserved meats, such as charcoal-broiled pheasants, and fermented fish and shrimps from the languid Sanke river.
Pity, we didn't get to ride on this make-shift bamboo train.

We passed by these flimsy huts every morning, afternoon and evening on our way to Kampung Nuria, where we had our meals, from the Stung Sanke Hotel where we stayed throughout our three-day visit to Battambang province. Many of these ragged riverine settlements, including our ustaz's family hovel, were swept away by strong currents which surged through the swollen river during major floods. On our last evening there, most of the entourage except for me, Kak Julie (Sudiro) and another lady, went on a boat ride which took them to the cleaner, up scale down town area and back to the derelict Muslim district.

The river bank in the down town area during the Annual Water Festival, normally held in October.

It may not be the esplanade by the Seine but it might be quite pleasant to walk by the riverside in down town Battambang. There was a bridge "that Mahathir built" over the Stung Sanke but I've yet to receive pictures via e-mail or FB from fellow travellers or to get someone to edit my video recording.

This must be the cleanest part of the province, apart from the diplomatic enclave which we viewed from our hotel room.

I always look forward to greet the twin sentinels guarding the main entrance of the Stung Sanke Hotel as soon as we alighted from the 'tuk tuks' which took us to and from the ustaz's relatives' homes or the surrounding areas.
It was always a delight to behold the 'dewi apsaras' (celestial nymphs) in the cool, sophisticated interior of the hotel lobby after a long, hot day in the rustic, dusty outdoors.

On the fourth day, we finally managed to depart from Kampung Nuria and Battambang province and head back to Siem Reap. After a heavy buffet lunch of 'nasi campur' at Restoren d'Wau, we checked in at the pink lodging house in the background.

Over lunch at d'Wau, we (me and my room mate, Dato' Hasnah) encountered and chatted with a couple of Malaysian visiting professors from the Asia-Europe Institute (UM) and the owner/operator of a Malaysian resort hotel about 1km around the corner from our lodging. He invited us to view his premises when we returned from sightseeing and shopping.

It was past 3PM when we finally boarded the coach that took us to the heritage complex which showcased  Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat. It took just a few minutes to register and have our individual photos taken for the visitor passes. The road that led us to Angkor Thom was rather serene, with tall trees and thick bushes concealing scattered ruins and broken statues on both sides. The parking area, on the left of the South Gate, was jam packed with tour buses, vans, tuk-tuks and various modes of transportations. On the right, by the hillside and under the shady trees, were several souvenir stalls and an elephant stand. As I walked past the stone statues that lined the road bridge to the ornately carved archway, I felt like a brazen intruder - touching, sensing, capturing whichever parts of the once sacred temple that I could lay my hands and eyes on.
Angkor Wat - the largest religious structure in the world; you don't really get a sense of that until you're there - it feels as large as it looks
This is not the best shot of Angkor Wat. The discoloured crumbling parapets, the randomly laid out pathway to the shrine, which seemed to be shrouded in some old, mossy gauze. High or late noon is not the best time to view the architectural enigma. It is better viewed at a distance, especially at sunrise or sunset. The moat which surrounds the temple complex, with water lilies covering its murky waters, adds to the mystique.
NB: I'm indebted to youtube and various websites/blogs for the video clip and photographs in this post.