It’s the Little Things

Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us could do great things, but we could do small things with great love.”

* * *

March 2010. It was almost sunset. We were on our way down from Kuala Terengganu to Kijal. I was looking hard for wedding presents for a friend who’s getting married that April, but I could not find anything suitable yet. We wondered whether any shops would be open at this time of the day, as it’s almost prayer time.

We stopped by at a small road-side shop selling home decorative crafts (and some useful stuff too), mainly made of mengkuang and rattan. An elderly man came to greet me and showed me around his dusty little shop. For every item I touched, he’d tell me the price, followed by its discounted rate. He followed me around but not in an uncomfortable distance.

Honestly I couldn’t find anything for my friend.

It could have been any other shopkeeper, but this man is different. He is kind, patient and polite. Even when the sun almost setting, he did not ask me questions about why was I still running around at that hour, why was I accompanied by just two ladies, where are the men, etc. He did not grumpily follow me around with a close distance. He did not make any kinds of faces other than a friendly face.

So I bought two items from him, which I found the use a few months later.

* * *

I was in a mamak shop in Kota Damansara very recently. I was eating mee goreng mamak and obviously the sides of my mouth started to feel oily. As there were no tissues, I wiped the oil with my little finger, intending to ask for a piece of tissue from the waiter.

I did not need to ask for one, as when I looked up, one of the waiters was already walking towards my table with tissues in his hands.

Similar thing happened a few years back when I was having lunch with a fine gentleman in a mamak shop. The mee goreng had just been served, and I turned my head to the counter. This gentleman immediately stood up and get the tissues from me, even when I have yet to face the counter.

* * *

My tailor had a problem this Eid season. She got pregnant so she was a little unwell, making it impossible for her to finish all the stitching.

I was told by my mother that she called the day before and told my mother that she could only finish one set of baju kurung for us. So I went to her shop just a few minutes from my parents’ place on the day before Eid. Only her sister was there.

The sister showed me a pair of green baju kurung and it wasn’t mine. She told me that that’s the only pair of baju kurung that she was told to give away. The rest is still not done.

Now that’s not a good news to hear, especially a few hours before Eid. So I asked her, are you sure? As it was my mother who told me that the baju were done, it MUST be ready by now. The girl just stood there and said there are no other pair of clothes done. Just the ones that she showed me just now.

I asked her again, are you sure that it’s not placed anywhere else in the shop? The shop is kind of messy so it might be hidden somewhere. But she was still standing at the same spot and repeating the same answer.

Out of desperation I started searching for them myself. I went through the cupboard and another rail of clothes, and the stack of bags at one corner of the shop (this tailor usually puts the finished clothes back into the bag we sent them in). I managed to find our bag but the only thing in there were the sari material that have yet to be stitched, not the green ones i was looking for.

I wasn’t entirely annoyed that the clothes weren’t done. We have other nice baiu kurung that we could wear during Eid.

What made me angry was that the girl did not even make an attempt to help me with the search. She stood at the desk with her handphone in her hand and a passive face telling me if it’s not this green one then it’s not done.

You see, at least, even when she’s so convinced that the baju kurung was not done, just go through the shop and look, at least an act, just to show that she actually cared, and at least reassure me that she will confirm with her sister afterwards.

* * *

There is a ward in this hospital that is taken care of by a specialist. He has never shown any appreciation towards any of his staff, be it the nurses or the doctors. No kind words of encouragement ever escaped his mouth.

One fine week, he was not around. Another specialist took over for the week. One day this person was doing rounds with the rest of the staff, and as always, the house officer would present to him the cases, helped by the medical officer.

After the house officer finished talking about he patient, the specialist said, “very good.”

The nursing sister of the ward who heard that felt very light in the heart, as if her troubles melted away. Just because of the simple kind words that was given by the specialist.

This particular specialist is rather generous with his praises. Those who worked with him regularly were used to it, and at times don’t think that half the praises were deserved.

But for those staff who were deprived of any kinds of appreciation, a simple phrase like that made a huge difference to their day.

* * *

Narrated ‘Aisha R.A, The Prophet Muhammad SAW was asked, “What deeds are loved most by Allah?” He said, “The most regular constant deeds even though they may be few.” He added, ‘Don’t take upon yourselves, except the deeds which are within your ability.”
– Sahih al Bukhari, The Book of Heart-Softening Narrations, No. 6057

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We Were Supposed To…

Those trips that never happened.

We were supposed to go around the country
Driving through the old roads
Stopping in small towns, discovering new things
Maybe go into the national park
Or Tasik Kenyir

We were supposed to go to Kuantan
Visit his old joints
Eat at that Japanese restaurant, if it still exists
Then drive up to Kemaman
To have some drinks at Hai Peng coffee shop
Just the two of us

Then we were supposed to go to Penang
Visit my old joints
Eat at Amandari, with its nice Malay food
Walk along Feringghi beach
Have durians from Balik Pulau

We were supposed to visit Sabah again
Our first trip was just amazing
The second would be deeper in the jungles

We were supposed to go to Perth
For a few days, just the two of us
Looked for shopping areas, because that’s what she loves
Travel around town, or perhaps go to the outskirts
But I did not get days off

We were supposed to go to Turkey
The three of us, and her parents
Trying all sorts of delicacies
Visiting the historical sites

We were supposed to go
All over the place
But then we moved on with life

She moved out of the country
He moved out of my life
She got married and went on with her life
She has exams, just like myself

I won’t stop planning
There’s someone else who can come with me
Someone dear and precious
Even when we don’t share the same interests
But she knows me very well, and I know her too

Here’s to many more hours of travelling
Of discovering new places
Meeting new people
Opening our eyes
And our hearts too

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Gym

Today in the afternoon I sat in the library, as usual, trying to study. Monday was a productive day, Tuesday was alright, but today…today I lost all focus. Maybe it was the mediocre scrambled egg set I had in the cafe, maybe it’s the lack of caffeine (I’m not a coffee addict, though), or maybe it’s just one of those days.

I already planned to work out in the gym after work, but with the poor progress with my studying, I considered cancelling that plan. After all, they said we need to leave everything else and get focused for this (super expensive) final part of exams.

Late afternoon we had a teaching session with a dear friend of ours. I had so many flaws and obviously am not ready for the exams, but I felt good because I could scrutinise myself positively. Now I could see where I’m lacking and how I could improve myself.

Then I decided, as the studying progress had improved a little, I could spend some time in the gym.

The traffic was super good, I got my favourite parking spot, but the gym is (as Dato always complained) warm and crowded. That’s fine with me. At least people are moving towards healthier lifestyle.

I put on my Sony walkman (I don’t carry my smartphone around, a habit since endocrine rotation days), then I started my routine on the treadmill.

As I walked faster, my heart pumped more quickly, a smile begin to appear on my face.

I put on more upbeat songs (it seems that I have more slow ballads in my playlist…erk!); one of those is Shanti and Marcel’s Hanya Memuji.

By the time I reached 15 minutes, I had Lady Gaga’s Born This Way on. My steps faster, I put the inclination higher, I was so happy that I thought I could dance and jump on the treadmill itself.

I was also pretty sure that I could work hard enough to pass this exam.

“Believe capital H.I.M….I’m beautiful in my way, coz God makes no mistakes….I’m on the right track, baby, I was born to SURVIVE!!!”

Of course, I can!

I came down from the treadmill after my targeted time finished. I had a bit of a drink, and continued my workout on another machine for another 15 minutes.

As I came down, Michael Buble’s Haven’t Met You Yet was on.

“I might have to wait, I’ll never give up,
I guess it’s half timing, and the other half’s luck.”

I felt so cheerful like I could start dancing on the gym floors itself.

Obviously I did NOT do that.

“I’m in the room, it’s a typical Tuesday night, listening to the kind of music she doesn’t like. She’ll never know your mommy like I do..you’ve got a smile that could light up this whole town..”

Evil. Heheh..THE big joke of the year is on me.

Anyway..

I’ve worked in medicine for almost 8 years now. I’ve seen people suffering from diabetes-related complications, obesity complications, and I have to say, personally, I think they suffer more than cancer patients. Their quality of life is worse, and it gets worse when they are admitted to the hospital.

I looked around the gym and I won’t be surprised if any one of them suffered a heart attack, or end up with diabetes anyway. Even for myself, in fact.

But at least we tried. It’s that part in us that whispered to us to be thankful of the health we’re rewarded, to take good care of it while we can. It’s that survival instinct, and perhaps, in some of us, belief that it will all be taken away especially when we take it for granted.

In Islam, it’s the effort that matters, Allah will decide on the endpoint. Whatever He decided for us, is His will. Everything is good, as long as He’s happy.

* * *

I have to say, the euphoria that I experience during workout (be it in the gym, or playing squasy with my dear friend, or swimming with my little sister and cousins), I’ve never felt anything like it elsewhere, doing some other things. It’s that endorphin surge while we exercise, and focus on it, that makes us cheerful.

And studies showed that the feeling lasts long after exercise.

Multi-level marketing people might sell their health supplements claiming that they could get healthy without exercise. They could slim down and get that wanted muscle bulk without having to work it out. “Avoid all those injuries,” they say.

They could all drink and eat whatever vitamins they want, but I’m pretty sure they have never appreciated the mood and motivational surge that we feel during and after exercise, to be saying all that.

For a person like me, I definitely need all that motivation and mood lifts I could get.
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Religious Intolerance

We are all in need of a little more respect for each other.

* * *
First let me explain a few things.

Azan is a call to prayer that is done five times a day, according to the five obligatory prayer times that Muslims are supposed to perform. In the olden days when there were no speakers, it was called from the top of a minaret, so that more people could hear it. These days the minaret would bear the loudspeakers.

The prayer times are set according to the position of the sun throughout the day. It starts with the break of dawn and finishes when there is total absence of sunshine. The time varies throughout the year in accordance to the position of the earth in relation to the sun.

Azan is not done to show off how faithful we are, and not done because we are afraid of losing our faith. It is a medium to call for prayers, with specific words glorifying God, acknowledging Prophet Muhammad and call to succeed in life.

* * *
We have lived together in this country for so many years yet there still are people who could not tolerate differences in our daily needs. Even worse, it is sad that it seems like there are more intolerance these days than there ever was before.

Before someone comes along and say, “Easy for you, you are a Muslim and you like the loud azan. What about the rest of us?” let me tell you about my own story.

I live in between two houses of Buddhists. They burn their joss sticks and prayer papers everyday. The thing about burning is, the papers fly into other houses, and yes, everyday I would find the debris in my porch. MY porch.

You see, I don’t have kids who would play in the porch, no husband who would make all sorts of mechanics or carpentering in the porch, and my car doesn’t leak oil. So my porch is supposed to be clean. But no. I could see rubbish strewn all over my porch every single day, and they are NOT mine.

What do I do? Well, I’d sweep off all the rubbish and debris that obviously came from my neighbour’s house, and put them in MY own dustbin, not theirs. Why? Because I know they need to perform their worship, that it makes them happy, and perhaps will make them nice people too. So what if some rubbish happen to be carried into my own porch by the wind?

That does not include the smell of the smoke coming from both houses. They drift into my nose every morning and cause me to sneeze, and in worse days, cough, as I have sensitive nose and airways. I really love fresh air and I don’t get that because of the daily, early morning burning. Did I shout offensive words at them? No. Because they are fulfilling their spiritual needs, the way I fulfil mine.

I lived in Dublin many years ago and there were many churches in the city. On Sunday mornings, the bells would start clanging loudly to call the Catholics to the churches for their congregation. I had no reason to complain, and believe me, none of my friends who still stay over there had the reason to complain. They went on with their lives and have their Sunday morning sleep-ins despite all the bells clanging left right and center.

If I stay in India, let’s say in an area where there are many Hindu temples, I’m pretty sure I’d hear their bells ringing everyday, from early morning. Their people will be chanting in prayers and the crowd may be large. But does that give me the rights to complain?

The thing is, tolerance is what we decide to tolerate. There are so many other annoying, disturbing things in our daily lives that we chose to tolerate but why are we picky when it comes to religion? Just because there are some pseudo-religious people out there who act like jerks, or who are actual jerks, does not mean every faithful person is like that.

For example, our neighbours dogs. Some are well behaved but some bark at random things at random times, even in the wee hours of the morning or in the middle of the night. You might argue, dogs can’t control themselves but human beings should be able to think. But you see, if the dogs are disturbing the neighbours then why can’t the owner SELL the dogs? It’s under their control, right?

But no. We don’t tell our neighbours to sell their dogs. Most of the time we don’t even tell them that their barks has annoyed us, disturb us from studying, from sleeping, wake our babies up when they have just fallen asleep. Why? Because we chose to tolerate their barks, our neighbours love their dogs, and we love our neighbours!

Another example, people staying near a busy main road, or a hospital. I’m pretty sure many people of all race and religion stay in a noisy area, where the traffic is busy from 6am to 10pm. The grounds and buildings would shake if large lorries pass by, ambulances pass by with their sirens every five minutes. All the sounds and bustling could have woken any sleeping babies up, and disturb any sick person.
I did live like that for one year, then I moved to a quieter place but with joss sticks burning around me every morning.

Why did we choose to tolerate that situation? Nobody posted on their Facebook walls, swearing about how noisy the lorries were. Many of those lorries did NOT respect the rule that they can’t use the city main roads during rush hours anyway, but nobody gave a care. Why?

Because we chose to understand that perhaps their journey is necessary. The ambulances need to be loud. The cars need to leave early for work.

So if you could respect people’s need for money, why can’t you respect people’s need for spiritual fulfilment?

Maybe our society is not as spiritual as we were before. Let me say that spirituality is a lot like love, you can only understand it if you have experienced it. It is such a sensitive issue because for many people, spirituality and/or faith is closer to our hearts than our own parents, our own children. Therefore, lack of respect from others hurt even more than seeing our kids fall from a swing.

It doesn’t hurt to pay attention to each other’s feelings once in a while, and respect (or even celebrate) our differences. We ALL have practices, habits or even pets that would have intruded our neighbour’s lives, so it’s worth considering some respect and tolerance.

* * *

I wouldn’t say that there is no way around it. I know that it some places the azan sound louder than other areas. Like my housing area, I can’t hear any, or on the days that it’s audible, it’s very faint. Back in my kampung, I could hear azan from 13 mosques, but it’s all fine because we’re all Muslims.

I would suggest that if the are has more non Muslim than Muslim population, perhaps they would want to turn down the volume a little, especially in the morning. Or maybe shorten the duration of the azan, keeping is simple without melody, just enough to call Muslims to prayer. In those areas, maybe you’d want to keep the morning azan once rather than twice, as it is true, some people may have insomnia, or unwell, or young babies who are light sleepers.

I would also suggest the imams to switch off the loudspeakers outside the mosques when they start praying (especially in the non-Muslim majority areas). The short azan may be tolerable enough but to read long verses of Quran very loudly in the morning for the whole housing area to hear may not be acceptable for many.

You might say that the azan and Quranic verses would bring peace to our hearts. Yes, it is, for us Muslims, and some religious people of other faiths. But not for many other non-Muslims. They don’t understand it, and for them it’s all noise. In order to live along peacefully together, we need to give up some things, and the rest need to give up some too.

If the mosque is in an all Muslim or Muslim majority area, it’s really up to the community and the mosque itself.

Discussing peacefully is obviously better than swearing at the whole Muslim population on Facebook, isn’t it? Such an obnoxious behaviour only reflects your upbringing and/or your inner peace (or lack of it), if one day you decide to show off your disrespectful side.

Dear Muslims, the most important message that I want to share is please, PLEASE answer that call to prayer. Please answer that azan. Wake up early, drive to the masjid, pray in congregation. The reason for the increasingly controversial azan is to call us to prayer. So what is the point of fighting for it, when we don’t answer it?

Be thankful of what we have. Our Muslim brothers in the west do not have this privilege of calling for prayers to the community, they could only spread the azan inside their mosques. Being thankful is answering that call to prayer and come in congregation to the masjid. As we all believe, Allah will take back whatever we aren’t thankful for, so let us show our gratitude to Him by answering this call to prayer.

As much as we want them to respect us, we need to respect them, and respect ourselves. Be fair, be kind, be understanding. If we believe that Prophet Muhammad was sent as a mercy to mankind, then let’s be merciful. Let’s live up to it.

For the best dakwah is with our akhlak. Our good character.20140803-223547-81347902.jpg

The Sacrifice

Today my father made me cry.

The day started early. We sent our (little) sister Nadia to the airport as she’s flying back to wherever she’s studying. That was quite early in the morning. Then we went for roti canai, I went to the gym after that, then come back for a big lunch in Cik Fuah’s place next door.

That’s where it happened.

We were talking about little kids flying. My uncle Wak Halim has five very young grandchildren (age 4 years old and below), four of them needed to travel on the airplane for this festive season. Some cried the whole journey and some would not cry if the flight is on daytime. Then my mother said, one of my brothers would cry for the whole journey (when he was a baby, of course), and would only be pacified by playing in the sink at the back of the airplane.

I said, “Well, Nadia used to cry only during take-off and landing.”

Then my father said, “She used to cry when YOUR plane took off.”

My eyes started to well up.

He explained to the rest, “She’d cry whenever we sent Maya to the airport all those years ago when she was studying. Then embah used to try to pacify her. She’d say, softly, ‘your sister went there to study…'”

I cried.

Not the sobbing kind of cry but my tears flowed rather steadily.

* * *
She used to count down to the day I get home. She would circle the date, and cross the calendar everyday up to the day I come back.

Now I would do the same for her.

Maria Elena

“Do you have a sister?” they would ask.

I’d wonder, they can’t be talking about my own sister, because she doesn’t resemble me that much, and she’s much younger than me or anyone who asked that question.

So I’d say, “I do, but I’m sure you’re not asking about her. Why did you ask?”

“You remind me of Maria Elena, the blogger. Is she a relative of yours? You have similar features.”

Not once, not twice.
A few times.
Nurses, junior doctors, patients.

* * *
We happened to share the same name.

I’m Maria Syamsi, not Maria Elena. Well, Syamsi is actually my grandfather’s nick name when he was studying in a religious school in Perak decades ago. My name is Maria. Just Maria.

Which is confusing because in this country, just knowing the name is not enough. If people have not met you, they’d want to know whether you’re Malay, Chinese, or Indian. Speaking on the phone to me apparently would not make it clearer as to what I am. My friend’s parents told me once that their staff were all wondering what I look like, and more importantly (for them), what I am.

So I was rambling there.

I blog, obviously, but of course, my blog is not as popular as hers. I guess it’s good for me, because when this blog came to people’s attention in September 2013 because of one blog article, I freaked out. I wrote the piece before I was on call, left it for the whole 48 hours, and came back to find out that it has reached more than the unbelievable 50,000 hits. So I freaked out.

It’s alright for me to have a smaller crowd, although I do want to share with more people when I write about lessons on life and death that I learnt along the way, throughout my job as a doctor, and the rest of the day as a Muslim woman.

Yes, I’m a doctor, not an engineer.

I (wish I) sell muffins, not jubah.

I’m not that concerned about my clothes either.

I did study overseas, though.

* * *

She does look like my mother’s youngest sister, a little bit, who actually looks like my mother. But I don’t look like my mother. Neither do look like my father. I don’t know. I did resemble him when I was younger, especially when I was in school, but not anymore.

Looking at my most recent photos, I look different compared to even two years ago. Or that’s what I think.

Maybe it’s just age.

I guess people do change as they age. Like he-who-must-not-be-named, he looks more and more like his Pakistani grandfather these days compared to eight years ago when I first met him, or even five years ago when he left.

Anyway, I watched her video and I think Maria Elena does look like my father’s cousin, who is the daughter of his youngest uncle. She’s really pretty and cheerful and sweet, and no, I don’t look like her either.

But then I saw her photo in her huge glasses. That’s when I saw the resemblance.

* * *

Our blogs couldn’t be more different. Mine has a (very) serious tone that probably does not appeal to many. Having said that, I’m not really that serious a person. I can’t stand being too serious at work, it would be nice to crack some jokes or at least have a light-hearted environment. Personally it helps push my work efficiency. Being too serious is just boring.

And I have very poor attention span.
Well, unless you can tell me a very nice story.
That’s why I rarely go to the movies. Well, number one, it’s too much hassle for me. Number two, you waste two hours of your life just sitting there eating pop corns, while you don’t even know whether the movie would satisfy you or not.
That’s just my take on movies anyway.

* * *

I have to admit, this whole article is mere ramblings. I had considered putting this into a video and upload it in youtube but my father said a big no before I even seriously consider it. Hahah.

* * *

It doesn’t matter, does it, whether we look similar, or whether we love fashion or not.

For me, what matters most is we should use our talents, energy and influence to do more good and spread more good. As a Muslim, we should inject some elements of dakwah whenever we find that chance.

:)

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Pantun Sutera dan Songket

Pabila mendung awan kelabu,
Turunlah hujan guruh mendatang;
Pabila gandum disulam tebu,
Itulah manisan untuk dihidang.

Tubuh layu hatiku gundah,
Tidak berdaya mendendang inang;
Buah nyiur diparut sudah,
Tinggal ditambah si batang pinang.

Bahtera sultan menongkah lalu,
Zapin dan joget jadi hiburan;
Sutera nian dialun bayu,
Sampin songket tenunan menawan.

Halus bisikan hiasi malam,
Pungguk bimbang kasihnya ke mana;
Manis senyuman mewangi alam,
Umpama bintang meneman purnama.

Lamunan bercambah terhabis masa,
Saat berharga yang dilepaskan;
Ampunan didamba dari Yang Esa,
Segala khilaf dimaaf insan.

Mawar di laman, melata dahlia,
Begitu sifat hutan seribu;
Biar aman serata dunia,
Itulah hajat di dalam kalbu.

Kiambang tasik tidak berpaut,
Bunganya merah menghias titi;
Andainya kasih bisa bertaut,
Cukuplah sudah hasrat di hati.

Hati ceria di Aidilfitri,
Senyum berseri bila bersua;
Hari raya berlalu pergi,
Hidup ini teruskan jua.

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