Monday, November 29, 2010

Of Sean, Sam And Petom's Soul

Sean Penn made me watching Sam Dawson in him, when I jolly well knew that myself is not any movie fan.
But few nights ago, over HBO, I saw Sam in Sean and I saw Petom in Sam.

'I Am Sam' is, to me, a good but narrative and insipid Hollywood movie that touches a mental condition that most people would usually not giving a second thought to it.
'I Am Sam' is about Sam Dawson whose normal daughter, Lucy Diamond (Dakota Fanning) is taken away by the court.
Sam, a mentally retarded man with the mental capacity of a 7-year-old, fights for custody of his 7 year old daughter, Lucy Diamond, named after one of the Beatles song, as he is obsessed with the group.

Lucy's mother is a homeless woman whom Sam had a fling with, who abandons him and their daughter as they leave the hospital.


Sam works at a Starbucks but as Lucy coming to the age of seven, she intentionally hold back to avoid looking smarter than her father as Sam's limitations start to become a problem at her school.

The court intervened as it do not advocate severely developmentally challenged folks becoming parents, as the situation can lead to child's unbecoming future.
The authorities take Lucy away.

They had Lucy's best interests in mind, without realising they are doing a despicable act on Sam.
Lucy, while being observed, said to Sam, "I want no other daddy but you."

Then, she turns to the glass and shouts, "Did you hear that? I said I didn't want any other daddy but him. Why don't you write that down?"

When the court asks her, she said, "All you need is love."

Along the custody process, Sam shames his selfish high-priced lawyer Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer), into taking his case pro bono.
Along the custody process too, Sam teaches cold-hearted lawyer Rita, about family value.
Lucy, amidst her father's disability, is a happy child but Rita, with all her success and wealth, brings up a miserable, lonely son.
Rita and her husband had both fail as a parent.

In the process, Rita learns a great deal about family love, and with the help of Rita, Sam finally gets Lucy back with an arrangement that Lucy's foster mother, Randy Carpenter (Laura Dern), who Lucy lived with, during the trial period, help to raise her.


'I Am Sam', a 2001 American drama film, written and directed by Jessie Nelson and Kristine Johnson, and Petom, stuck in her real-life drama, way back before 2001 and way back before I even knew her - her not reel-drama being written and directed by the society at large.

Sam, a man with a developmental disability, lived in Los Angeles, worked at Starbucks, and the sole guardian of his six-year-old intelligent daughter Lucy, after her mother abandoned them.
Cruel as it was, while in preparation for a custody case, Lucy was taken away from Sam by a social worker who turned up at her seventh birthday party, allowing Sam two supervised visits per week.

Petom, with the same mental of Sam, was at home all her life, had never work, so she can be easily lured and worked on by men, old men, very old men, who were always on the pretext of leaving early for the morning prayers.

Whenever Petom was seen holding or bringing back her favourite breakfast, a packet of 50sen nasi lemak in mid-morning, almost all the villagers will knew that very soon, the village midwife will be kept busy, will often visiting her house as Petom will be indoor at all time.

During these time, all the men, old men, very old men, as if by co-incidence, did not easily lure her with the 50sen breakfast, until she delivered one of their many children.

Petom delivered these men's children to the world, without ever holding and nurturing them.

Yes, Petom is the mother of many (?)  children.
These babies would soon be 'given away' by those who assumed she was always in oblivion state when in fact, she knew and could relate happily to me well, how it was having babies kicking inside her and what was it like when in labour.

While Petom had been a mother many (?) times over, her mental dysfunction robbed her of even a whirl parenthood.
As she said, she understood herself well, but even normal people, like her parents, do not bring up normal children.
Some normal parents just happen to have children, just like her.
She claimed, normal people can be bad parents too.

As she said, should there be parenting courses for people like her, she would be more than willing to attend classes, so as to be able to shower her eternal motherly love to her many (?) children.


I see her well reasoning in wanting, if possible, to raise her own kids, is not a passe statement.
It will be voiced again and again, by people like her, with some form of mental disability.
Her yearning heart was not voiced then, to her surroundings.
Even when she did, those people who assumed are having the best mind among the best, 'fit to think', will think, and will take action, on her behalf.

I had acquainted Petom from a distance, always through a third party, who will think, will judge, and took action, on her behalf.
Myself then, had always wanted to be part of the 'sane society', too.


When Sam's high-powered lawyer Rita fought for his right, Petom had her right violated, with no understanding and motherly support from other mothers.

Unlike Lucy's mother who chose to abandon her and her father, Petom had never choose to abandon her children and her men, but all her heartless evil men were all not ashamed of the absent responsibilities they all share, towards her, her children, and their children.
It was the society that chose to determine Petom's children's welfare and future.

Petom, like Sam, with all their limitations, were well-adjusted, at times.
So, she knew by face and by name, who the men were with him, and their houses, and their families.
Who had her the most, and who were with her, the least.


Sam was blessed with his supportive group of friends with the same mental disabilities.
He was able to provide a conducive environment in caring for Lucy, who soon surpasses his mental ability, with the help of his kind neighbour too.

Petom had kind neighbours too, who often saw, amidst the early morning darkness, who the men, old men, very old men were, who often mentioned the 50sen nasi lemak near her room - but they chose to blame Petom solely for all the babies that she bore and gave birth to.
'Her kind neighbours' chose not to blame the men, old men, very old men out of not wanting to cause rift of neighbourly relationships.
Petom's parents were at their wits end for having bias neighbours.


For having bestowed with maternal instinct, come Mondays, Petom would stationed herself at the nearby government polyclinic as she knew come Mondays, mothers would bring their babies and toddlers for checkups and appointments.
She would stand by at the gate, befriending unsuspecting mothers with babies, and would eagerly volunteered to carry them into the clinic, just for the sake of getting close to 'her own babies which she never get the chance to even hold them'.

She was always already at the clinic whenever I had my appointments, all ready, preparing to hold babies, anybody's babies, for that matter, and I was once one of the unsuspecting mothers too.
Although reluctant, I gave in to her, as she gazed with pleading eyes.
At once, her maternal love radiates a warm glow that was never before seen and felt.

But it was short lived, as a nurse grabbed my baby from her as she was happily relating her experience of having babies.
The nurse scolded and shooed her away, warning her of never to come in close contact with babies again, fearing of her kidnapping them.

Petom left the clinic crying her heart out, just like Sam, whom at the trial, broke down after opposing counsel convinced him that he is not capable of being a father.


Lucy had her friends teasing her for having a 'retard' as a father, and she becomes too embarrassed to accept that she is more intellectually advanced than her father, Sam.
And Petom's parents were too embarrassed with the society, especially the villagers, even as how wrong the villagers might be.

Never in the parents' wildest dream that they have had a daughter like Petom, or a son like Seman, whom some of the men, old men, very old men, who befriended Seman's sister, taught and passed their 'skills' to Seman.

So, Seman could be found coming out from the house wearing baju kurung, very early before dawn, on the pretext of leaving early for morning prayers, but hid himself among bushes, 'exposing' himself to unsuspecting passers-by.

Petom and Seman's parents, did have a 'normal' married daughter, whom after their marriage, as it was known, the husband, and not the wife, who took the daily planning pills.


Unlike helping Sam's parental rights, had helped lawyer Rita herself, with her family problems and repairing her relationship with her son, but Petom's life revolved around the village, the villagers and the society, who, altogether, had prejudge her with their undisputed judgment - she is, until today, a village menace who needs no sympathy, and her presence is best ignored, by those neighbours who had used her,
by families of neighbours who had abused her,
and by neighbours who knew of neighbours who had exploited her mental develpoment disability.

Through 'I Am Sam', I am able to have a better understanding of Petom - she knew what she had wanted all along: Seeing her children.
But what she needed: Holding them, was not even met.

Such a wisdom taken by the 'sane society',
the wisdom that is still existing until today.  

'I Am Sam' offered me a unique twists of reel-life 'sane society' versus all the real-life mental disabilities saga.

Should I be able to turn back the clock...
If I could, I surely would be trying.

But I had just recently found out,
Petom had just recently passed away. 


Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Haj - There Is Always Leeway For HIS Special Guest

It was very unlikely that Sarah would hide from me about her husband's Haj pilgrimage.

Her sisters, whom we met at their mother's house, could not answer on her behalf, as Sarah is more open to me about almost everything of hers, than with them.

I had just knew that Mus, her husband, is now performing the final Islamic pillars when we went to her mother's house for Eidul Adha visit last Sunday. 


Sarah's mother was once minding my children when they were small, although she has seventeen children of her own. 
Now, after my children are all adult, our families' relationship is as good as ever. 
Until today, I tried to make a point to visit Sarah's mother, once in a month or two. 
The elderly lady never fails her yearly 'Aidilfitri visit to my house, as according to her children, I have always a very special place in their mother's heart. 

After I moved to town, not too faraway from Sarah's working place in Tropical Inn, Sarah became much closer to me as she would spent her Saturdays in my house, bringing her workmates along, always having her favourite dish, Chicken Rice. 
During the 90s, the dish was not served in many Malay foodstalls in JB, so I often cooked it as it's good for growing children too, having garlic and ginger in it. 
Now, I could not remember when was the last time since my last cooking of Chicken Rice, as it is now being sold at almost every stalls.  


When Sarah, in her early 20s, decided to marry Mus, she spent most of her decision moments at my house.

Mus, more than twenty years her senior, is very much older than Sarah's eldest sibling, and only a couple of years younger than her mother - they were married anyway, and stayed in Sarawak where Mus was stationed. 
She would drop by my place whenever she was in JB, to have her Chicken Rice. 
She came back to JB upon Mus's retirement from his high ranking government post. 

Unlike his former working colleagues who make the best of knowing the right contact, Mus, somehow, struggled with his post-retirement, for wanting to lead a clean living and earning an honest income for his five family members. 
To supplement his income, beside the monthly pension, Mus had experienced working as a pump attendant, and a gardener too. 

Today, when he is off-duty, he can usually be found in one of the mosque in his housing estate, where he volunteered his service since more than ten years ago.  


Mus had always wanted to perform his pilgrimage, possibly, with his wife too.
But with Malaysia's waiting list of 500,000 prospective pilgrims, their queue will only surface in 2024.
Sarah was worried as Mus will be in his 70s then, and she has doubt about her husband being fit to perform without difficulties.
Then, there's finance to look into.

We had to assure him, Haji Mabrur is more about our intentions and more about our hearts.
Just stay focus, set the year for our departure to visit HIS house, and the rest, soul searching...

Being one of HIS invited guest is not about quota allocated by Saudi or personal finance.
Mus very much doubted it, as much as I doubted that too - when Tabung Haji called me in 2005, to say the agency was sending my airplane ticket via Poslaju to be shown to Singapore's Islamic Council (MUIS), I was surprised too.


We talked about his much anticipated Haj during the recent 'Aidilfitri visit.
We assured him finance is not an issue, as we had assured others, who were raring to go, or whom we think duty is upon us to make their dreams come true, or to ask them, especially the elderlies with no means, to make their holy journeys.
It's not only Haj, but also when filial duty or responsibilities are severed because of living difficulties.

InsyaALLAH there is always ways for the insufficence to be met, but Mus was severely depressed when his application was being turned down by Tabung Haji again.


I called Sarah on Monday.
She is still in a state of shock and disbelieve as she related her story.

She is confused about informing others of her husband's Haj pilgrimage, lest, as she said, others would think she is bragging about it.
I had to assure her that informing others of our journey to visit HIS house is not about bragging, as I would usually go to her  mother's house informing the lady about my journey.

I had to tell her, upon Mus's return, it is now her husband's duty, to inform her sixteen siblings with their spouses, of their duty to complete their pillars.
Most of them should have been there many years ago, as it is only Sarah and her eldest sister who are with only a house and a car.
The rest, with at least two houses and at least two cars.


Towards the end of last month, as usual, Mus was in the mosque in which he is a volunteer. 

A man whom he had never met, not even once, approached him, asking him if he had done his pilgrimage. 
When he said he had never been there, the man offered to send him, convinced him that he did his pilgrimage, yearly.

It puzzled Mus as it has been years that he is waiting for his turn with bated breath, and here, the man in front of him, is there every year. 
Nevertheless, he went to Tabung Haji again, and again, his application was being turned down - most Malaysian pilgrims were already in The Holy Cities. 

The next day, Mus received a call from the man, telling him there were two available vacancies for 2010 Haj via a private agency in KL. 
Mus was hesitant initially, as part of the amount of RM13,000 by Tabung Haji is already too much for the man he did not even know his name, to bear. 
Now, the figure of RM19,000. 
But Mus was immediately asked to make a passport and to go for injection. 

Sarah was all along in a state of awe, could not think of what is next to be done. 
As she said, both husband and wife could not think straight.
Even the feast for well-wishers, few days before her husband's departure, was prepared by the wives of the mosque's committee members. 
Beside her husband's few friends who attended the kenduri, there were many more whom she had never met. 


Mus went to Tabung Haji again, this time, not to ask about quota, but to ask about the RM4,000 which the well wishers presented him. 
He had asked around, and there were too many contradicted versions of what to do with the money. 
Only when one of the Tabung Haji's officer assured him that the money is rightfully his, he did not have to spent it all in The Holy Places, he can  either use it for his family's need, or save it if he wished to, then his mind was at peace for, he had always wanted to lead a clean living and earning an honest income for his five family members. 
He decided to leave the RM4,000 with Sarah knowingly, she needed it more than he can spend it all.


A day before his departure, they were all at home, waiting for Sarah's sixteen siblings with their spouses to turn up, but none did.
Mus is an only child and his parents were no more around.
They went to visit Sarah's mother before night fall as Mus had to leave for Senai Airport early in the morning.

The next day after Subuh, the man who made possible of Mus's pilgrimage, turned up at their house early in the morning, before everyone else did.
He handed RM4,000 to Mus, this time, for his pocket money in The Holy Cities.
He left not long before Mus's friends and the mosque congregation turned up to see him off to Senai Airport early this month.

Until Sarah reached home from Senai Airport, there were still no sight of her sixteen siblings with their spouses.

*** Some changes made.

Profit From The Poor

Fifty-four suicides in Andra Pradesh  have blown the lid off the social posturing by microfinance companies. Before the news of the deaths sank in, the country feted Vikram Akula, head of SKS Micro-finance, as the new messiah of microcredit. A 273 per cent growth in loan disbursement and returns to investors made him a national hero. India’s micro-finance institutions claim they followed the fabled Grameen Bank model of Bangla­desh. In reality, they went against its principles. And the government did not do enough; regulations are fleeting and they don’t touch where it hurts most: the high interest rates.
Richard Mahapatra reports from Andhra Pradesh. Arnab Pratim Dutta charts the growth trajectory of India’s microfinance institutions
imageAn SHG in Warangal’s Jawahar Colony meets to discuss joint liability in October (Photo: Sayantan Bera)Ega Mounika was born into debt, lived in debt and died with debts. The college-going 20-year-old of Warangal’s Karimabad village immolated herself on September 25; three days later, she died. “My daughter wanted to release us from debt,” said her father Laxmi Narayan who sustained burn injuries trying to rescue her. He owns a paan shop and always had debts, which is why no bank found him worthy of a loan. So five years ago, when a microfinance institution (MFI) approached her mother, a beedi roller, offering a loan of Rs 10,000, Mounika was quick to say yes. She bought a sewing machine with the money, started a tailoring business, dividing her time between studies and the new machine. “Things were fine for two weeks,” said Narayan, “then we began to default.” Loan repayment is usually weekly in microfinance.
That was how the family entered a labyrinth of debts; nobody knew the way out. They borrowed afresh to pay off old debts and sank deeper. The only way they could avoid default was by taking yet another loan. “We took four loans worth Rs 80,000 from four different companies,” Narayan said. But that was hardly a solution. The family earned Rs 4,500 a month and had to repay loan installments of Rs 10,000 a month. With five loans on their head, Mounika’s family had a loan installment to repay almost every day. Then there were the three emergency loans of Rs 5,000 from moneylenders at 120 per cent interest in the past three years. Every day for five years, MFI collection agents would come to their house and get rough. “There was no peace any more, the family was ruined,” Narayan said.
On September 25, the collection agents told Mounika’s mother, sell your daughter to the flesh trade and repay. Mounika chose to die. Even before the family could come out of shock, the agents were back at their door. When Narayan asked for time, they refused saying the business model of microfinance companies does not allow that. Had the borrower committed suicide, in this case Mounika’s mother, the lending company could have claimed the sum from the insurance company as all loans are insured. No wonder, people have alleged MFI agents abet suicide (see ‘How the noose tightens’,).


If I am not creditworthy why did four MFIs give me loan? I need both credit as well as support to help me set up business that will be viable

MANJULA GIRABENI, MFI customer, Warangal, Andhra Pradesh

Some 20 km away, Mohammad Saif of Jawahar Colony feels lucky. His mother attempted suicide on October 20 but survived. She got loans worth Rs 2 lakh from four companies. But even after paying for over 400 weeks, the outstanding amount is around Rs 1.5 lakh. Saif said he sold his autorickshaw; the small hotel they ran is shut down.
In 2006, his mother along with 13 other women in the neighbourhood, had formed a self-help group (SHG). Under the state government’s Indira Kranthi Patham programme—linking SHGs to banks for loans based on group savings—they saved money every month for a year to get a bank loan. Only three women got a loan from the SHG as regulations stipulate revolving loans. A year of saving and ensuring that everybody complies took time.
“I withdrew. Then a microfinance company came to my doorstep and gave me Rs 14,000,” said Sarojini Rathipilli, a resident. She set up a sari shop but with a sale of one sari in three or four days, she had to take another loan to repay the first one. In four years she accumulated four loans and weekly repayment that was 10 times her earning.
“Repayment takes away everything, even the business set up with MFI loans,” said Matapalli Radhika, a borrower. No business started with loans from MFIs has survived in Jawahar Colony, where almost every family has taken a loan. Now as they try to revive the SHG, the past default doesn’t qualify them to access loan from a bank. The alternative: moneylenders.
Village after village in Warangal only confirms that the rural credit business has undergone a suicidal makeover. There is great need for credit that is in short supply from benign sources like public sector banks. It becomes clear that every borrower from a microfinance company has suffered acutely because of the failures of other public credit programmes.
Advantage MFIs
Bhagyalaxmi Mahila Multi-aided Cooperative Society in Enugallu village in Warangal’s Parbutagiri block has a public credit programme that has not failed its borrowers. It has several SHGs as members and gets loans from nationalised banks showing group savings. The repayment rate has been encouraging at 80 per cent. The cooperative society, unlike microfinance companies, distributes profits among members; this year it gave a dividend totalling Rs 3 lakh and set aside Rs 5 lakh as revolving fund to attract more bank loans. “The 15 per cent interest is heaven compared to 36 per cent of the MFIs,” said Turi Laxmi, president of the cooperative.
But things are changing. Banks have suddenly stopped loans to the cooperative; they lend directly to SHGs. Bhagyalaxmi is an innovation. It has been recommended by many high-level government panels on rural credit. “The average loan amount with an SHG is not adequate. But banks refuse to recognise us,” said T Yugandhar of Sanghatitha Mahila MACS Federation, Andhra Pradesh, the apex body of such cooperative societies with over 2,174 SHGs as members. The cooperative got its last bank loan in April 2008. “Without immediate loans we will not be able lend to the rural poor. This obviously leaves space for MFIs to capture,” he said.
Rural India’s subprime crisis
Warangal’s story repeats itself in And­hra’s 22 other districts; it is constricted by a rural credit crisis. Around 75 per cent of India’s MFIs are located here.
The current crisis in Andhra Pradesh is the rural Indian version of the subprime crisis in the US in 2006. It started at the same time and with a similar unsustainable model of credit that involved high risk and high profit. In subprime lending, organisations give loans to people with poor credit worthiness. In the US, subprime lured many to multiple loans. But these loans had mortgages like the house or the car borrowers bought with the loan. MFIs adopted the same model but without a collateral. In the US lending companies took the hit while in Andhra Pradesh borrowers were crushed.
imageThe news of recent suicide deaths provoked workers of a political party to vandalise the office of an MFI in WarangalAccording to information submitted by MFIs on October 29 to the state government, 50 per cent of rural poor households in the state have taken multiple loans. The interest rate ranges from 21.2 per cent to 60.5 per cent.
Down To Earth accessed these MFI submissions and found more than 80 per cent borrowers are from non-farm sectors. The majority of the rural poor sought loans to sell vegetables, run a dairy or do scrap and steel business. MFIs lend close to Rs 200 crore every week to non-farmers. According to a confidential report prepared by the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP), state government body linking SHGs with banks for credits, of the 54 suicides in the state recently, allegedly due to harassment by MFI agents, 45 were by landless. “Most MFI borrowers are landless. And unlike the last spate of farmer suicides five years ago, mostly non-farmer and first time borrowers died in the current wave,” said Narasimha Reddy, journalist with Eenadu.
SHGs slow but steady
A survey found that only three per cent of rural borrowers were confident of getting a bank loan. Thus the SHG-bank linkage is a bonanza. Women first save—usually Rs 30-40 a month per member in a group of 14—for close to a year. The banks treat the savings as the collateral and lend an equal amount or more at 14-15 per cent interest. The SHG re-lends at around 16-24 per cent interest after assessing the borrower’s ability to pay back. Since 2006, under the Pavalla Wadi scheme SHG members pay an interest of three per cent while the state government bears the rest.


On one hand you are for profit so that you can attract capital from the market. On the other, you are under pressure from investors to grow fast. It is now all about making profit


The state has the country’s largest number of micro-credit groups—975,362 SHGs with 11 million members. The number of SHGs has increased 10 times in the past decade covering almost 90 per cent of the state’s rural women.
An impact assessment by the Centre for Economic and Social Studies in Hyderabad, published in May this year, shows that while the micro-credit did help many, the sum was grossly inadequate. It found SHG members sourced 71 per cent of their credit demand from informal sources (read, moneylenders and relatives with interest rates ranging from 60 to 120 per cent).
Around 100,000 SHGs are yet to be linked to banks and thus to credit. “This probably explains why nationalised banks are lending less to SHGs and doing bulk lending to MFIs. This has been the trend since 2005,” said Kurapati Venkatanarayana, professor of economics with Kakatiya University, Warangal.
Another problem is the 12 per cent subsidy on interest. People pay the 15 per cent interest to the bank; after it certifies the SHG has repaid all loans, the government directly reimburses the 12 per cent in the SHG account. But there is a catch. “Banks delay the certification and it takes one to two years for the subsidy money to come through,” said Rama Jyothi, an independent observer.
Time is another factor. It takes an SHG three to four months to get a bank loan and another month to disburse. “Many banks don’t allow SHGs to lend their savings. This brings down the credit available,” admitted B Rajsekhar, chief executive officer of SERP.


The poor can handle credit, but it must be provided at a moderate interest rate. The current microfinance institutions tilt towards extreme profitability

VIJAY MAHAJAN, president, Microfinance Institutions Network

Given this widening gap in supply people turn to MFIs for credit. “These companies tapped into an organised captive market,” said Vijay Mahajan, president of the Microfinance Institutions Network (MFIN), a self-regulatory body of for-profit MFIs. An MFI loan is with the borrower in three days. With no collaterals there are two ways to ensure repayment: form a joint liability group (JLG); if one member defaults the group is responsible. The other is coercion. An MFI collection agent gets around 55 per cent of his salary as incentive if collection meets the target.
Close to 80 per cent of SHG members have taken MFI loans. Andhra Pradesh is a pointer to the future. As MFIs scale up in the rest of India they will most likely deliver similar distress on a wider scale.

Read more:  Rise And Rise Of MFIs

Source:  Down To Earth

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Haj - Mina's Environment Issues And Ka'abah's Pulling Force

Haj pilgrims had all symbolically stoned iblis in Mina, the barren valley that is surrounded by rocky hills.
The five-level car-park like structure around the three Jamrah sites had allowed for a smooth flow for the symbolic act of self-purification.
This year, forecasted rain had swept Mina.
It thus disrupted pilgrims' retreat for Mecca, Madinah and home as the Haj season drew to a close.
The final rituals of the Haj, Tawaf Wida' performed, then these pilgrims will leave Makkatul Mukarramah.

It was reported the downpour had resulted in an ankle-deep water.
It has flooded all streets from Mina to Mecca.
Pilgrims, especially those who squatted on pavements and in public spaces in Mina, were caught off guard.
The rain was never in one's mind.
City of tents, Mina Click to view high resolution version

The Prophet s.a.w., stayed in Mina area during His Haj.
The stay had been ritually followed.
And staying arrangements had since been made throughout the centuries, nearly filling up the entire Mina area with tents to fit up to three million people. 

Mina is with two faces: 
Outside the Haj season, it's a haunting zero occupant white tent city. 
But come Dzulhijjah, it's abuzz with human activities - rituals and business - that makes it almost impossible to walk in the streets.

During the Haj season, Mina Tent City is injected with bodies and souls of Haj pilgrims.
What is there to say about Haj as being an eye opener in Mina?
Three to four million people from all walks of life, all over the woid, occupied the city for an average of only three days in a year, all at the same time.

Organising such a amssive event is no mean feat. The organisers deserve en-mass praises for the continuous effort in making one's Haj a safe journey. More praises for themif it is eternally etched in a memorable, significant moment of being close to GOD.


But after deeply engrossed in prayers for HIS acceptance, making up any shortcomings of the past, praying like there is no tomorrow in 'Arafah, praying for all the very best, and We ask everything that We wanted more than needed, these people, Myself too, contributed environment issues where they, and Myself too, left Our footprints behind. 

Authorities face the daunting task of cleaning up, after pilgrims turned the tents and streets into garbage dump, that pervaded every open space.

Rain or sunshine, the streets of Mina were bound to be with patches of coloured water on the road surface, and littered with all kinds of trash.

Pilgrims and traders create rubbish mould pretty fast - faster than the place can be cleared of all trash.
Should simple and sensible "no littering everywhere classes", be conducted and included in the pre-Haj courses too?

The unsightly amount of garbage all around, makes one wonder, where's the saying that cleanliness is part of the believe.
These old habit of littering and leaving litters meant nothing to irresponsible pilgrims.

Even when we picked them up and cleared them in front of their very eyes, they bat no eyelid, or at their very best, they pretended not to see anything.
Purification, being part of Islamic faith is yet being ignored.


The first thing needs to be done before each prayer is in a state of ablution.
Being clean is always the demarcation of being into the religion and GOD's acceptance.
But in Mina, where's the religious value being placed? 
Is it left at home when old habit of littering around is in tow?

Binmen could be seen toiling and pushing overflowing bins, sweeping the streets and loading large garbage containers onto lorries.
The number of  7,000 workers to clean The Holy Cities round-the-clock, I doubt is sufficient to help clean the cities.


Some people were adamant of 'answering ALLAH's call. 
Unable or unwilling to bear the cost, they would find their own spiritual journey ways to sneak into Mecca, 'Arafah, Muzdalifah and Mina. 
They armed themselves with carpets, straw mats, or simply discarded cardboard boxes for them to take a rest by the roadside, or any vacant place for that matter. 
They did not mind the unclean tarmac, walked on by millions sandals and shoes.

These adamant pilgrims sleep on pavements and under the bridges too.

Colourful blankets and carpets were spread in open spaces and some camped in the street

Pilgrims with young children had their meals at the place surrounded with trash flowed out. 
It can be scattered around bin amidst growing litters around them.
Rubbish grew faster than they could be collected.

Some were used to the surroundings, they did not mind dirt and rubbish as their situation back home was of no difference.

Cleanliness, the basic hygiene tenet, is obviously ignored.
Pray in such environment?
GOD answers them, not us.

Police turned a blind eye on them, thus walking around could cause chaos. 
Pilgrims could be found sleeping on th streets. 
they could be seen fighting for space too. ace too.
They were all over the streets, that led to slowed down moving vehicles and pedestrians' movements. 

Photos: Muslimmatters.

Unofficial tents perched on rocky terraces and hills too. 
Some pitched their tents at steep inclines on the mountainsides and on top of the mountains too.


I was in Mina in 2001 for Haji Ifrad flying from Singapore to Jeddah and 2005 for Haji Tamattu', flying from JB straight to Madinah Airport.
On both occasions, thank GOD, I was lucky for being with the right agency.

For the Ifrad, we flew from Singapore to Jeddah, left our luggage in Hilton and did our Tawaf Qudum before leaving for 'Arafah.

In Mina, we were given two places - the tents, which were very near to the Jamrah sites, or an apartment in Shisha, within Aziziyah which is in between Makkah and Mina.
For the elderlies and those who had no issue with public toilets and sharing with tens of others, the tents was  the answer but the majority of us, we chose Shisha, less than half an hour's walk to the Jamrahs.
After all, Shisha itself ends where Jamrah starts.

The three Jamrah sites, before my 2005 Haj, were only tall pillars with low circular walls which some enthusiastic pilgrims would accidentally threw pebbles at others, on the opposite side. 
No distance or toilet issues arise when I was in Shisha as we would walk to the tents after 'Asr, had the night prayers in the tents and left at midhight for Jamrah sites.
Our tents which were left almost empty, with only a few number of the agency's own pilgrims during daytime,  were usually occupied by pilgrims from another Singapore tour agency who did not book another accommodation in Aziziyah.

Even then, an elderly lady in her late 60s, lost her direction on our way to Jamrah sites, when our group of around 130 was intercepted midway, by one of the big number of few hundred Indonesian group.
For two days, there was a frantic search for her, although she was known to be always independent, always on her feet, raring to explore new places.
Thanks a million to Malaysian Tabung Haji as she was finally sent back to Hilton by its staff, dirty clothings, crying and shivering, traumatised by the temporary disappearance incident.

Although an unlikely story, but for that two days, she was not provided with any food or drinks as, according to her, some of the Indonesian pilgrims claimed Singaporeans, like her, are loaded with money, so there was no need of them to provide her with compassionate free meals.
Only GOD knows why.
Days followed in Mecca, Madinah and Jeddah, transformation to a mellowed person in her, followed too...


When I did my Haj 2005, for safety reason and as not to allow pebbles flying across, the relevant authority had erected a 26 m (85') long walls around the three Jamrahs.
A single tiered Jamrah bridge, meant for pedestrians, was built around them too, so pilgrims could cast their pebbles from either the ground level or from the bridge, if it was daytime.

There was once when we had to wait in the tents, as the scheduled after Zohor Jamrah time was postponed to after Magrib because of sudden crowd.
Despite the stern warning, few men defied the order and went ahead to perform the ritual after the Zohor prayers, as it was said they had to make several turns as they had to perform on behalf of their parents.

When one of the men did not came back with the group he went with, the search team was not even allowed to go out doing their duty as there was great sandstorm blowing.
It was only after two hours can the search be resumed, and he was found lifeless because of fatigue.

The sudden overcrowded one of the Jamrah's place was caused by luggage fell from a bus, thus causing a bottleneck.
Some pilgrims tripped on them and those who were tripped were then crushed by the wave of people behind them that led to a stampede causing 345 deaths.

Because of the postponement, we made do with the pavement to wait after midnight, for the the next day's pebble casting to save the three and a half kilometre walking journey back to the tents.
To reach Jamrahs, we had to pass through the three and a half kilometre Muassim tunnel which in 1990, 1,426 lives were snapped away just because of movement flows of pre and post Jamrahs were not in proper queue. 
The Muassim stampede led to the regulation of all Haj pilgrims needed to wear bracelets with self and country's identity, and blood group too, for instant identification in emergency cases.

Just a week earlier, four Malaysians were among 76 people killed when Al Ghaza hotel collapsed in Mecca.


Unlike the Haj 2001, this time in 2005, we stayed at Mina Tent City for a few days.
The three days in the big but crowded tent-stay, made me realise why the previous Haj agency did not mind to spend extra for the Shisha stay to avoid physical discomfort for many.

Although courses for processes and procedures, dos and don'ts were organised years ahead and prospective pilgrims' attendance reminders after reminders were mailed home, one is hard to leave home the signatured old habits, cultural and personal beliefs and to attach with them only the stamped real religious practice.

It could be a taxing period for some, creeping up their nerves with ceaseless coughings from one end of the tent to another.
Getting sick is one's health but to spread germs to others, its cruel.

Leaving spitted tissue lying around is disgusting.
It will expose germs and spreading it around in the air.
Personal hygiene lost in thin air, sure is the most unkindest act to other Haj  pilgrims.
The sacred Haj spirit is lost too.

If everybody acknowledge of not contributing to make matters worst, then in no time, hearing coughings and  seeing spittings is but a once upon a time story of a long, long time ago Haj.
Action taken there and then will shorten the Mina's living discomfort, no denials about that.
Let the Mina stay be a clean, healthy and sick free stay.

Sad to note when some pilgrims found Zamzam not drinkable, not even meant for health when the water had miraculously flowing from its source, underneath the Ka'abah, amidst the barren desert of Mecca for over 4,000 years.

It's best I think, to firstly prepare our veryselves, with correcting our very own innerselves and our daily habits before to psychologically preparing for any unbecoming disgusting inborn attitude of others, and the unbecoming health act of theirs.
Prepare ouselves for the worst, InsyaALLLAH, our minds are all prepared for the next unpredictable scene.
The shock of the least expected of others' daily lives may not be too shocking as to affect our psychology that played in our minds that may place doubts in us and our beliefs. 
Listen and learn not only to accept the rewards of Haj, but also the trying, negative aspects of the masses process, lest, it will come as a big shock.


For a peaceful shower in Mina, one needs to head the toilet at 3.00a.m.
Showering in the day time is a no, as we will invite bangings on toilet doors.
For just relieving oneself, be prepared to spent at least half an hour in the queue alone.
Ablution in Mina is done best with handy bottled water.

It's good to always having tissue, wet wipes and bottled water within our reach, and possibly, bring them to the toilet too.
No one knows when to open the tap with no running water.

Some toilets may come as a shock:
Either we get used to it - some people entering and walking out of the toilets without seeing anything or pretending nothing unpleasant is around - or, we shun them all, for days ahead.
But for some who lives and places toilet cleanliness and hygiene at the topmost of this Haj pilgrimage, toilet issues can go a long way.
The pilgrimage can be dreaded for life.

Hundreds of people share the units of toilets within the same tent area in Mina, thousands in 'Arafah and Muzdalifah, and millions in areas of Masjidil Haram and Masjidin Nabawi.
Pilgrims from the world over, bringing along with them good and evil hearts and habits, congregate into the Holy Cities to perform their rites and rituals, thus allowing toilet users to use and abuse it, all behind close doors.

Honestly, I've been to toilets in areas of Masjidil Haram for just a couple of times, and found many women with children, sleep and I think, stay there too.

I've never been to toilets nearby Masjidin Nabawi but looking back, the minor detail of toilet issues did not occupy My mind.
All these health and toilet issues will fade into insignificance, as Haj by itself, is such an amazing experience.

Haj experience is one undescribable beautiful memories that is hard to be pen even by best writers too. Suffice to say, the memory always bring out the best in each individual.

I've been to places in other countries, that fared much worse than the batnrooms and toilets in Mina

- An open air toilet in running river, men's section at the lowest end, where one has just to perch on the bridge across it, above women's section, to have the full bird's eye view.

- Toilets in remote forested boarding school, in mountainous area, were just big holes dug deep into the ground.
Stench emitted will get stuck to us,felt like vomiting it out from us. It upset our stomach.

- Mountain top home toilet with just a foot high bamboo partition sans its door, and

- Toilets in exclusive restaurants with the traditional doorless - no doors at all.
All activities inside the cubicles are for all the toilet users and passers' by eyes.

Just to name a few which I can think of, as now.

The toilets in The Holy Cities itself had to deal with thousands of people all over the world.
It is impossible to have its own time to clean itself unless, the users themselves clean it after each use - as how they want it to be sparkling clean all the time, for their own use.


This year,  Arab News  reported that over 1,500 Pakistani pilgrims shouted slogans against the Pakistani mission outside their 2 tents, at the edge of Muzdalifah.

Quoting Zulqarnain Ahmad,
“As per our package and arrangement with the mutawwif we were promised breakfast, lunch, dinner and even dry fruits, but we did not get anything. Furthermore there are neither bedsheets nor pillows in our camps. And above all there is no water, which has made the situation worse, compelling us to come out and protest.”

A similar situation occurred for some 800 Qatar pilgrims, including 250 women.
Although they were provided good hotels in Madinah, their tour operator did not make arrangement for their stay in Mina.
Only two tents were provided - all 250 women were accommodated in one tent, and around 200 elderly pilgrims in another - the rest had to make do with the pavements.
The tents were temporary ones erected using pipes and tarpaulin with no air conditioners or toilets.
They were agitated about the lack of of basic amenities in their tents in Mina on their first day in the valley.

In 1997, fire took 340 lives and injuring some 1,500 others.
Since then, steps were taken ensuring all 40,000 durable fireproof tents and cooling systems being placed.


These news sobers me enough but the urge to always be there is as great as ever.

The mention of Haj is enough to brim one's eyes with tears, chocked us with emotion.masjid-nabawi

It gives us another perspective of how much The Prophet s.a.w. and His Companions r.a. went through, in order to get the message of Haj directly passed to us, fourteen centuries later, in its originality, although the twenty first century's Haj has been made easiest for us, in a more bearable universality of the Haj atmosphere.

Haj, the perfection of faith, with its most basic meaning translates to an act of continuous strive in reaching one’s goal.
The rigourous rituals which had just been tasked to all recent pilgrims of diverse nationalities, as according to The Prophet s.a.w., in his last Haj sermon, is to convey the meaning and message of the rituals they had just performed, to those in their homelands irrespective of faith, who were not present during the world's greatest spiritual assembly.

Haj pilgrimage is best summarised as spiritual journey to reach HIM, taken by humans who are just mere physical creatures possessed by THE ONE beyond the material world.

'Whoever performs Haj and does not commit any wrongdoing, they'll be in the state of pure', as it's best said.

Ka'abah is gravititional.
Kaaba in the Grand Mosque
Ka'abah is very inviting, to lay bare our hearts and souls all for HIM to see.

Pilgrims from distant land come to Mecca or Baca as in the  bible
(Psalm 84:
5.Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them.
6.Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools.
7.They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God),
to be part of the whirling scene, likened to orbiting planets, never strayed away from the designated path, until THE CREATOR call it the day.

The experiences and emotions to be put ito words???
The very inviting Ka'abah invites all sincere guests - Be truthful to ownself.
Its JUST OWNER selects HIS guests: So Be One Of Them.
People from all walks of life, bringing with them plentiful of requests and needs.
Bring more and more of ours, too.

The seeing is believing experiences had transformed many pilgrims, if not all, for the betterment in leading ones life.
It's all about amazement, from the niat to the tahallul, amazing and relieved for being able to complete the challenging journey of Haj.

Turning over a new leaf, a changed person, feeling physically, mentally and spiritually cleansed, it's all part of HIS acceptance.
A fresh, spotless new chapter in one's life journey continues...  

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Haj - In This Sacred Moment, The 'Arafah Day

Tarwiyah Day, the eighth day of Dzulhijjah, one of the greatest days of Haj.

Pilgrims spent their time in Mina’s Tent City praying, supplicating (du'a) and contemplating preparing themselves for the second stage of their five-day greatest trip.

The Day of Tarwiyah marks the very beginning of the rites of Haj, the day during which the pilgrims redo what Prophet Muhammaad s.a.w. did, from the day the rules of Haj started, when He s.a.w. reached Mina where He s.a.w. prayed Dzhuhr, 'Asr , Maghrib, 'Isya' and Fajr prayers and then proceeded to 'Arafah before the sunrise.

Narrated 'Abdul 'Aziz bin Rufai: I asked Anas bin Malik, "Tell me what you remember from ALLAH s.w.t.'s Apostle (regarding these questions): 
Where did He s.a.w. offer the Dzuhr and 'Asr prayers on the day of Tarwiyah (8th day of Dzulhijjah)?"

He s.a.w. replied, "(He offered these prayers) at Mina."  

I asked, "Where did He offer the 'Asr prayer on the day of Nafr ( the departure from Mina on the 12th or 13th of Dzulhijjah)?" 

He s.a.w replied, "At AlAbtah," and then added, "You should do as your chiefs do."  - Bukhari.

Among the rules of this day is that Haj pilgrims frequenting their Talbiyah and perform the prayers at their specific times.

The Prophet s.a.w. and his companions had already assumed Ihram before they proceeded to Mina - so are we, not necessarily from Masjidil Haram - enough from the place where we stay.

Photo: Arab News

Today, nearly three million pilgrims 'Wuquf' or standing on Mount 'Arafah or on its plain, the climax of the annual pilgrimage.

The Prophet s.a.w. said, “Haj is ‘Arafah.”

The very core of Haj takes places on the day of ‘Arafah as well as at the site known as ‘Arafah, an area where the Prophet s.a.w. went, on the 9th Dzulhijjah, as a part of His Haj.

'Arafah is where Haj pilgrims, standing and supplicating to the ALMIGHTY s.w.t., seeking HIS forgiveness and mercy.

Men, draped in two white unsewn pieces of cloth, an extraordinary symbol of Islam’s unity and equality. 
Islam, a religion of universal character fit for all times and people.

On the Mount Arafah and the plains surrounding it from where Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. gave his farewell sermon more than fourteen centuries ago, men and women formed a massive stream of white set out, chanting that they have come to answer GOD’s call. The endless sea of  'white' pilgrims, in their endless chants,  

"Labbaikallaahumma Labbaik” (O GOD, here I am answering YOUR call).

Hear ALLAH s.w.t.
Fear Allah s.w.t., in private and public.
Adhere to Islamic creed and deeds, and radiance insyaALLAH, is reflected in us, in our doings, in our daily life.

Getting to 'Arafah is not without difficulties for many.
Hardship aside, having reached the plains of Arafah is a dream come true, for all pilgrims.
All believers, from all corners of the world, come to 'Arafah, to pray to GOD.

The feeling of wanting to meet GOD, the whole body shivers...
Ability to make connection with ALLAH s.w.t. is an individual experience.
No words can explain one's feeling although everyone on the sacred ground of 'Arafah is obviously with one intention, HIS acceptance.

Arafah, peaceful, is where the connection with GOD takes place, Dzulhijjah after Dzulhijjah, over and over again.
Today, the day of Haj, is the day where connectivity and communication to ALLAH s.w.t. is obvious.

While in 'Arafah, wise pilgrims spend the day making supplications to ALLAH s.w.t. as the Prophet s.a.w said,  

“The best du‘a is the du‘a on the day of ‘Arafah.” - Abu Dawud.

It is the ultimate day to ask for forgiveness of every single sin of us, as the Prophet s.a.w. also said,  

“There is no day in which Allah s.w.t. sets free more souls from the fire of Hell than on the day of ‘Arafah.” - Muslim.

People spent the day in worship and supplication, praying for their needs, and for the welfare of all.
Praying for an end to sufferings in Afghanistan, Haiti, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, and everywhere else in the world.
Insya ALLAH we will have peace.
We have worldwide peace if we pray in sincerity, if the fund we use for the pilgrim is blessed, no abuse of any breathing creatures.
Unity in prayers itself has created a peaceful atmosphere, at the most peaceful place on earth.

"Labbaikallaahumma Labbaik”, reenacted again and again, since fourteen centuries ago.

The 'Arafah Day, one of the cornerstones of the pilgrimage, at the site where Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. delivered his farewell sermon, is where, on this day, the doors of heavens open to answer prayers and grant forgiveness.

Mina, Arafah and Muzdalifah are the three stops on the pilgrims’ journey during the Haj, traces the steps of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.

'Arafah reminds us of our beloved Prophet s.a.w.
He asked the believers to undertake this journey and here, today, the Haj pilgrims from all over the world, undertake the journey, since the last fourteen centuries.
And Muslims will continue to do so until the Judgment Day.

Haj is tiring but rewarding.
HIS choicest blessings is on the very true believers, he who believes with his heart, mind and soul.
Answer the call of ALLAH s.w.t. and pray for peace and tranquility.
Pray sincerely, spread humanity.

Haji Mabrur aside, the feeling in us now, in this sacred moments all over the world, indescribable... 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Haj - From Japan To Mecca

Road To Hajj - Islam In The Land Of The Rising Sun 

The road to Hajj in the Land of the Rising Sun begins with the little known fact that there are ethnic Japanese Muslims.

Everyday the call to prayer is made in different corners of the predominantly Buddhist country - unobtrusively within the confines of its 50 or so mosques and approximately 100 musollas or communal prayer rooms.

Twenty-six-year-old Kubo-san prays at a small musolla in the agricultural district of Saitama, about two hours outside the capital, Tokyo.

Built 15 years ago by Bangladeshi workers, Kubo is the only ethnic Japanese in the congregation.

"I was born into a very ordinary Japanese family," he says. "We did not have a strong sense of religion."
Kubo's upbringing mirrors that of many Japanese - their attitudes and philosophy towards life shaped by the ancient religion of Shinto.

An ancient polytheistic faith, Shinto involves the worship of nature and is unique to Japan.

While divination and shamanism is used to gain insights into the unknown, there are no formal scriptures or texts, nor a legacy of priesthood that structures the religion.

After the Second World War, Shinto suffered a huge setback when the emperor was forced to denounce his status as a 'living god'.

While many historians would claim that the Japanese people lost their faith after this, recent surveys suggest that at least 85 per cent still profess their belief in both Shintoism and Buddhism.

'Special meaning'

"The first I knew about Islam was in my school days," Kubo says.

"The schools in Japan usually teach history. I knew about Islam in such history classes. Although I knew only a little bit, it shook my soul strongly."

His interest in Islam developed as he read more about it, but it was only when he began to meet expatriate Muslims in Japan that he considered converting.

Now, he is preparing to go on Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, for the first time.

"We Muslims pray five times a day towards Mecca. And pray 'peace be upon Prophet Muhammad'. He was born in this town and started Islam in Mecca. So for Muslims, it has a special meaning to go to Mecca. I feel honoured that I have this opportunity to go there."

'First step'

But just five years ago, Kubo's pilgrimage would not have been possible.

Reda Kenawy is Egyptian but he moved to Japan when he was in his twenties. He worked for a travel agency and decided to branch out to form his own agency specialising in organising Hajj pilgrimages for Japanese Muslims.
Japan's small Muslim community is tightly-knit
"All my staff said I was crazy when I wanted to plan the Hajj trip," Kenawy says. "In terms of business aspects, there must be a demand in the market to cover the costs. It would not work if there are no Muslims going."

"So I told them someone has to start, someone has to take the first step, then others could take it from there."

But, it was an uphill task, particularly when dealing with the Saudi Arabian authorities.

Kenawy says they told him: "We've never heard of Japanese Muslims and we've never heard of Hajj trips organised from Japan."

"So I told them there were Muslims in Japan and I was there as a Japanese. I have the Japanese nationality and I was representing Japan and wanted to bring Japanese pilgrims for Hajj.

"They said I couldn't and that my passport was forged and I looked Egyptian."

'Honour and happiness'

Kenawy persisted in his quest to take Muslim pilgrims from Japan to Mecca and five years on, his travel agency is one of only two registered companies that have been sanctioned by the Saudi government to organise Hajj pilgrimages for Japanese Muslims.

The number of pilgrims using Kenawy's agency has grown year on year, but for him the most encouraging development is the increase in ethnic Japanese Muslims.

"Right now, we have 90 per cent foreigners and 10 per cent [ethnic Japanese]. My dream is to have the opposite - to have 90 per cent Japanese or maybe 99 per cent original Japanese and only one per cent foreigners."

Abdullah Taki is a 36-year-old former body-piercer who converted to Islam in 2006. He made his Hajj pilgrimage in 2007.

"For me, the meaning of visiting the Kaabah is not to see a building but to visit God's home, to meet God," he says.

"At first, when we reached the country by airplane, we entered Madina before entering the city of Mecca. Although I could not see the area because I was in the airplane, when I heard the announcement that we [were there], I shed tears unconsciously.

"I felt an indescribable sense of honour and happiness. I was very deeply touched."


Like Kubo, Taki's contact with Muslims in Japan started mainly with the expatriate community.

Every Friday, Muslims from Turkey, the Middle East, Central Asia, China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Japan pray together in Tokyo's Cami Mosque, which is modeled on Turkey's beautiful Blue Mosque.
Kubo learnt about Islam from
Muslim expatriates in Japan
There are no official records of the number of ethnic Japanese Muslims but some estimates put it at 10,000 - about a tenth of the country's total Muslim population.

The community of Japanese Muslims is so small that when they meet new faces for the first time, a sense of camaraderie is immediately established.

Higouch-san is 73 years old and has been a Muslim for more than 45 years. Mahmuda Saito is 63 and converted more than 30 years ago. Both know how difficult it can be to practice Islam in Japan.

When Higouch and Saito became Muslims there were only two mosques in the whole of Japan.

"It was very difficult. We Japanese have our own culture and traditions so it is quite difficult to carry out five prayers a day and fasting for a month," Higouch says.

'Planting seeds'
Saito is preparing to go on Hajj for the first time. As for many other Japanese Muslims, this involves a lot of self-study.

"It is not a normal holiday so I try to start from the preparation of my heart," she says.

"To learn how to prepare my mind to carry out the Hajj rituals, I read the books regarding the Hajj everyday at home. I would like to absorb the knowledge of the Hajj as much possible before the trip.

"It could be my last Hajj ... [so] I visit this holy city to try to feel the life of the Prophet and his companions of a long time ago."

Kenawy will be leaving Japan with 120 pilgrims - seven of whom are ethnic Japanese and going on Hajj for the first time and he is hopeful that this number will continue to grow.

"Like when you plant a seed and watch it grow, it can easily die or grow to be a big tree with many branches which cover everything. But it's not a tree yet. It's very easy to be broken now," he says.

"But with all the people's support, I think 10 or 20 years from now, maybe I'm not here, I can see there will be an organisation like a ministry for Hajis like in Singapore or Indonesia."

Source: AlJazeera

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sharon's Home, Sabra Shatilla Relive

An ambulance brought the former Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to his ranch in the Negev Desert on Friday. Photo: Reuters

New York Times  yesterday reported former prime minister of Israel Ariel Sharon - in a coma after a major stroke almost five years ago - had been moved to his Sycamore Ranch, his vast farm with livestock and nature, in the western Negev Desert, not far from the Gaza Strip.

The ranch, where his wife is buried, was known as the beloved retreat of the 82-year old Mr. Sharon, who breathes on his own but fed intravenously.

An elevator and other equipment had been installed at the family ranch to accommodate his arrival and long-term care.
The cost of keeping Mr. Sharon in the hospital is borne by the taxpayer.

This week, a parliamentary committee approved 1.6 million shekels (US$440,000) in annual funding for Mr Sharon's medical treatment.
  Ariel Sharon ... when prime minister in 2005.
Ariel Sharon ... when prime minister in 2005. Photo: AFP

Mr Sharon is in a vegetative state.
Even though he is in a permanent coma and is likely to never recover, Ariel Sharon is admired by many Israelis as a great military leader, still casts a shadow over Israeli politics but reviled by Palestinians.

The elected prime minister in 2001 who pledged to achieve "security and true peace", however, was keen on promoting the expansion of Israel and initiated the construction of the security barrier around the West Bank.

He is reviled by Palestinians and widely despised in the Arab world:

- For masterminding Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and,

- His role in the massacres at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps outside Beirut in 1982, when he was Israel's Defence Minister.
The killings of between 800 and 3,500 Palestinian civilians led some to label Sharon "the Butcher of Beirut". He was found to bear personal responsibility "for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge" and "not taking appropriate measures to prevent bloodshed".
His negligence in protecting the civilian population of Beirut, which had come under Israeli control amounted to a non-fulfillment of a duty with which the Defence Minister was charged.

During the invasion, Lebanese Christian militiamen allied to Israel massacred hundreds of Palestinians in two refugee camps under Israeli control.
The Sabra and Shatilla massacre occurred between September 16 and 18 where the Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps were killed by the Phalanges—Lebanese Maronite Christian militias.

The Phalange were sent into the camps to clear out PLO fighters while Israeli forces surrounded the camps, blocking camp exits.

He was at the height of his power when he had the stroke in January 2006.


Dr Franklin P. Lamb - an international law scholar, political writer and author.

He is the Director of the Sabra Shatilla Foundation and has been living in Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon, dedicating years of his life and more of it, to the service of Palestinians.
Read more of his entry...

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Haj - The Long Awaited, Short Journey (By Train)

The area for tents in Mina has decreased by 30 percent this year due to the various ongoing construction projects, including the SR6.5 billion Mashair Railway (Makkah Metro)
Thus it has limited the number of Haj pilgrims - 1.75 foreign and 250,000 locals - although every year, 3.5 million people would perform their Haj.

Eidul Adha will fall on November 16.

210,000 Indonesians will be performing their Haj this year, followed by the Indians and the Pakistanis, at 160,000 each, 100,300 pilgrims from Iran and 100,000 from Turkey.


More than 150,000 pilgrims from Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries will use the facility during the first phase as these pilgrims account for 73 percent of domestic pilgrims and it will help to withdraw about 53,000 buses and other vehicles being used by pilgrims coming by land from within the kingdom and neighboring GCC countries.
780,000 pilgrims from Iran, Turkey, Europe, Australia, US and those from non-Arab African countries will also be using the facility.

The system will enable to ferry 70,000 pilgrims between the holy places within an hour or at least 500,000 within six to eight hours.

The railway will reduce the time it takes for pilgrims to move from Arafah to Muzdalifah to five minutes on the 9th of Dzulhijjah.
It will also take pilgrims five minutes to move from Muzdalifah to Mina on the 10th.
About 20 percent of passengers will be seated and 20 percent of seats in the train will be allocated for the elderly while it moves at between 80 and 120 km/hour.

Nine stations had been constructed in Arafah, Mina and Muzdalifah, each having its own three stations.
The railway which would be operating throughout the year will have 12 carriages and each carriage holding 250 passengers.

The system would be developed further to transport three million pilgrims in the future and would bring about remarkable improvements in the transportation of pilgrims between the holy sites.

1,000 Egyptian drivers will operate the electric trains of the Mashair Railway.

These drivers are from more than 27,000 Egyptians employed specially for the Haj season, whom among them are veterinary doctors, bus drivers and butchers that had been recruited as seasonal workers - selected from 50,000 Egyptians' applicants.
This year, 80,000 pilgrims are from Egypt.

Foreign workers are imported because only a few hundred Saudis responded to advertisements that had been up for several months.

Mashair Railway will help reduce the number of vehicles on the road and ease the transportation of some 35 - 50 percent of 2010's Haj pilgrims.
The restriction on small vehicles entering Mecca and the holy sites called for stopping illegal vehicles carrying pilgrims at the first checkpoint to reduce pressure on the main checkpoint.

Studies are now underway on extending the monorail to a station on Umm Al-Qura Road, close to the Grand Mosque in Mecca, and link it with the Haramain Railway that connects the two holy cities of Mecca and Madinah.
It will also be linked to the Haramain Railway that will connect Mecca to Madinah and Jeddah.


The Saudi government is taking all efforts to make this year's Haj to be hassle-free and smooth movement of pilgrims to the Jamrahs is top in the agenda.

Instructions are given and measures are taken to stop illegal pilgrims from squatting in public places which had been one of the key factor in previous Mina's stampede and trampling.


The monorail project which was implemented by a group of companies led by China Railway Company saw 1,600 of Chinese employed by the company converted to Islam in September.

The Government Islamic Guidance Centre in Makkatul Mukarramah said all the converts are workers in the train project that was launched three years ago.

“The Centre held a reception for nearly 1,600 Chinese who embraced Islam and gave them token gifts on the occasion of Eid al Fitr,” Al Madina daily said.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Is Faith Really Working?

Muslim School Helps Out Secular Neighbour
   On the face of it the two schools have nothing in common apart from the city they share.
Tauheedul Islam Girls' School in Blackburn was one of the country's first state-funded Muslim schools, set up by parents who wanted an alternative to the state sector. Ranked as outstanding by Ofsted, it has some of the best exam results in Britain.
Blakewater College has traditionally served a more white working-class Lancastrian community in another part of the city. It has a chequered past, having problems with behaviour and exam performance.
But now Tauheedul is helping Blakewater turn itself round. It is the first time that a Muslim school has been asked to perform a rescue act on a non-faith state school, but the experiment is already paying dividends.
After only eight months the percentage of pupils gaining five A* to C grade passes at Blakewater has risen from 11 per cent to 26 per cent.
Alan Chambers, head of Blakewater College for the past year, said the link with Tauheedul – led by its principal, Hamid Patel – had helped immeasurably. "Hamid is a Blackburn lad and there is no doubt that he wants to put something back into the wider community that both of us serve," Mr Chambers said.
The college now assesses the performance of pupils as soon as they arrive, giving them extra support if they fall short. It has also approached parents to get them more involved in the process – a tactic previously honed by their colleagues across the city.
"At Tauheedul, we get 90 to 95 per cent parental attendance," said Mr Patel. "If they don't come we ring them and say 'Come tomorrow'. We keep doing that until they come." Another of the key challenges, he said, was to raise pupils' aspirations.
Mr Patel has already written to Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, outlining plans for a countrywide network of schools like Tauheedul – using the "free schools" initiative to get them up and running. Tauheedul was run as an independent school for more than two decades in terraced houses, accepting financial contributions from parents.
It joined the state sector in 2006 and has since expanded, now having to turn away more than 200 applicants a year. Mr Patel said that within five years he would like to open the doors to non-Muslim pupils, as white families are already asking for its prospectus on the strength of its exam results.
"Come back in five years and I guarantee [we] will have white families. In some areas of the country there are Church of England schools that are 100 per cent Muslim because they like the ethos of the school," he said.


An Example Of How Faith Can Work
   The stereotypical Muslim school is an institution that isolates itself from the wider community; an establishment that places more emphasis on religious observance than educational attainment. As we report today, the Tauheedul Islam Girls' School in Blackburn confounds that stereotype. Tauheedul began as an independent faith school and entered the state system in 2006. It has the second-best performance of any non-selective school in the country at GCSE level. And now the local council has asked Tauheedul's management to help turn around another struggling state school in the area – a task the school's head, Hamid Patel, is relishing.
And Mr Patel wants to go further than merely offering advice on engaging parents and monitoring performance. He envisages co-operation between the two schools in sport and other extra-curricular activities. Nor does Mr Patel want Tauheedul to be a school exclusively for Muslims. He has already received interest from non-Muslim parents and expects they will be a growing feature of the school's intake as Tauheedul expands. Mr Patel also points out that half of Tauheedul's teachers are non-Muslims. So much for the religious ghetto.
Critics of faith schools will argue that this is only a single school and that not all the managements of these institutions are as progressive as Mr Patel. True, but what Tauheedul shows is that Muslim faith schools do not necessarily have a separatist mentality. It is not a foregone conclusion that these schools will divide communities.
The Coalition's schools reforms – in many respects a continuation of the direction of the previous government – will mean an expansion in the number of faith schools in Britain. The shift needs to be accompanied by safeguards. If these institutions are to receive state funding, the state must require them to play an active part in their local community. Any covert selection needs to be eliminated.
Tauheedul is an encouraging example of how the new system can work. It should not be an excuse for ministers to neglect their responsibility to ensure schools serve communities. A freeing up of the education sector must not mean laissez-faire.


But is faith really working?
Read here  if it works with science and sickness too.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Haj - Dzulhijjah, The Month Of Many Virtues

Dzulhijjah is here again.
Today is the third of Dzulhijjah - after Maghrib now, so is the 4th, the 12th month of the Islamic lunar year month, the month of Haj, which gives Dzulhijjah a very special significance.

Dzulhijjah days are among the most magnificent days in Islamic calendar.
Dzulhijjah has many virtues, based on many things, particularly in its first ten days.
The first ten days of Dzulhijjah are the days of virtue and righteous deeds. Quranic verses and Hadith indicate that the first ten days of Dzulhijjah are better than all the other days of the year.

The first ten days of Dzulhijjah have been preferred by ALLAH s.w.t. over all the other days of the whole year, except that the last ten days of Ramadhan, which are considered better than them for they include Lailatul Qadr - the Night of Power - which is better than a thousand months.

"And remember ALLAH during the appointed Days. But whosoever hastens to leave in two days, there is no sin on him and whosoever stays on, there is no sin on him, if his aim is to do good and obey ALLAH (fear HIM), and know that you will surely be gathered unto HIM." - (Al-Baqarah: 203).

Celebrate the Praises of ALLAH s.w.t. during the appointed days - Takbir (Allahu Akbar), Tasbih (Subhaanallah), Tahmid (Alhamdulillah), and Talbiyah (Labbaikallah Humma Labbaik).
It is our duty to appreciate the blessed month of Dzulhijjah, having more concentration in our prayers, always on our very best.
Dzulhijjah is a wonderful moment immersing ourselves as much iba'dah, acts of worship, as possible.
Devotion and sincerity do have its reward.

Abdullah ibn Umar r.a., the son of Saidina Umar r.a., reported that The Prophet s.a.w. said: 
"There are no days greater in the sight of ALLAH and in which righteous deeds are more beloved to HIM than these ten days, so during this time recite a great deal of Tahlil (La ilaaha ill-Allah), Takbir and Tahmid." - (Reported by Ahmad: 7/224).

Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. commanded the believers to recite a lot of Tasbih, Tahmid and Takbir during these days.

Ibn Abbas r.a. reported that The Prophet s.a.w. said:
"There are no days in which righteous deeds are more beloved to ALLAH than these ten days." 
The people asked, "Not even jihad for the sake of ALLAH?" 
He said, "Not even jihad for the sake of ALLAH, except in the case of a man who went out to fight giving himself and his wealth up for the cause, and came back with nothing." - (Bukhari).

These ten days are a great blessing from ALLAH s.w.t. to all of us.

Even for us, who are not undertaking the Haj, the first ten days of Dzulhijjah are a special time to remember ALLAH s.w.t., the opportunity to sincerely correct oneself, bettering our deeds and seek HIM for forgiveness and guidance.

The Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. encouraged people to do righteous deeds due to the virtue of these days and the Haj season during which the Haj season is situated.
The Prophet s.a.w. said that the first ten days of Dzulhijjah are a special time for devotion, for during these ten days that most of the Haj rites occur.

i) - 9th Dzulhijjah is the 'Arafah Day (Yaumul 'Arafah), the date when all pilgrims assemble on the plain of 'Arafah, six miles away from Makkatul Mukarramah, where the pilgrims perform the most essential part of the prescribed duties of Haj - Wuquf  - the stay in 'Arafah. Yaumul Arafah is the day when the Mercy of ALLAH s.w.t. descends in Abundance.

Yaumul 'Arafah is the day when sins are Forgiven, and do'a Accepted, all through HIS Compassion and Mercy. Yaumul 'Arafah is the day which ALLAH sw.t. perfected one's Religion.

The Prophet s.a.w. was asked about fasting on Yaumul 'Arafah.
He s.a.w. said, "It compensates for the (minor) sins of the past and the coming year." - (Ibu Majah)

Fasting on this day will be forgiven the sins of two years - before and after the Arafah Day.
The 'Arafah fast has been emphasized by the Prophet s.a.w. as a desirable act. Fasting on these ten blessed days, or at least a day, on the 9th Dzulhijjah, will bring us closer to HIM.

Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. has said, "One fast during these days is equal to the fasting of one complete year, and the worship of one night during this period is equal to the worship in the "Lailatul-Qadr".
 For us not performing the Haj, it is desirable to fast on this day.

ii) - Beginning from the Fajr of the 9th Dzulhijjah up to the 'Asr prayer of the 13th, it is encouraged on us to recite the Takbir of Tashriq after each daily prayer. 
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar,
La Ilaha Illallahu, Wallahu Akbar,
Allahu Akbar wa Lillahilhamd.
(There is no other God but ALLAH and ALLAH is the Greatest, 
Allah is the Greatest and to ALLAH belongs all Praise).

iii) - 10th Dzulhijjah is Eidul Adha. Unlike 'Eidul Fitr, the sunnah is not to eat before the 'Eid prayer.

iv) - The Qurban. An act of total submission to ALLAH s.w.t. and a complete obedience to HIM, without hesitation.
It is encouraged for all to make sacrifices for themselves and their dependents. The sacrifice of animals - goat, sheep, cow or camel - during the 10th, 1lth and 12th of Dzulhijjah.

Looking beyond its mundane benefits, its to understand the spirit of most superior qualities so necessary to keep humanity in a state of lasting peace and welfare.
Qurban is but a powerful symbol of the required human conduct vis-a-vis the DIVINE commands.
The spirit of total submission to HIM, irrespective of difference in our economy or society.

Pine not, whine not if we are unable to slaughter a sacrifice - for general qurban included all acts of charity too, all year round.
The purpose of charity is nothing but to seek ALLAH s.w.t.'s pleasure. And, sacrifices are in many forms too. Sincerity is always priorotised. Verily, good deeds remove small sins. A gentle reminder for the mindful, for those who accept advice.

Perform sincere prayers.
"And establish regular prayers at the two ends of the day and at the approaches of the night: for those things that are good remove those that are evil: be that the word of remembrance to those who remember (their LORD) - (Hud: 114).

Pray that HE Bless us with HIS Virtues. Pray that HE Bless us with spiritual gains
Pray that we are all Blessed in these magical moments of Dzulhijjah.

Reflecting of our past doings will have great benefits for us, and people around us, family, neighbours, relatives and friends.
Pray for the very best, for His Bounty of what's already in our possession, His Reward, not a burden:

"On no soul do ALLAH place a burden greater than it (the soul) can bear. It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns. 
(Pray): "Our GOD, condemn us not if we forget or fall into error. 
Our GOD, lay not on us a burden like that which YOU did lay on those before us. 
Our GOD, lay on us not a burden greater than we have strength to bear. 
Blot out our sins, and grant us Forgiveness. Have Mercy on us. 
YOU are our PROTECTOR, Help us against those who stand against Faith." - (Al-Baqarah : 286)