Friday, March 23, 2012

"Rabbaniyun" amongst us

The "rabbaniyun" mentioned in the last post may suggest an exclusive lot limited to those fortunate associates of the Prophets (as), but however the qualities of these individuals are evergreen. In other words, aspiring for these qualities is a timeless endeavour especially for us today,

Taking the sahabah (companions of Prophet Muhammad [saw]) as manifestation of these "rabbaniyeen", the following, though not limited, were key qualities for our own contemplation. These qualities are not lofty concepts that are abstract or far reaching but practical and relevant to those in the contemporary and seeking to exemplify the achievements of these illustrious individuals:

1. Quwwah al Itsål Billah (Strength of Relationship with Allah)

"O you who believe! Bow down, and prostrate yourselves, and worship your Lord and do good that you may be successful."

(Al-Hajj 22:77)

While at times these "rabbaniyun" may had, seemingly, played roles as change-makers in their society (ies), yet that is in fact merely a minute dimension and, perhaps, became more of an outcome of the core quality of these "rabbaniyeen". To conclude that the "rabbaniyun" only serves a vocational function is false or to measure them based on tangible outcome is too misleading. So then, what was this core quality? Well primarily, the "rabbaniyun" were dedicated and humble servants of their Lord, Allah (swt). They developed a pristine connection with the Divine. This connection did not only remain in the abstract mind but was greatly articulated into action, deeds and their daily interactions with the surrounding. The sense of morals developed as a result of this connection with Allah (swt) also made them better individuals that leads to a sense of justice.

Hassan al Banna once said to young activist during his time, "be an abid before being an amir". Today, we see so many individuals offering themselves for causes or helping certain needs whom eventually develop leadership status in these causes. Yet these army of activist have yet to really scratch the surface of social issues that exist still today, and we ask why? Perhaps, the answer lies in this point.

Often, I would quote the following, which is a preface, from Tariq Ramadan's Islam, the West and the Challenges of Modernity where the author describes his last few exchanges with his late father, Said Ramadan, before the latter passed on:

"After more than 40 years of exile, an entire life for God. faith and justice, he knew that his hour was coming. In the most profound hours, he spoke and he spoke so much of love, fraternity and affection.

A few months before returning to God, he said to me, with the strength of his sad, drowned look: "Our problem is one of spirituality. If a man comes to speak to me about the reforms to be undertaken in the Muslim world, about political strategies and of great geo-strategic plans, my first question to him would be whether he performed the dawn prayer (Fajar) in its time." He observed the agitation of each and everyone, including my own. He reminded me so much not to forget the essential, to be with God in order to know how to be with men.

An entire life in struggle, the hair turned grey by time, and a reminder: "Power is not our objective: what we have to do with it? Our goal is love of the Creator, the fraternity and justice of Islam. This is our message to dictators."

2. "Tahqiq al Adof al Mawajjah" (Committed to the Intended Objective)

What were the core objectives of the Prophet (saw) that he commits himself to?

"He it is Who sent among the unlettered ones a Messenger (Muhammad SAW) from among themselves, reciting to them His Verses, purifying them, and teaching them the Book (this Qur'ân, Islâmic laws and Islâmic jurisprudence) and Al-Hikmah (As-Sunnah: legal ways, orders, acts of worship, etc. of Prophet Muhammad SAW). And verily, they had been before in mainfest error;

And He has sent him (Prophet Muhammad SAW) also to others among them (Muslims) who have not yet joined them (but they will come). And He (Allâh) is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise."

(Al-Jumu'ah 62:2-3)

The verses above articulate explicitly the following role of the Prophet (saw) and an extension to that, the "rabbaniyun" whom carried out the Prophet's (saw) mission:

(i) "reciting to them His Verses"

As such the mission of those today whom seek to exemplify the "rabbaniyun" needs to include the introduction of the Qur'an in developmental or programs that seeks to create impact. What is the point of running a youth program for the masjid(s) or other "muslim organisations" but in it lacks of any sort of introduction or reminders to certain verses from the Qur'an in extracting learning points. Or worse, the camp organisers lacks any appreciation of the Qur'an at all?

(ii) "purifying them"

The Arabic word in the Qur'an is "yuzakkihim". As in any Qur'anic translation, it is so difficult to identify a pin-point accuracy to certain terms and it usually takes a whole thesaurus of words to develop an understanding of certain terms. I like Karen Armstrong's choice of translation which is refinement. According to her, the Qur'an (and thus the Prophet's) mission in the context of "tazakka" was to refine the society that he (saw) lived in. This definition is not too far from the classical scholars.

As such, today's "rabbaniyun" also needs to include these process of refinement in their development programs or efforts to transform others.

(iii) "teaching them the Book and the Wisdom

The Qur'an and the Sunnah remains central in the human development mechanism. It renders the human development or perhaps human resource of a "muslim organisaiton" incomplete without embedding the knowledge, and code of conduct as well as systems to guide human life.

This last point does not immediately suggest that the Qur'an and Sunnah be the sole point of reference of every day affairs, for even in Fiqh, there are other consideration in jurispridence (ie. culture, context, etc.) but, that said, the Qur'an and Sunnah needs to be in a position of primacy

Every problem or solution proposed, need to be viewed, as it it were, in the shades of the Qur'an.

(to be continued)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Golongan Rabbaniyun

"Rabbaniyun"

"Dan berapa banyak dari Nabi-Nabi (terdahulu) telah berperang dengan disertai oleh ramai orang-orang yang taat kepada Allah, maka mereka tidak merasa lemah semangat akan apa yang telah menimpa mereka pada jalan (agama) Allah dan mereka juga tidak lemah tenaga dan tidak pula tunduk (kepada musuh). Dan (ingatlah), Allah sentiasa mengasihi orang-orang yang sabar." (Surah al Imran, 146)

Potongan ayat diatas memberi suatu gambaraan tentang para anbiya terdahulu serta golongan yang bersama mereka dalam usaha mendirikan kalimah Allah. Di dalam bahasa Arab, golongan ini dinamakan "rabbaniyun".

Golongan "rabbaniyun" inilah yang mendokong dan membantu dalam mendirikan kebenaran di alam maya ini. Di dalam usaha itu, mereka juga melalui kesusahan dan penderitaan melawan arus kegelapan yang merupakan "status quo" - iaitu individu yang mendustakan kebenaran dari Allah (swt).

Gambaran kesusahan yang diharungi oleh golongan "awwalin" ini dirakamkan didalam potongan ayat dibawah:

Adakah patut kamu menyangka bahawa kamu akan masuk syurga, padahal belum sampai kepada kamu (ujian dan cubaan) seperti yang telah berlaku kepada orang-orang yang terdahulu daripada kamu? Mereka telah ditimpa kepapaan (kemusnahan hartabenda) dan serangan penyakit, serta digoncangkan (oleh ancaman bahaya musuh), sehingga berkatalah Rasul dan orang-orang yang beriman yang ada bersamanya: Bilakah (datangnya) pertolongan Allah?" Ketahuilah sesungguhnya pertolongan Allah itu dekat (asalkan kamu bersabar dan berpegang teguh kepada agama Allah). (Surah al Baqarah, 214)

Tidak dapat dibayangkan betapa besar ujian Allah justeru menyebabkan golongan yang tentu mempunyai iman yang kental, jika berbanding dengan kita hari ini, mengujarkan "Bilakah pertolongan Allah?".

"Tarqiyah al Intaj" (Peningkatan yang Membangunkan)

"Tidakkah engkau melihat (wahai Muhammad) bagaimana Allah mengemukakan satu perbandingan, iaitu: kalimah yang baik adalah sebagai sebatang pohon yang baik, yang pangkalnya (akar tunjangnya) tetap teguh, dan cabang pucuknya menjulang ke langit. Dia mengeluarkan buahnya pada tiap-tiap masa dengan izin Tuhannya. Dan Allah mengemukakan perbandingan-perbandingan itu untuk manusia, supaya mereka beringat (mendapat pelajaran)." (Surah Ibrahim, 24 - 25)

Apakah usaha yang telah dilakukan oleh para Nabi-nabi dalam mendidik daya tahan golongan "rabbaniyun" yang bersama mereka itu?

Ayat diatas memberikan sebuah illustrasi sebatang pohon yang baik. Kekuatan pohon itu tentu sekali ada di akarnya yang teguh. Seandainya akar pohon itu lemah, maka mudahlah ia tumbang. Apabila akar ia kuat, maka pohon itu akan membesar tinggi dan dalam masa yang sama memberi manfaat kepada sekelilingnya.

Begitulah para "rabbaniyun" ini, asas yang menjadi akar didalam mereka adalah keimanan yang kental serta tawakkal dan pengharapan yang tinggi kepada Tuhan mereka. Dengan keimanan yang sebegitu, apa sahaja ujian yang didatangi mereka tidak sama sekali merubah semangat dan cinta mereka kepada perjuangan yang diharungi. Pada masa yang sama, mereka menjadi manfaat kepada sekeliling mereka.

Semoga Allah (swt) mengurniakan kita, sifat-sifat rabbaniyun ini agar kita disertakan didalam golongan ini. Ameen.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Da'wah - Melepas tanggung jawab dihari esok ...

Dan (ingatlah) ketika suatu umat di antara mereka berkata: "Mengapa kamu menasihati kaum yang Allah akan membinasakan mereka atau mengazab mereka dengan azab yang amat keras?" Mereka menjawab: "Agar kami mempunyai alasan (pelepas tanggung jawab) kepada Tuhanmu, dan supaya mereka bertakwa". (al-A’raf [7]: 164).

Ada ketika mereka hairan mengapa seorang aktivis da'wah itu kesana dan kesini namun sering natijahnya tidak kemana? Apabila anda menyanya diri anda perkara yang sama, ingatlah potongan ayat diatas.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Congratulations Singapore!

Few saw it coming.

Two weeks ago, many scarcely entertained the idea that they would ever witness history unfolding in the form of the Singapore General Election 2011. For many, to consider the potential of the opposition parties in Singapore posing its greatest challenge yet into the thick armor of the PAP’s polished war machine was unthinkable. But that changed, and tonight the election outcome speaks for itself.

While PAP still remains the ruling party, yet the mandate (60.14%) that they received tonight is the lowest ever in its history of elections. Along with that, the loss of Aljunied GRC and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr George Yeo, is a heavy loss to the ruling party. In addition, winning over Marine Parade, Tampines, Moulmein-Kallang by GRC teams led by key cabinet ministers against opposition that are considerably light-weights with very small margin is also an indication of ground sentiments of the PAP. Prior to this, the lowest mandate ever received by the PAP was 61% in 1991, under the leadership of Mr Goh Chok Tong. Immediately after that election, reforms were introduced to improve the public sentiment.

When announcement of the ensuing election was anticipated months ago, many considered, then, that the opposition parties were still to weak as far as the caliber of candidates are concern or that the opposition are seemingly to disperse and un-united to challenge the governing party that has been dominant ever since the independence of this red nation. Well, at least that’s what the mainstream media told us.

That perception changed once nomination day came, especially when the opposition offered very credible candidates in their line-up, one particular Chen Show Mao from the Worker’s Party certainly impressed me substantially along with the articulate Dr Vincent Wijeysingha from the Singapore Democratic Party. I was equally excited to know that Tony Tan Lay Thiam and wife, Hazel Poa (PSC scholars and all) were contesting at my constituency Choa Chu Kang.

Furthermore, aside for Punggol East SMC (with Worker’s Party, Singapore Democratic Alliance and People’s Action Party contesting), the other constituencies (GRC or SMC) saw only a two-party contest. This suggests that there is, in fact, coordination and fruitful outcomes from discussions by the opposition during the pre-elections.

In the last nine days of campaigning, we saw many ordinary (and not so ordinary) Singaporeans overcome the “fear barrier” that has insofar existed in Singapore by expressing their opinions and thoughts clearly on social media and other platforms. This most heavily contested election also saw massive crowds especially in opposition rallies. On average, the Worker’s Party pulled 30,000 participants for each of their rallies and who can forget Pritam Singh leading the huge crowd in reciting the Singapore pledge!

Interestingly enough, this election also saw PAP, for the first time, to be on their back foot and having to defend their policies (i.e. Mah Bow Tan, etc.) and even apologizing for some of the mistakes that the administration have made (i.e. PM Lee, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan). I can only imagine what would happen when there are more opposition in parliament. What sort of check and balance would that bring into the parliament? What sort of policy-making process and accountability of our leaders would we, Singaporeans, experienced?

So, the dynamism seen in this election bode well for Singapore and the maturing of its political scene into a more robust system of governance that is accountable to the people that it serves. Many “hot-button” issues were raised in this election and I am sure the PAP is taking down notes. With the lowest ever mandate in Singapore’s history, the PAP would do well to realize that it cannot be business as usual.

Things need to change. In addressing the lament of the people, policies need to be relooked; new fundamentals need to be identified and fresher performance indicators need to be agreed upon - which goes beyond economic growth. In fact a new economic model or approach that benefits the people need to be thought of (i.e. greater focus and emphasize on enterprise, more applicable research product, empowerment, etc.).

Today, Singaporeans have given a clear message that change must come. The leaders from the ruling party, in their speeches, leading up to election and after seem to have understood this. Now, we look forward to see all this in action.

I think, this election has reminded the leaders that it is the people whom these leaders serves and not the other way round. To ask the people to “repent” for their decisions or approaching them in an unreasonable and high-handed manner is not the way to go, anymore. For the next five years, the ruling party has all this time to make the changes mentioned above, otherwise, they will find it more difficult to receive the validation and legitimacy during the next election.

Majulah Singapura.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A housing matter

One of the biggest talking point in Singapore, especially with the May election, is the inflation in the cost of living – specifically, the cost of housing. I am particularly affected since I have, in the last few weeks, been going around house hunting in the resale market.

I was shocked after visiting countless HDB flats to realize that the cost of a 4-room unit that is currently valuated at S$370,000 rose from S$270,000 within a period of eight years! In other words, the cost of a house in general rose by a S$100,000 in less than ten years! While my wife and I could potentially afford it still, but it is ridiculous how steep the cost of houses have gone up in a relatively short span of time. Further, I am upset at the lack of regulation to manage this. While others might consider it a good thing, that the cost of land in Singapore has rose in value, yet it is unfortunate that little can be said with regards to the pay and salary of the everyday person. When an economy sees a rise in the cost of living that is not in line with the cost of labor, I would think, something is wrong somewhere with regards to the distribution of wealth.

In addition, it is ironic that the very institution that was initially set to provide affordable housing for all Singaporean, is making it challenging for a middle class person looking for a basic 4-room unit.

To add things worse, the cash-over-valuation or COV requested by buyers is also skyrocketing. Contrary to recent reports in the local media, the COVs are not cooling off by any stretch of the word. To that end, it’s probably high time the local media should be responsible and practice basic investigative journalism when reporting local current affairs.

To give you an idea, places at Tampines and Yishun were asking for 50k and 40k COVs. Places at Admiralty and Pasir Ris, would not have anything lower than 30k.

The Middle Class

I would consider myself in the low-middle class rung (an executive with a PhD wife), which means I may still not see the first million anytime soon but should still comfortably afford a 4-room unit. Yet, with the current valuation and COVs, I might be in debts my entire life paying for a roof over my head in the form of a 4-room flat!

From a macro point of view, what will be the quality of live for the daily Singaporean?

So I can understand why one scoff and laugh at comments made by the authority with regards to attempts to improve housing prices – especially considering most of this folks whom are paid millions to make things better for Singapore are staying in comfortable bungalows – when nothing tangible is seen or felt in the horizon for you and me.

Low Population Count?

My biggest complain is that the housing policies fail to correspond with the government push for procreation. Of course, I want to start a family but many people in my situation find it hard to do so when we can’t even afford a house!

Hence obviously, a more productive approach to encourage more Singaporean couples to have more babies is to look into this thorny housing issue. A more intuitive way, I would say, other than promoting more dating agencies and couples night or whatever they call it.

Also, perhaps the authorities should consider extending the support for first time buyers who are also looking into the resale market.

Regulation or People Power?

Having said all this, the government is not entirely at fault here. The buyers and market speculation generally drive the high COVs. Therefore, buyers and brokers or agents representing these buyers must also be realistic when considering the COV amount. They need to understand that they are also responsible for the market condition in the resale market. Herein lies a dilemma for buyers, should I go for big profit because the person upstairs got a high COV for this unit or create an example by affording others the chance of having a roof over their head. I don’t really believe much about karma or know about it, but I think there is a saying that goes: “what comes around, goes around”?

Of course, there is a causal reason for this – the high cost of living.

In Islam, while Muslims are not discourage to gain profits but there are other elements to a transaction beyond monetary profit. And that is the social or communal element where there are intangible (at least in the short term) outcomes. I realize it is hard to say all this while not sounding hypocritical because of the condition we are going through (which is not that bad lah actually when we apply tawakkal) but the wife and I had spoke briefly that if we ever sell our house, we will sell it to someone based other considerations beyond the COV potential. We hope not to waiver from the consideration.

But here's the biggest thing on my mind, in the long run, what kind of society are or will we to become, economically or socially, when we are driven or measured by capital rather than values? How engulfed are we by the system that we created to the extend of not being able to see the long-term and short-term impact into our society if these conditions perpetuate?

God help us ...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Developing a Reality – the next big thing

Augmented Reality (AR) is an emerging and fast-growing technology innovation that I think would be a core human-content interface element in the very near future. It’s potential is massive as indicated in James Cameron’s “Avatar”. By the way, I thought Avatars deserves the Oscar far better than “The Hurt Locker”. I guess Hollywood after all cares what the military generals and bureaucracy in Capitol Hill thinks.

Anyway, there is so much potential in AR – in terms of further improvements and applications. Imagine having a meeting with someone one the other side of the globe yet you feel as though they are in the same room and right in front of your very own nose! A possible radical idea, instead of sending troops to battle and killing each other let’s bring the fighting into AR – one opposing force will go against the other, and the winner takes the stake. Since all this happens in the AR scenario, only the avatar dies, so we preserve human lives! (yes, it would be better if we are able to manage and control emotions prior to the red alert scenario…but you get where I am going at) In health care, specialist could better prepare for surgery prior to operating on patients.

However, one of the biggest challenges of most of the developers or early adopters is actually to improve motion so that it looks as close to real world scenario as possible. That is to make the avatar in that AR to walk, run, and have facial expressions or other humanly action as natural and closest to reality. I realize how difficult it was to even program or capture that digital movement or motion. What is more challenging and keep researchers awake at the night is to figure out how best to replicate and extrapolate these recorded motions (data) into other scenarios within the “game-play”. As you can already imagine, the scenarios are infinite!

It strikes me how excellent Allah azza wa jalla is. Not only does He immaculately create us, but also every other thing that exists in this reality (last I checked there was 6 billion of us here on earth) And this is in 2011, imagine the many humans that have lived on this earth and all elements beyond this planet! At the same time, Allah arranges this real-space-time, that is a system or unit of measure that is relative to humans only, with myriad of scenarios and possibilities. Far from the first principle notion of Aristotle, Allah’s potential and presence ever exists, felt perpetually in space and time. More paramount is the free-play and decision-making processes of these humans that ripple consequences in their lives that affirms the profound brilliance of Allah swt.

Further, how ever clever or independent (or some would say arrogant) the human considers himself to be, he is yet unable to replicate the perfect and infinite reality that Allah has created, is create and will create.

The question here is, while human (and I hope you, the reader, consider how you can have a role in this, AR, co-space, etc.) develop other dimensions of reality, should we be absent of the very reality that we exists in and ponder as to who it is that has created all this?

Is it possible for natural selection to ever happen – as we do not expect the avatars in AR to just simply pop out one day? Yes, they may be a big bang, but who was the catalyst that creates the inertia that leads to what we are experiencing today?

Logic would demand, especially looking at the intricate matter of developing an AR, for one to consider the presence of another higher intelligence beyond our own – that administers every single thing or the Arabic term, Ar Rabb.

“And blessed be He unto Whom belongeth the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them, and with Whom is knowledge of the Hour, and unto Whom ye will be returned.” (The Qur’an, Chapter 43 – Az Zukhruf, Verse 85).

“And the sun runneth on unto a resting place for him. That is the measuring of the Mighty, the Wise.
And for the moon We have appointed mansions till she return like an old shrivelled palm leaf. It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor doth the night outstrip the day. They float each in an orbit.” (The Qur’an, Chapter 36 – Yaa Sin, Verse 38-40).

“Allah is He who sendeth the winds so that they raise clouds, and spreadeth them along the sky as pleaseth Him, and causeth them to break and thou seest the rain downpouring from within them. And when He maketh it to fall on whom He will of His bondmen, lo! they rejoice;” (The Qu’ran, Chapter 30 – Ar Rum, Verse 48).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Don't Give Up

“…This day, those who disbelieved have given up all hope of your religion; so fear them not, but fear Me. This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My Favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion…”

(Surah al Maidah, Verse 3)

Often we find ourselves giving up when things don’t come our way or don’t happen soon enough. We give up immediately in exasperation after not seeing anything desirable in sight. As a result, we give up, or stop reminding ourselves to make doa and certain question creeps in the dark corners of our mind - what did I do to deserve this? More fatal, we cease to consider alternative solutions and making any further attempt to get it right.

That raises a question - does that mean that God is cruel? Or should we resign assured that He will grant us that doa only in Jannah, a common view?

It’s amusing, at least for me, that despite the many shortfalls in our lives or the disability to act in the truest spirit of righteousness as we often find ourselves, we are yet confident, as if assured, of that place “in Jannah” and thus Allah (azza wa jalla) granting our hopes then. While not reducing that possibility yet if we are to glimpse into the chronicles of the beloved Prophet, Muhammad (saw), we will potentially realize that factors which leads to not overcoming ones goal is, in fact, a matter of our own procrastinations, short focus span and other personal factors. In orders words, we might need to look inwardly rather than outwardly for a solution.

The verse of the Qur’an above is considered by many scholars as one of the last few, if not the last verse of the Qur’an revealed. It was revealed on the Day of Arafah during Hajjatul Wada’ (or the final Hajj), the Prophet Muhammad (saw) was in his sixty-third year, his final year.

Most scholars are of the opinion that this verse is the final declaration of triumph to the Believers and the fulfillment of the message of Allah (that is the Qur’an) hence sums the successful mission of Prophet Muhammad (saw) which lasted for twenty-three years. A mission that saw him through countless of trials and tribulations by his people, relatives, former allies and many other elements.

What is remarkable here is that this final “triump” came only after twenty-three years. It took the Prophet that long! Armed with the most potent weapon of any believer could ever had - the doa - one could imagine the many doa and effort that the beloved Prophet (saw) must have made. Potentially, he could have just simply given up.

Yet, it was that perseverance and patience, along with Divine Help, characteristics inevitable of the Prophet (saw) that he succeeded in delivering the message that is Islam.

Looking back at ourselves, are we then to expect grand success after only weeks, or days, of asking and supplicating? Without trials and tribulations? Are we to expect any impactful outcome with only minuscule kilograms of effort, or worse these days, without hardly raising a finger beyond the keypad?

“Or think you that they will enter Paradise without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? They were afflicted with sever poverty and ailments and were so shaken that even the Messenger and those who believed along with him said. ”When (will come) the help of Allah? …” (Surah al Baqarah, Verse 214)

What degree of hardship had the Messenger(s) of Allah and the Believers sustained to eventually causes them to whisper a desperate question and cry. To what extend was the pressure that was almost the final strand of that last straw almost breaking the camel’s back? Consideringly these were men and women whom when compared based on iman, amal and sacrifice would surpass any one of us today. Imagine that!

It was such trials that saw Ishmael, left as an infant, in the arms of Hagar in the middle of a desert without an oasis in sight. It is this sort of challenges that saw Yusuf (or Joseph) left in by his brothers to fan for himself. I can go on.

Yet the point here is obvious. In order to achieve our greatest ambition and hope would require something beyond the few weeks or days worth of doa and effort, It needs us to not give up after growing frustrated seeing no outcome close to our expectations in sight. Rather, it requires an insurmountable will, conviction and perhaps creativity to fulfill our very purpose, encouraged deeply with iman and taqwa, readying one to overcome challenges and fully anticipative of the pleasure that comes with tawakkal after the best of preparation, that may possibly lie our greatest hope for that better tomorrow.

“… Verily, Allah will not change the condition of a people as long as they do not change their state themselves …”

(Surah as Ra’d, Verse 11)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Thinking Big!

"The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it." (Michelangelo)

One of the most important aspects of leadership is the willingness to dream big. That is, the aspiration to overcome the impossible and thus in that process create a bigger impact in the environment that it function, if not the world. I believe it is Adidas that came out with the tag line:”Nothing is Impossible”.

Void of this component (thinking big), many organizations or individuals will find themselves trap in the mundane and not in the forefront of the value chain. Very soon, other competitors would be able to catch up and overcome that particular organization hence render it irrelevant.

To that end, it will also find difficulty attracting high-performance individuals and will only find those who are mediocre or non-motivated working for them, which is the final nail into the coffin really.

This chicken and egg dilemma in the long run will leave the organizational wasted and dysfunctional, if not as we have already guessed, not sustainable and perishable. This example may also work for any individual or society of people.

“Most of us are trap in doing what we know rather than what we need” according to a certain Haji Zaid Kamaruddin, the head of Jemaah Islah Malaysia during my visit recently to Kuala Lumpur.

To do something what we need requires the ability to look at things from a macro point of view. It requires one to understand the environment that it operates and identify the gaps that exist. In order to do that, one need to step out from the ordinary day-to-day administration mode and look beyond the horizon. This, I believe, is crucial for the leaders of today’s organization to be relevant.

During a presentation by the National CTO of Korea and the former CEO of Samsung Semiconductors, Dr. Chang-Gyu Hwang, I was impressed by the forward looking and sense-making (which I am sure was the larger element of the former) that Samsung significantly invest and later implement through development of its product that aims “to serve humanity”.

This is a case in point of the ability to look beyond the day-to-day and understand emerging trends thus positioning oneself in the value or supply chain. In doing that, Samsung is one of the leading manufacturing businesses to date. It is one of two corporations that have achieved a net profit of over 10-billion dollars so far. Looking beyond the monetary achievement, the success that Samsung has enjoyed so far is a huge lesson for any organizations that aim to create huge impact.

The underlying philosophy behind Samsung’s growth is according to Dr. Hwang the ability to look at the human need broadly as it adapts to the environment – and asking “what else”. However the engine behind that is (1) risk-taking (2) creativity and innovation (3) investment in human capital (4) and lots of hard work. The last point is my own observation but I suspect is potentially the biggest element.

Today, the well-funded R&D laboratories of Samsung are in the process of new products that will allow humanity to adapt better to society and addressing global issues (i.e. energy renewal, better human interactions, etc.). In other words, the Galaxy Tabs, and others is merely a tip of the iceberg. Not bad for a semiconductor company in its early days.

As a Muslim, I can’t help but to ask where are we in all this? Are the Muslims in Singapore well adapted and ready to be part of this value chain? The earlier Scientific Renaissance of the Muslim world highlights the non-aversion of Islam for science and technology yet today we find ourselves lacking in these very areas. Are we today still stuck in the polemics between schools of thought that that becomes the primary focus of the day rather than re-establishing our roles as “khalifah”(s) – not a world domineering totalitarian element but one that facilitates and adds value to humanity. Have we given too much credit to colonialist element of the pass (or remnants of it in the present) to render us still unable to overcome it? We are not impressed by the billion of dollars earnings (because our worldview celebrate success with a different yardstick) but the impact into society, and the ability for such and impact, that by default should be the role of anyone Muslim that, I believe, is sorely lacking today. Think big.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Can the Modern Leader Please Stand Up?

During the MIT Global Startup Workshop 2011 in Seoul that I attended a few days ago, one of the keynote speakers, Mr Nader Darehshori, talks about the importance of leadership qualities in entrepreneurs and how leadership differs from managerial aptitudes.

The content of Mr Darehshori’s keynote was not entirely new and we are fairly familiar with the differences that are obvious between a leader and a manager. Broadly, a leader is a visionary who sees daily problems from a macro perspective and yet, at the micro level, is able to inspire and communicate to the grassroots. Interestingly Mr Nader emphasized strongly on the former, the ability to inspire.

As I was chatting with the Dean of the NUS Business School (Professor Bernard Yeung), who presented in one of the sessions, he mentioned the importance of challenging the status quo or common mindset of students who simply want to finish school and settle down in contrast to having a (1) a passion of what he wants to change in society (2) a vision of the goal (3) an aspiration to fulfill it beyond all else, and I quote: “I agree with your observation (I was complaining about the common culture of graduating, find work, etc.), but as entrepreneurship educators we don’t accept and cannot allow our students (or participants) to accept the status quo”. On a side-note, I can’t help to say that, he reminded me of a former boss who is now the dean of a business school in the US. It was not just the words but passion and conviction in the manner he said those things.

It is in this light that we must have leaders who are capable to stand up and look beyond the micro details of society and address issues that are the “big rocks” (Stephen Covey, 7 Habits) faced by society. To forge a direction that uplifts the standard of society in economical, societal, cultural, religious and political sense. And thus inspires the everyday person to become more than what he thought he could. This is the role of the leader that we need today above and beyond the usual fire-fighting that we see within the current frame.

Hence, you can imagine the ignominy that I felt reading the Straits Times (Saturday, 26th March) while on a plane, heading home, of an MP that was given a huge spread on what he did to address the over-crowdedness of a certain 176 bus that passed by his constituency. While, I admire his approach, of going down at 6.30am to see for himself the situation, and am very sure of his sincerity in improving situations, yet I can’t help but to be left wanting of more “big rocks” that he was able to have an impact on (ie. rising inflation, better education programs, enhancing multi-religious/ racial harmony, facilitating a civil society, etc.) or for the newspaper to write of achievements of our national leaders that are truly deserving of a “modern” state.

KR: Yes, I am pouring nuggets of wisdom again into this blog after a two years absence :D

Thursday, April 23, 2009

In Singapore, a More Progressive Islamic Education

Published: April 22, 2009
The New York Times

SINGAPORE — After starting the day with prayers and songs in honor of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, the students at the Madrasa Al Irsyad Al Islamiah here in Singapore turned to the secular. An all-girls chemistry class grappled with compounds and acids while other students focused on English, math and other subjects from the national curriculum.

Teachers exhorted their students to ask questions. Some, true to the school’s embrace of new technology, gauged their students’ comprehension with individual polling devices.

“It’s like ‘American Idol,’ ” said Razak Mohamed Lazim, the head of Al Irsyad, which means “rightly guided.”

A reference to the reality television program in relation to an Islamic school may come as a surprise. But Singapore’s Muslim leaders see Al Irsyad, with its strict balance between religious and secular studies, as the future of Islamic education, not only in this city-state but elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Two madrasas in Indonesia have already adopted Al Irsyad’s curriculum and management, attracted to what they say is a progressive model of Islamic education in tune with the modern world. For them, Al Irsyad is the counterpoint to many traditional madrasas that emphasize religious studies at the expense of everything else. Instead of preaching radicalism, the school’s in-house textbooks praise globalization and international organizations like the United Nations.

Leaders in Islamic education here rue the fact that, in much of the West, madrasas everywhere have been broad-brushed as militant hotbeds where students spend days learning the Koran by rote. Still, they were relieved that not one terrorism suspect in the region in recent years was a product of Singapore’s madrasas, though some suspects were linked to madrasas in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries. That association deepened a long-running debate over the nature of Islamic education.

“The Muslim world in general is struggling with its Islamic education,” Mr. Razak said, explaining that Islamic schools had failed to adapt to the modern world. “In many cases, it’s also the challenge the Muslim world is facing. We are not addressing the needs of Islam as a faith that has to be alive, interacting with other communities and other religions.”

In Indonesia, most Islamic schools still pay little attention to secular subjects, believing that religious studies are enough, said Indri Rini Andriani, a former computer programmer who is the principal of Al Irsyad Satya Islamic School, one of the Indonesian schools that model themselves on the school here.

“They feel that conventional education is best for the children, while some of us feel that we have to adjust with advances in technology and what’s going on in the world,” Ms. Indri said.

Here, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, a statutory board that advises the government on Muslim affairs, gave Al Irsyad a central spot in its new Islamic center. Long the top academic performer among the country’s six madrasas, Al Irsyad was chosen to be in the center as “a showcase,” said Mr. Razak, who is also an official at the religious council.

The school’s 900 primary- and secondary-level students follow the national curriculum of the country’s public schools while also taking religious instruction. To accommodate both, the school day is three hours longer than at the mainstream schools.

Mohamed Muneer, 32, a chemistry teacher, said most of his former students had gone on to junior colleges or polytechnic schools, while some top students attended the National University of Singapore. “Many became administrators, some are teaching and some joined the civil service,” he said.

At the cafeteria, Ishak Bin Johari, a 17-year-old who wants to become a newspaper reporter, said the balance between the secular and religious would help the school’s graduates “lead normal Singaporean lives compared to other madrasa students.”

That balance resulted, like many things in this country, from pressure by the government. Singapore’s madrasas — historically the schools for ethnic Malays who make up about 14 percent of the country’s population — experienced a surge in popularity in the 1990s along with a renewed interest in Islam.

But that surge, coupled with the madrasas’ poor record in nonreligious subjects, high dropout rates and graduation of young people with few marketable job skills, worried the government. It responded by making primary education at public schools compulsory in 2003, allowing exceptions like the madrasas, provided they met basic standards by 2010. If they fail, they will have to stop educating primary school children.

“That forced the madrasas to shift their curriculum away from being purely religious schools,” said Mukhlis Abu Bakar, an expert on madrasas at the National Institute of Education, a teachers college.

A kindergarten class at Al-Irsyad Satya Islamic School, in Kota Baru Parahyangan, Indonesia. This school, which used the Singapore school as its model, opened two years ago.

Last year, the first time all six madrasas were required to sit for national exams at the primary level, two failed to meet the minimal standards, though they still had two more years to pass.

Al Irsyad, which was the first to alter its curriculum, outperformed the other madrasas. But neither it nor the others made any of the lists of best performing schools or students compiled by the Education Ministry in Singapore.

Mr. Mukhlis, who also was a member of Al Irsyad’s management committee in the 1990s, said the madrasas still had a long way to go to catch up with mainstream schools. While Singapore’s teachers are among the most highly paid civil servants, the madrasas have had trouble attracting qualified teachers because they rely only on tuition and donations to operate, he said.

“I think Al Irsyad has not achieved a level where I would say it is a model for Islamic education,” he said, “but somehow the system it has in place could become one.”

Still, it began drawing students who would not have attended a madrasa otherwise. Noridah Mahad, 44, said she had wanted to send her two older children to madrasas but worried about the quality of education. With Al Irsyad’s adoption of the national curriculum, she felt no qualms in sending her third child. “Here they teach many things other than Islam,” she said. “So Muslim students will have two understandings: the Muslim and the outside world.”

Al Irsyad said it was in talks to export its model to madrasas in the Philippines and Thailand. In Indonesia, Dahlan Iskan, the chairman of Jawa Pos Group, one of the country’s biggest media companies, opened a school modeled on Singapore’s. And a conglomerate, the Lyman Group, backed Al Irsyad Satya.

Poedji Koentarso, a retired diplomat, led the search for Lyman, visiting madrasas all over Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

“We shopped around,” he said. “It was a difficult search in the sense that often the schools were very religious, too religious.”

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KR: fancy reading this on the New York Times ....

the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/23/world/asia/23singapore.html?pagewanted=1&_r=3&ref=world