It may be a dream afraid of waking up, or it may be a dream coming to realization in the next morning.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ramadan and Our Culture

It's Ramadan again! As usual, this time of year, Muslims will try their hardest to make sure that they benefit from this month as much as possible. They fast everyday, go to the mosque every night for Tarawih, try to do more charity, try to be less bad-mouthed, and try to instil virtues in heart. But sadly, there are also some Muslims out there who make fasting nothing more like a cultural celebration. And I think this is a major problem in Malaysia.

Fasting is not just about withdrawing from eating and drinking, but it's about refraining your whole body and mind from sins and bad things. Whenever it's Ramadan, TV and radio will always wish you, "Happy fasting!" But do you think when they wish that, they actually say that in full perspective of fasting in Islam? I have seen some Muslims who fast because it's cultural to do so, but at the same time, abandoning the obligatory prayers. My father also comments about how people keep praying congregationally for Tarawih (which is good), but they seem to abandon the obligatory ones.

Tarawih is also usually just very festive in the first half of Ramadan and after that, you can see that praying lines in mosques are slowly and gradually reducing. So, I was thinking that, making changes is not difficult, what's difficult is maintaining it. I'm not just speaking about others, but also about myself. I hope we all have the heart and strong mind to make self improvements and maintain those improvements even when Ramadan ends.

So, I would like to take this opportunity to pray that in this Ramadan, we will be blessed with strong and persistent faith, strong and persistent motivation to act on that faith.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

How to Love Yourself

We have always heard that in order to be loved, we need to love ourselves first. So, how do you love yourself? I don't think this is an easy thing to do, because saying, "I love me, I love myself" again and again seems a little inconclusive. You can do something everyday but it doesn't mean you love it, right?

Ken Page, in his article in Psychology Today titled, "How To Love Yourself First", says that self-affirmation can work, if it is also supported by affirmations given by others. According to this author, what we need in order to love ourselves is to see that other people also appreciate a certain part of ourselves that we feel insecure about. For example, you are insecure about your shape. You keep saying you are beautiful again and again and again. But if at the same time, others say that you have a less-than-attractive shape, or that you could be much better in terms of weight, or similar words implying that you are not beautiful, your self-affirmation can be defeated.

This, again, emphasizes the importance of searching for good friends who can simply accept us the way we are. Ken Page says that, while it is not wise to create a false self, it is understandable when various other people reject our true self and then we feel forced to create a false one. More and more we feel and are rejected, we keep our true self inside, creating a wall between people and us. The trick is to find a person who you can feel absolutely safe with sharing your true identity. But for me, this is the hardest thing to do. No wonder despite self-affirmations, some of us keep falling in the pit of self-hatred so often than not.

Sharing our true identity with a trusted person can be a tricky thing to do. 1) How to find that trusted person? What if the wall we have built is so high, even ourselves can't tear that down? How can we invite another person to see our true self then? 2) What if our true identity is something of a cultural taboo? What if sharing our true self will make it more likely for people to abhor you, even your family?

It turns out to be more difficult than we thought to love ourselves, right?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Fear of Crime?

A 2010-2011 survey by TNS Research International commissioned by PEMANDU (Performance Management and Delivery Unit) showed that fear of crime among Malaysians have reduced. The sample for the research was randomly selected from Malaysian population who are above 18 years old. According to them, this is a reflection of how well the police have done their job and how well they have made sure that the Malaysian people feel "safer." But I think , there's more important notion to look than fear of crime.

1) Reduction of fear of crime is not an indication of the reduction of number of crime cases. By definition, fear of crime is different than the actual probability of being victimized. According to research, people who are more probable to be victimized have less fear of crime than people who are less probable to be victimized. As a result, while one group lives in fear, the other group lives freely with the chance of being robbed, or injured, or more unfortunately, murdered, is actually higher. So, shouldn't we deal with that than measuring fear of crime? I'm not saying fear of crime is not important, it does have its own psychosocial implications. But we have been focusing one aspect of criminality and victimization, we forget to share the concerns with other variables that can be as pertinent too.

2) The conclusion made by the statement by TNS that this reduction of fear of crime reflects the performance by police can be premature. While it can be true, but fear of crime is contributed by a lot of factors than police performance. It can be personal victimization (which is not generalizable), neighbourhood characteristics, and also mass media. People who watch a lot of crime films, for example, and have high sensitivity towards exposure to criminal behaviors can have their fear of crime affected. So, again, it is inconclusive and further research needs to be done.

3) The sample was claimed to be randomly picked according to state proportions. But nothing is mentioned if they consider places that have been "black-listed" because I think to live in a neighbourhood that has high rate of crime can affect their level of fear of crime. Should we generalize the level of fear of crime in, say, a crowded Petaling Street to the people who live in a calm breezy village in Penang? There are reasons why some places are have higher number of crime cases than other, and these should be considered in drawing any implication.

So, for me, I've learned that almost nothing is contributed by one factor. Every event in the world is influenced by multiple agents, only what differs is the degree. What influences more than the other. This includes fear of crime, victimization probability, crime rates, and many more. Researchers who have the intent to publicize their findings as a way to back-up a PR stunt need to realize this.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Blaming Others

Yesterday, I attended a postgraduate colloquium and various people including supervisors and ex-students share their experience and talk about GOT (graduating on time). One speaker that GOT my full attention was the director of ISDEV, Professor Dr. Muhammad Syukri Salleh. ISDEV is a division that gathers various students and lecturers who are interested in Islamic studies.

In his speech, I could see that he emphasized a lot about two things, 1) the importance of always coming back to our Creator, 2) and the importance of always having good friends.

He said that there are a lot of factors contributing to why sometimes we feel difficulties that seem to never stop. The challenges that inflict us seem to get stronger everyday, and we get weaker. The first that we need to notice is our attitude: Do we blame others a lot? Or do we blame ourselves? When we start pointing fingers to people other than our own selves for the suffering that we have, one by one the doors to solving that problem will be closed. So, he recommends never to blame the rain, or a problematic friend, or an angry supervisor - if you have the will to work it out, God will open the door of resolution for you, one that you might not quite expect it. So, by looking at our own selves for the problems that inflict us, we automatically start the self-reflecting state that can actually enhance our spirituality. So, in short, it's important to go back to who created you, which is God.

He has methods for PhD students under his division who are struggling to complete the dissertation. In his division, the students are required to have weekly meeting where they will discuss about their progress and at least socialize. This is important because during doctoral education, the main person you'll ever meet in regular basis is your supervisor, the rest you will spend alone in the library or at home/room. If you are a sociable person, then you might go to the mosque to pray congregationally, but then, that is if you have friends who also pray congregationally in the mosque. PhD students practically lose many sociability resources that usually come from co-curricular activities and attending classes for undergraduate students. So, by holding these weekly meetings and other various social activities, PhD students will get more supports. So, this way, stresses and pressure can be handled more effectively.

He calls his methods heart-to-heart supervision, and I believe that this method can help students manage their progress alongside their colleagues and friends. PhD journey shouldn't feel alone, yet most of time feel like it is a lonely journey. So, the things to remember, return to who your Creator is, and go get some good friends whom you can do some social activities ever now and then.