Monday, January 21, 2008

Pork Sausages Galore

Chinese New Year is coming, and Chinatown is gearing up for it.

I walked through a Chinatown street just now to get to the subway from my office, and walked gingerly past a long row of pork sausage stalls trying to avoid contact. Yes, it is in the air .... the war between pigs and the Chinese.

Muslims had just commemorated their new year, and it is based on the lunar month calendar system. The Chinese have a combined lunar-solar calendar.

For convenience, here are the dates of the Chinese festivals coming up (from wikipedia) -


The Chinese calendar year has nine main festivals, seven determined by the lunisolar calendar, and two derived from the solar agricultural calendar. (Farmers actually used a solar calendar, and its twenty-four terms, to determine when to plant crops, due to the inaccuracy of the lunisolar traditional calendar. However, the traditional calendar has also come to be known as the agricultural calendar.) The two special holidays are the Qingming Festival and the Winter Solstice Festival, falling upon the respective solar terms, at ecliptic longitudes of 15° and 270°, respectively. As for all other calendrical calculations, the calculations use civil time in China, UTC+8.

Date English Name Chinese Name Remarks 2008

month 1
day 1
Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) 春節
Family gathering and festivities for 3–15 days Feb 7

month 1
day 15
Lantern Festival 元宵節
Yuanxiao eating
and lanterns
Feb 21

Apr 4
or 5
Qingming Festival (Clear and Bright) 清明節
Tomb sweeping Apr 4

month 5
day 5
Dragon Boat Festival 端午節
Dragon boat racing
and zongzi eating
Jun 8

month 7
day 7
Night of Sevens 七夕
For lovers, like Valentine's Day Aug 7

month 8
day 15
Mid-Autumn Festival (Moon Festival)[1] 中秋節
Family gathering and moon cake eating Sep 14

month 9
day 9
Double Ninth Festival (Double Yang) 重陽節
Mountain climbing
and flower shows
Oct 7

month 10
day 15
Xia Yuan Festival 下元節
Pray for a peaceful year to the Water God Nov 12

Dec 21 or 22 Winter Solstice Festival 冬至
Family gathering Dec 21

month 12
day 23
Kitchen God Festival

Jan 18

Point to note - the Lantern Festival mentioned above is not the same as the one celebrated in Singapore, which is known as the Mid-Autumn Festival in China. The Chinese in Singapore do not observe the Lantern Festival mentioned above.

Tomorrow is Thaipusam. I have not seen one of those in a long time. When I was in secondary school, my school was located at Serangoon Road, and the whole region would be congested with kavadi carriers and their supporters. It was an experience, really.

This reminds me of why I love being in Singapore. So many cultures, so many faiths, and nobody bugs you about yours.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Inspirations : Sir Ahmed Hassanein

I was reading about Sir Edmund Hilary and was reflecting about what a truly inspirational man he was. When I was a child, everyone knew "Sir Edmund Hilary who climbed Mount Everest with Tensing Norgay".

In reasearching on Sir Edmund on the net, I found another adventurer, albeit of a different nature, in the form of Sir Ahmed Hassanein. Here is the short description of him in Wikipedia -

"Ahmed Pasha Hassanein (1889 - 1946) - Egyptian explorer, diplomat, one of two non-European winners of Gold Medal of Royal Geographical Society in 1924, King's chamberlain, fencing participant to 1924 Olympics, photographer, author and discoverer of Jebel Uweinat, and writer of "The Lost Oases" book in three languages."

It was interesting enough, but when I read the details, I was immediately enraptured by this man. Son of a sheikh of al-Azhar, but graduate from Oxford? Explored the then unexplored Sahara desert and discovered evidence of civilisation even earlier than the pyramid-builders, from a time when the Sahara was fertile?

Interesting description of him -
"... explains Rennell Rodd’s remarks in his introduction, where he says that Hassanein had consulted him ‘in a very delicate matter’ in which he proved himself to be ‘generous in his judgements and, for I know no other way of expressing what I mean, a great gentleman’. Rosita had fallen in love with Hassanein, but the details are hidden behind Hassanein’s discretion and Rosita’s catty remarks. It was said in Cairo that she would climb into his tent and try to seduce him, but that Hassanein refused her. ‘I was determined not to offend Allah and his mercy’, Hassanein is remembered to have said, ‘for we were in the midst of uncharted desert with the perils of death surrounding us on all sides.’".

Read the rest in Wikipedia.

Masjid Darul Gufran This Morning

This morning the whole Mudpie family went for subuh prayer at our neighbourhood mosque, Masjid Darul Gufran at Tampines.

The imam was a young man, a graduate from the Natuonal University of Malaysia, and alumni of Madrasah Aljunied here. I know him because he did a stint of internship at my office a few years ago whilst still in university.

He gave the customary kuliah subuh (dawn talk) that mosques have on Sundays, and it was on how he read in the Readers' Digest about the health benefits of rising early, and also about how we should be wary of our words. He quoted Imam al-Gazzali who said that words can be sharper than swords. He cautioned us not to be carried away with speech trends, that just because some young people nowadays are freely using certain expressions today, we must remember that we are in an Asian setting, where language is not merely meant for function, but indicates a person's character as well.

He recounted how when he went to Malaysia, some of his colleagues chided him for using "aku" ("I") and "kau" ("you"), even though these pronouns are commonly used here and now. He was advised that these terms were disrespectful and used to insult the other person.

How interesting. I was always taught not to use those terms as they are rude. I felt some discomfort when I read a short novel in the Malay newspaper which used these terms. I guess their use has become prevalent her nowadays because our people think first in English and translate into Malay, so "I" becomes "aku" and "you" becomes "awak".

Also, I remember when I was a child people always referred to Rasulullah s.a.w. as "Baginda" ("His Majesty") and never as "Rasulullah" or "Nabi". In Malay, certain words are used for royalty only, and these can be used to Rasulullah. Some words are reserved only for Him, such as we are never supposed to use the word "mati" for His death, but "wafat" instead; and not "kata" for "said", but "sabda".

As you must have noticed, I have decided to use a capital letter to start to refer to Him. I guess this is the least I could do.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Excited : Something to look forward to

I am so excited. I stumbled on this on It is coming soon, insha Allah. By the way, here's the only picture I have ever seen of the man.

The Shaykh le Gai Eaton gave a speech at the Radical Middle Way.

Here's the podcast.

Here is a nice example of his writing, for the uninitiated, and another.

Crossroad check : Ashura, Judaism, Madinah and The Prophet

An interesting article examines the question : What was the Jewish festival that our Master was referring to which he saw them observing in Madinah that we now know of as Ashura?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Masjid Jamae Chulia at South Bridge Road

Masjid Jamae Chulia
Originally uploaded by LilMudPie
I've been going to this mosque for daily prayers as well as for Friday prayers as it is the nearest to my office. It is all in Tamil, which I dont understand a word of. It is a very old mosque, built by the very first generation of immigrants, and stands right next to a famous Hindu temple. This mosque is the centre for Tamil Muslim culture and learning in Singapore. Although located along a very busy street, the walls prevent the noise from coming into the mosque itself, so it is quite serene inside. A little dilapidated, and needs to be more woman-friendly, in my view. Lots of tourists come in to see what a mosque looks like. I guess for many of them it would be the first contact with Islam.

DVD Review : The Willow Tree

I borrowed this DVD, something I just had to do, being a lifelong movie fan and a Muslim who looks for spiritual learning points in every film.

Majid Majidi is the director of this delightful Iranian film. This is his latest, and came out last year. The story is about a blind person named Yusuf gaining his sight in answer to his prayers.

This is Majidi's most overtly religious of all his films. Yusuf is a blind professor of Persian literature, and his specialty is Rumi. In spite of his blindness he is a successful professor, a husband and father. He prays for God to give him sight as he had always been grateful for what he has been given.

The moral of the story is be careful what you pray for, and be grateful for what you are not given.

Gaining sight was ecstatic for Yusuf, presented in the way which only Majidi would. He jumps about like a little child in the hospital. Gradually, after the celebration is over, the challenges that come with eyesight set in. He sees pretty girls for the first time and sees his wife for the first time - she is plain. He sees a pickpocket on the subway. He sees ugliness.

I must confess I do not rate this film as highly as his Children of Heaven and The Colour of Paradise - which, if they were books, would be Sufi manuals by themsleves. I also loved Baran, although less so, but I would rank The Willow Tree to be my least favourite.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

New School Term Begins

Masjid Darul Gufran
Originally uploaded by LilMudPie
Here's a picture I took last year at the first day at weekend madrasah at Masjid Darul Gufran for Omar. It was cute how the little 7-year olds are learning how to pray in congregation.

Masjid Hj Mohd Salleh at Palmer Road

Here's a snapshot I took of inside Masjid Haji Mohd Salleh at Palmer Road, the one attached to the shrine of Habib Noh, the saint of Singapore. It is a small little hut of a mosque in the middle of the busy city area, but located slightly apart from the skyscrapers so that it remains serene and disconnected. A true oasis it is. When I was working in that area for a few years, I used to love to go there for 'asr prayer and stay on for maghrib before leaving for home. I feel I can leave all the hustle and stress behind me there when I pick up a Qur'an and just read it softly. I always found comfort and strength in this mosque.

Masjid Sultan

Masjid Sultan 4
Originally uploaded by LilMudPie
I was at Masjid Sultan last Sunday, just to pop in for zohor prayer, when I noticed how beautiful it was.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

DVD Review : Kingdom of Heaven

I re-saw Kingdom of Heaven a few days ago.

The first time I saw it was when it was first released on DVD, about a year ago.

I felt it was a disappointment then.

In retrospect, I guess at that time, memories of Gladiator were still too fresh in everyone's minds, and we were all waiting for a bigger and better, more macho and violent, sequel to it.

It did not help that Kingdom was heavily promoted as being by the same director who gave you Gladiator.

When Kingdom did not meet these expectations, I guess we all quickly wrote it off.

There was a beauty of re-watching Kingdom two years later.

This time the ghost of Gladiator is well forgotten, and Kingdom could be judged on its own merits, outside Gladiator's shadow.

Looking at it again, I realised that Kingdom was clearly not meant to be a mere follow up act to Gladiator.

Gladiator was a pure visceral adrenaline rollercoaster ride of a film, meant to engage your guts more than your heart. There was no message there except "rip the guts out of the emperor in the most spectacularly bloody way possible".

Kingdom had its exciting moments, but none anywhere close to Gladiator in spectacle.

However, Kingdom was clearly a film with a message, and the director Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, Legend, Matchstick Men, A Good Year, Black Hawk Down, American Gangster) was messaging more in this film than any other before.

In the second viewing of Kingdom, I grew to like Orlando Bloom.

Whereas he was everyone's unanimous choice as the reason why the film flopped, I now think he is perfect for the part.

He does not look too European, he is clean cut, and youthful-looking, which stands him out from the rest of the jaded, war-weary souls in Jerusalem.

He looks the perfect hero to negotiate the surrender of Jerusalem - can you imagine a more macho Hollywood actor like Russel Crowe doing something like - surrendering - to Arabs?

Anyway, I liked some of the musings thrown about in the film, which is more noticeable only in a second viewing.

Ed Norton was brilliant even with a mask on -

He exuded beauty of character trapped in deformity of body.

Ed Norton, well, he is just great as an actor to project a commanding presence without showing his face the whole time.

Eva Green (my current hot favourite actress) was clearly the token female character, but she provided a good bridge between the players and provided a little love interest to break the dramatic tension.

I must say that she looked smashing whilst decently dressed, even with hijab. That's another thing in this movie you probably will never see anywhere else.

The British actors were stereotyped as - well - characters speaking with British accents.

One of them is Jeremy Irons (whose voice I will always remember reading the Alchemist in my car CD) and another is the guy who appears in the TV series Heroes as the invisible man. Of course, Liam Neeson too.

The theme of the film is about the pointlessness of war.

The war in Jerusalem was pointlesss then, and it is pointless now.

Balian (Orlando Bloom) asks Salahuddeen "What is Jerusalem?" and the latter answers "Nothing - everything!".

To understand this we must realise that just before than Balilan had threatened to destroy all the holy places in Jerusalem, and that for each Crusader killed, 10 Muslims would be killed, leaving Salahuddeen with no army thereafter.

The reply from Salahuddeen was not what one would expect.

His answer to Balian's threat to destroy the city was "I wonder if it would not be better that you did" - indicating he does not care about the buildings.

And his answer to Balian's threat to kill 10 Muslim soldiers for each Crusader, Salahuddeen's answer was "You have women and children in your city, what about them?".

With Balian clearly left with nothing to negotiate with, Salahuddeen nevertheless offers the Christian safe passage out of Jerusalem.

His victory was not to be only military, but moral as well.

To offer your enemy a gift at the moment when you have defeated him - it reminds me of our Master, the Prophet, himself did at the liberation of Mecca.

There are lessons to all of us in this movie.

Many Muslims are clamouring for defeat of the Israelis and re-conquest of Jerusalem.

However, we forget that Jerusalem had been conquered by the Muslims twice before in history.

First, it was under Syiddina Omar.

There was no blood shed in the city.

The Christians gave the keys to the Church of Holy Sepulchre to him.

Second, when Salahuddeen re-took it from the Crusaders.

Again he negotiated a bloodless surrender.

In neither case did the Muslim side spill blood in Jerusalem.

Now, Jerusalem is the third holiest city in Islam. Like the other two, it should be treated as sacrosanct.

In Makkah and Madinah, it would be unthinkable to spill blood.

However, in Jerusalem now, blood flows like water.

I personally believe that Jerusalem will never be liberated from the Israelis simply because the people defiling it now are the Muslims.

We defile it with the blood of innocents everyday.

Also, we all know that Hamas is Saudi-backed, and the minute they were to take over Jerusalem, they would demolish al-Aqsa mosque and rebuild it in a more "Islamic" form - meaning no more Dome of the Rock, which is actually a shrine to heretical innovation in the eyes of Wahabbism.

The Palestinian people have to wake up and realise that.

The day we treat Baitulmaqdis with reverence is the day that we deserve her, and God will only give us what we deserve, right?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Beautiful sunset in kuching

We went to Kuching, Sarawak for a few days in December, right after my nephew's wedding.

It was rainy in Kuching, but it was nice and scenic nevertheless.