Jonah.

Jonah. (Yunus in Arabic).

The Prophet who got stuck in the whale for a long period of time until finally, he got out of it by saying the tasbeeh.

Subhanallah. Walhamdulillah. Walailahaillallah. Wallahuakbar.

He recited it repeatedly, praying to God countless times, to have mercy on him and to forgive him for giving up easily.

He was supposed to spread Islam to his community but he had given up due to their responses. He got upset. And he was not willing to continue. Until he was thrown out of the boat he was in and landed in the whale’s stomach. The wet, disgusting, smelly, fishy, slimy, stomach of a whale.

That’s who I’d like to meet. One of the days we shall, sit under a tree in Jannah and have a little chat about his experience InsyaAllah.

It’s about “How I Survived Being inside the Whale’s Stomach.”

And if Allah should touch you with adversity, there is no remover of it except Him; and if He intends for you good, then there is no repeller of His bounty. He causes it to reach whom He wills of His servants. And He is the Forgiving, the Merciful. – Yunus, 107

It reminds me that when we’re stuck, feeling like there is no other way out, recite the tasbeeh. And repeat.

Glory be to God. Thank You Allah. There is no God but Allah. Allah is the Most Great.

And if Allah permits, I’d like to meet the perfect man, Muhammad. And courageous Moses, cool Jesus, handsome Yusuf, and the rest of the Prophets too.

InsyaAllah, Ameen.

Inspired by Daily Prompt: It Builds Character.

A Muslim Astronaut’s Ramadan and Quran in Space

In today’s Faith Friday, I will be sharing an inspiring interview I did for Ramadan.sg in 2011 with Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, a Muslim astronaut from Malaysia. He flew to Space on 10th October 2007 and returned to Earth on 21st October 2007 under an agreement with Russia through Malaysia’s Angkasawan Program. An orthopedic surgeon by nature, he shares his experience fasting in Space (Eidulfitri was on 13th October 2007 so he managed to experience Ramadan in Space for 2 days). 

sheikh muszaphar shukor_muslim astronaut

“And whomsoever Allah wills to guide, He opens his breast to Islam, and whomsoever He wills to send astray, He makes his breast closed and constricted, as if he is climbing up to the sky…” Al-An’am, 125

That was indeed how Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shah felt while he was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the Soyuz TMA-11 almost four years ago. In Singapore for a 2-day talk at ITE Simei last week, Ramadan.sg interviews him about Islam, Ramadan and the Quran.

RAMADAN.SG (RDSG): This year’s Ramadan theme is Rejuvenate Ramadan with the Light of Al-Quran. So we would like to know, did you happen to bring a copy of the Quran when you were in Space?

SHEIKH MUSZAPHAR (SM): I did. I brought 2 copies of the Quran, when I came back I gave one to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, and the other one to my mum. I read the Quran everyday when I was in Space and it was the best feeling ever. And since I came back from Space, I’ve been studying the Quran a lot, because I realize that everything is in the Quran.

When I was giving a talk in Egypt, I was sharing about how I felt when I was launching up in the Soyuz and just couldn’t breathe as I went higher and higher into Space and a professor from Egypt came up to me and said, “Dr Sheikh, whatever that you have shared with us, it is in the Quran,” and he shared with me this verse;

“And whomsoever Allah wills to guide, He opens his breast to Islam, and whomsoever He wills to send astray, He makes his breast closed and constricted, as if he is climbing up to the sky. Thus Allah puts the wrath on those who believe not.”  (Al-An’am, 125)”

So it really intrigues me, and I have been studying the Quran especially on life in Space and life as a whole. Are there other life forms outside the Earth? The closest I have come to this was this verse, although it doesn’t say specifically if there are other life forms out there;

“There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, or a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you.  Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they (all) shall be gathered to their Lord in the end.” (Al-An’am, 38)

RDSG: What is your favorite verse in the Quran?

SM: My favorite verse is definitely Al-Fatihah as it is the mother of the Quran.

RDSG: What about any particular zikir or doa that was in your mind the whole time you were up there?

SM: Well when I was at a very young age, my grandmother taught me this doa that says,

“O Allah, increase me my knowledge, ease my task for me, and remove barriers in my speech, so they may understand what I say.” – Taha, 25-28

I have been reading the doa repeatedly ever since and it just calms me down. I’m blessed that she taught me this doa.

RDSG: Can you explain in detail on how you spent Ramadan in Space?

SM: Even though I am the 9th Muslim astronaut to go to Space, I was the first Muslim astronaut to go during the fasting month of Ramadan. Spending 2 days in Ramadan before ‘Eid Mubarak was the best exciting experience ever. I did not feel hungry and tired, on the other hand I felt so calm and relaxed that I wish this Ramadan it would be the same. It was a great feeling to be able to experience Ramadan in Space.

RDSG: So what do you miss the most about being there during Ramadhan?

SM: The thing I miss most is just experiencing how beautiful and magical the Earth is. Allah’s Greatness could really be felt when we were above the clouds. I was in awe and at the same time feeling touched at how big Allah’s Greatness is, which can be felt all the time. Every time I look at planet Earth from Space, I would get goose bumps and I could feel my heart beating faster and my eyes just affixed on the magic that is Allah’s World.

During my Hajj last year when I was looking at the Ka’abah from my hotel, I noticed some similarities between what was happening (on Earth) and what I saw in Space. It was that the Tawaf was being done in an anti-clockwise direction, similar to how all the planets also orbit in an anti-clockwise direction. So why is that so instead of them moving in a clockwise direction? Everything is done for a purpose and that is something I would like to study about.

RDSG: So was the Ka’abah visible from Space?

SM: No, I could not see any man-made buildings from Space, but Prince Sultan (referring to Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud , the first Muslim astronaut who have traveled to Space in 1985) did mention that he saw the Ka’abah light up from Space. Everyone gets a different miracle while in Space, for me I heard the Azan while I was there.

RDSG: Yes about this, where did you hear the Azan from?

SM: It was inside the ISS and I was very sure I heard the Azan. I look around whether anyone else heard it, and I didn’t know whether they did not understand what the Azan was or they did not hear what I heard. But it was such a magical experience for me at that time.

RDSG: Wow. So what did you eat when you were there?

SM: We had so many kinds of food. The French brought cheese, the Italians brought pizza, the Japanese brought ramen, the Koreans brought kimchi, so we brought Malaysian food to space, like satay, rendang, nasi beriyani and kuih bangkit during my fast in Space. We even had chicken, fish and vegetables. But your taste buds changes in Space. Some foods that you like on Earth, you may not like in Space.

RDSG: That’s very interesting! So did you bring dates, or kurma, to break your fast?

SM: We did not. We were not allowed to bring just any kind of food as the Russians were very strict on the guidelines. So there were certain selective foods that were allowed. We even wanted to bring durians, and Malaysia actually created a no-smell durian which we thought was good, but then we were not allowed to bring it.

RDSG: Did you bring any supplements or good vitamin food to Space? Like raisins?

SM: Prior to our trip in Russia (for 6-months training), we had selected the foods that we would be bringing. Hence we selected the kind of foods that we like and everything was based on the amount of calories that we would consume every day in Space, which is why it was a very selective process. But, kurma is definitely one of the best foods ever as it is high in energy. If I am given the opportunity to fly to Space again, I would definitely bring kurma.

RDSG: How did the other astronauts react to you having to stick to Halal food?

SM: The best thing about Space is that it doesn’t matter what country, race or religion you come from, everything is being treated professionally. So I did not have any problems praying in Space or eating Halal food. They knew my religion as a Muslim and they respected it.

RDSG: So did they ask any questions about Islam? And what was the most-asked question?

SM: They do. Majority of them are Christians and not many Muslims have gone up to Space. They always ask “What does Islam mean?”, “Why do you have to believe in Allah?,” “Why do you have to eat Halal food?” as these things fascinate them. Thus we try to explain to them the beauty of why we do all this, why we need to slaughter animals the Islam way – that it benefits the animals, and it is not healthy for us if done the improper way. They were amazed by the explanations and wanted to know more.

RDSG: Ok last question. What do you have to say to Muslims all over the world for this Ramadhan?

SM: When I went to Space, it was very important for me to show the world what Islam is all about. Islam is a way of life, no matter where you are – whether you are on Earth or in Space; you must do your ibadah as it is your responsibility as a Muslim. These are the things I did, and I am trying to bring back the glory of Islam especially in Science and Astronomy.

So I am trying to reach out to the Muslim community out there to be more “ber’ilmu”, or knowledgeable, especially in Science and Astronomy. This will bring back the glory of Islam so I do hope to inspire the Muslims out there, all over the world. InsyaAllah.

END.

Watch the video interview here: http://youtu.be/mGv2NNcUQ70

It’s Hajj Season & A Reminisce of My Umrah in 2009

makkah

Today is 6th of Zulhijjah which means we are only 4 days away from Eid’ul ‘Adha! We are in the first ten days of the month of Zulhijjah, the month of Hajj MashaAllah. And during the month of Hajj, Masjidil Haram in Makkah is truly that crowded (picture) and more. Muslims from all over the world gather to perform the 5th pillar of Islam, performing the deed called Hajj, loosely translated as pilgrimage.

I might not be going to Hajj anytime soon now (there’s a long waiting list and you also need a lot of time to prepare physically and mentally, as well as the stability of finances – unless someone happens to sponsor you, which is MashaAllah, ah-ma-zing) but praises be to God for allowing me to have stepped into the Haramain lands 4 years ago for my umrah, or mini pilgrimage.

For Hajj, you have to go during a certain period of time and there are more specific actions to do but for an umrah, you can go anytime and there are not as many specific actions to do as compared to Hajj.

In 2009, I went to Makkah and Madinah with my mother and my male cousin. I was in my second year in uni during that time and we went after my exams during my semester holidays. It came as an epiphany to my mum who felt that it was the “right time” to perform umrah, without knowing exactly why. Surprisingly, I actually felt the same way.

Prior to the trip, I was feeling depressed over several things. Also, about 2 years had passed since my father’s death and I was still grieving over his passing (they say it gets better after a while but the first few years are always the hardest). I wanted these issues to go away. I wanted to go away to somewhere, so when the opportunity came to go to the lands of Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings be upon him) who had to go through more depressing moments in his life but who was always smiling all the time, I thought “this is it”. Turns out it wasn’t about me going away, but going back to Allah…

Madinah

Masjid-al-Nabawi

We arrived at Jeddah International Airport in the wee hours of the morning and proceeded to Madinah. Our journey was to spend 3 days in Madinah and 10 days in Makkah, making it a total of 13 days. When the bus first stepped into Madinah, I felt overwhelmed with emotions knowing that the Prophet had been here, to step into a land he has stepped on, to finally be here in Madinah. Furthermore, the hotel that we stayed in, Dar Iman Intercontinental, was located directly in front of Masjid Nabawi. I was swept with a feeling of calmness and tranquillity being in the mosque. Marble flooring, gold-plated accessories, oriental carpeting…materialistic description aside, it was being in the space itself that was beautiful. After making my prayers for the first time there, a rush of calm swept over me. Every ounce of misery and depression that I had melted away. The feeling was just indescribable.

sign
Just a stone’s throw away from the hotel.

We visited Raudhah at night, the area where the Prophet used to live with his wife Siti ‘Aishah. At this spot prayers are accepted so my mother and me as well as the rest of our group prayed 2 rakaats of the tahiyyatul masid prayer along with other supplications. Outside, the temperature in Madinah was 45 degrees celcius. I had never felt that kind of heat ever before, no matter how hot and humid Singapore is. However, the magical thing about the heat was that even though it can be blistering hot ‘if-you-don’t-wear-sunglasses-you-can-hurt-your-eyes-hot’, it’s not humid and it’s always breezy.

masjid-nabawi-dalam2
The inside of Masjid Nabawi

Even though I wear the hijab, I had a bit of a culture shock seeing the sight of many Muslim women decked out in their black abayas, some with their niqabs and burqas. Honestly at first it kind of scared me, but after going into the mosque and discovering that the ladies were super nice and pretty and gorgeously beautiful I realized the niqabs and burqas were really just on the outside. After that onwards I started to appreciate the beauty of wearing the abaya, jubah and actually, that is one of the things I miss most about being in Madinah and Makkah.

In front of Masjid Quba, which was the first mosque that the Prophet built upon reaching Madinah after 13 years in Makkah.
In front of Masjid Quba, which was the first mosque that the Prophet built upon reaching Madinah after 13 years in Makkah.

The three days that we had in Madinah were spent mostly going to Masjid Nabawi, exploring the area including some shopping for books and abaya. Even though we had a lovely hotel room, it was such a waste to stay in! Another thing that shocked me was the fact that 5 – 10 mins before every obligatory prayer time everyone would rush to the mosque to get a space to pray and to be there in time for prayer. It was such a surprise to me because as soon as the Azan calls, the mosque would have been full house and that is why you have to come earlier. Praying in Masjid Nabawi gets you 100 times more pahala than usual, furthermore praying in congregation multiples it by 27 times. MashaAllah no wonder every prayer time is like an event over at the 2 holiest mosques! Now if only we can treat our home mosques and our prayers that way. Talk about the power of place.

date trees 2
Visiting a date farm! Unripe dates still hanging on date palm trees.
dates
Ripe dates all decked out for selection.
We also stopped by Mount Uhud, where the second battle took place.
We also stopped by Mount Uhud, where the second battle took place.

When it came to time to leave Madinah, it was such a sad feeling. 3 days was simply too short. But, looking at the bright side we were off to Makkah, to the Kaabah, to Baitullah! We were encouraged to wear white and guys would wear the ihram (although ladies, not a good choice to wear white unless you are completely sure your garment is not sheer at all) and off we went in our bus to Makkah.

Makkah

me in front of masjidil haram
Me in front of Masjidil Haram

We reached Makkah at night when it was already dark. There was a traffic jam nearing the Masjidil Haram so our bus was constantly stopping and braking. Suddenly however, as we were very near the mosque, the bus broke down. So even though we were tired from the journey, we proceeded to walk to get to our hotel, which fortunately was located near the mosque, along with our bags.

view from hotel
View from our hotel

But once we reached the mosque, all the tiredness and the efforts were so worth it. Again I was overwhelmed with emotion of finally being in the mosque where the Prophet and his companions had once been. Being in the places where Islam first began and thinking of their struggles, MashaAllah may Allah bless all their efforts and make us more steadfast in our faiths.

One of the best things about being at both mosques was the continuous supply of the waters of zam-zam. There would be tumblers of zam-zam waters in several sections of the mosque, along with plastic cups provided. Anyone can take them and drink from these tumblers. Some, like me, would fill up their bottles with them. So can you imagine, to wake up and drink air zam-zam only for 13 days? SubhanAllah. We were also told that it was not safe to drink water from the hotel taps so we turned to the best source – zam-zam water!

mount rahmah
Mount Rahmah, which means mount of Mercy, was where Prophet Adam met Hawa on Earth after being separated in Paradise.

In Masjidil Haram we performed the tawaf; circumambulating 7 times around the Ka’abah in an anti-clockwise direction and saie; walking back and forth Mount Safa and Marwa 7 times in commemoration of Siti Hajar when she did that years ago in search of water for her son Ismail.

We also went to visit more historical places such as Mount Nur, the place of the first revelation from God to Prophet Muhammad via the angel Gabriel. Not wanting to miss this opportunity, I joined some of the team in climbing up this mountain. We started our climb at 3am and even though it was still dark and the mount was treacherous, we could navigate our way up because the light, or nur, that came from the moon allowed us to do so. that’s why it’s called Jabal Nur, or Mount of Light. One of my favourite moments was when it was time for Subuh, we could hear the call of prayer from the many mosques nearby collectively. It was truly an amazing moment.

mount nur gua hira mount nur

Next we went to the museum which displayed historical items used in the history of Islam in Makkah.

kaabah fabric manual

On our last day we went to the floating mosque at the Red Sea to perform our prayers, and then we had a little walkabout exploring the area… before going back to the bus for our departure to the airport and back home.

floating mosque

May Allah give me and us all the opportunity to perform our Hajj and Umrah InsyaAllah.

Photo credits: Most of the photos are from me, except for the first photo of Masjidil Haram, Masjidil Nabawi (exterior) and the inside of Masjidil Nabawi.

My Kinabalu Story: Chapter 1 – Connecting the Dots

Starting off Travel Tuesday with more of Kinabalu but in detail. Ready, set, GO! The first chapter.

Introducing: The Team

First and foremost, introducing the team. The team comprised of 5 Singaporeans and 13 Malaysians. Team captain was Abang Amirul who is Musaddiq’s cousin. Abang Amirul is a seasoned mountaineer who has been to Mount Kinabalu twice prior to this trip. This time, he opened the expedition to his Petronas colleagues and as fate has it, we came into the picture – literally.

sg team big grp pix

The Singapore team’s Overnight Flight

On Wednesday night, we departed from Singapore via Air Asia to Sabah at 5.40pm, reaching Kota Kinabalu International Airport (BKI) at about 8.05pm. We took a cab from BKI to our hotel at KK Central, settled down and went out for dinner. After walking around for about 15 minutes we found a place called Stesen Ikan Bakar, a pretty chillax place selling all kinds of grilled fish. You name it, they have it. After dinner, we went back to the hotel to have a good night’s rest before starting the day full swing and meeting the Malaysian team tomorrow.

stesen ikan bakar ikan dan sotong bakar

Soaking our feet (and body) at Poring Hot Springs

Thursday morning, we headed off to go to Poring Hot Spring. Why hot springs first before the climb? For 2 reasons – it was along the way to Kinabalu National Park and, going on weekdays surpasses the weekend crowd. I remembered coming to this place on a weekend with my family and saw some families settling down their picnic spot with their own pot of rice.

3 hours later we reached Poring Hot Spring, which is in Ranau. It only takes 1 hour from Ranau to the base of Mount Kinabalu. Amazing scenery greets us along our journey.

mountain view

We stopped by some shops and markets on our way to have lunch, get some necessities, and meet the Malaysian team.

corn stick

Remember those old skool keropok jagung in the shiny plastic wrappers with 3 corn sticks inside? These are them! In less glamorous packaging but delicious nonetheless.

sabah houses

On our way we passed by many of these houses. I always wonder how these people’s way of lives are. They literally live amidst the mountains. And they don’t seem to don any thermal wear, I guess their bodies already adapted to the weather there. Most of them are also very fair-skinned, due to the cold weather. Reminds me of Adira, the singer who originates from Sabah and her snow white skin (or “putih melepak” in Malay).

hot spring sign

A little bit about the hot spring: Hot sulphur spring water is formed by the less violent manifestation of volcanic areas. Even where the volcanoes are no longer active. Many hot springs contain carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide in varying proportions and mineral salt are always dissolved in thermal spring water. Thus you have sulphur in the hot spring.

The left pipe contains hot spring water that flows continuously – it’s really boiling hot, while the right pipe contains cold tap water. You have to mix the two to get your desired temperature.

two pipes

Or if you’re too lazy to wait for the water to flow, you can always go straight to the medium-sized tub which is already filled with hot spring water. You need to let your body acclimatize to the temperature though, because it’s not as warm as it looks – it is really hot at first!

tub spring

The water in here is too hot for any soaking as it is above boiling point, hence entry is prohibited. It’s so amazing how Allah makes water of different kinds of temperatures and they all exist for a reason. SubhanAllah.

dilarang masuk

Hot water vapour from the restricted areas of the hot spring. After a long day of travelling and relaxing, we headed off to Mesilau, our place of stay for the overnight rest before starting the climb. Yes, we were going to start from Mesilau Trail instead of the Timpohon Gate which is normally used by first-time climbers.

hot vapour

Arriving at Mesilau Nature Resort

We reached Mesilau Nature Resort at about 7pm. Upon stepping out of our vehicle, the coldness of high altitude greeted us. Mesilau trail is situated at approximately 2,700 m above sea level while the other entrance start point, Timpohon Gate starts at 1,688 m in altitude. So it was already more challenging as we would be dealing with possibilities of AMS, which starts from 2,400 m onwards.

mesilau nature resort tea without sugar winter melon soup dinner

We were welcomed with a cup of hot tea (without sugar) upon our arrival. Our dinner started off with winter melon soup and an array of dishes. Delicious food Alhamdulilah. What we observed was that the dishes contained a lot of ginger. Ginger being a natural remedy to warm up our bodies was a perfect ingredient to be included in the dishes since we were at such cooling temperature, so perfect MashaAllah how everything is provided by God.

stairs

Our chalet is a double story but level 1 and 2 is only separated by a small flight of stairs. There’s a heater in every room, hooray! A mini fridge and other usual amenities were also provided. Actually from what we had been informed earlier, we were expecting a less comfy bunk bed type of place, which would have been totally fine with me. But Alhamdulillah we were surprised to arrive to a comfy place with comfy beds. Happiness… till the next day, when we were to start our climb…

mardmood: This post is part of the series “My Kinabalu Story” based on my expedition to Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia on 26th September to 1st October 2012. For more chapters go to ‘Kinabalu Khronicles’ in the Categories section.

One Last Salam

The night my dad passed away, I was using the computer in my brother’s room.

I heard the usual turn of keys at the door lock, and my dad entering the house. It was 11pm and he’d just came back from work. Usually I would go out and salam his hand (kind of like a handshake, but an informal one, something you do out of respect and something I’ve always done with my parents) but that night, for some reason I did not. I continued using the computer. I can’t even remember if I acknowledged him or not.

A couple of minutes (or maybe more) later, in a panicked voice, my mum called me and both of my siblings.

I went into my parents’ room to find my father in his last few moments of life.

He’d had a sudden heart attack and the impact was immediate. He was 47 and does not have a history of heart illness. But he was, a smoker. And several years ago, my granddad too had passed on due to the same cause of sudden heart attack at 63 years old. When something is meant to happen, nothing can stop it from happening.

It has been seven years since his passing. I miss him everyday.

If time were to have stood still, I would rewind it to the moments before God took him back. I would get my butt out of my computer chair, out of my brother’s room and salam his hand. Or maybe give him a hug. Who knew it would have been the last one I would ever have?

For now.

I’ve grieved enough Alhamdulillah and I can honestly say I don’t regret or feel guilty about it. Regret and guilt is something no one should ever have to live with. I don’t wish for things to be different, but I do think about it sometimes. Those everyday moments we tend to take for granted.

Till then, I look forward to the day I meet him in Paradise where I’ll run up to my father excitedly, salam his hand and embrace him with a big, long hug. I am thankful for this life is not permanent and a better life awaits us. Perhaps in Paradise, insyaAllah. If God wills. Janji Allah itu pasti.

“Is not He Who created the heavens and the earth able to  create the like thereof?” – Yea, indeed! for He is the Creator Supreme, of skill and knowledge (infinite)! Verily, when He intends a thing, His Command is, “be”, and it is! So glory to Him in Whose hands is the dominion of all things:  and to Him will ye be all brought back.” Surah Yaseen, 81 – 83

Inspired by today’s Daily Prompt: Standstill

Hati

Sudah menjadi fitrah manusia untuk mencari tuhan.

Seperti sudah menjadi fitrah anak kecil mencari ibu bapanya.

Hati ini diciptakan untuk mencintai Tuhannya. Sebab itu hati ini akan sedih, runsing dan tidak tenang jika ia mencintai yang lain selain Allah.

Kasihan hati ini, ia cenderung melakukan yang baik tetapi tidak kau pedulikan harapannya.

Kasihan hati ini, selalu dikalahkan oleh hawa nafsu, ego dan perasaan negatif.

Sungguh terpelihara hati ini. Syaitan hanya boleh membisik pada ruang hati ini, tetapi tidak boleh memasukinya andai tidak diberi izin.

Sungguh suci hati ini. Tetapi jika kau membenarkan hawa nafsu, ego dan perasaan negatif memasukinya ia akan menjadi kotor, berdebu, dan hitam.

Jagalah hati ini. Kerana kebersihan hati tiada bandingannya. Kelakuan seseorang mencerminkan kesucian hatinya.

Jika bersih hatinya maka baiklah amalan-amalannya. Tetapi jika hati ini tidak suci, maka tidak baiklah amalan-amalannya.

Peliharalah kesucian hati ini, cintailah Tuhan hati ini, Tuhan Yang Mencipta.

Tuhanku, Tuhanmu, Tuhan semesta alam.

*

Notes:

Hati: “Heart” in Malay.

Inspired by Hadith 6 in 40 Hadith Nawawi