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Category: Column

Faiz Subri and Malay masculinity

Published in Malay Mail Online

Penang footballer Faiz Subri’s recent FIFA Puskás Award for his bewitching knuckleball free-kick brought its own share of hangers-on and opportunists.

Faiz’s win was incontrovertibly his own, a demonstration of his personal passion and talent rather than a reflection of the state of the country’s football prowess or lack thereof.

A recent video that went viral online showed Faiz’s top five goals, and it served as proof that Faiz’s performance was not really a fluke as he netted one goal after another wonderful goal from an incredible distance.

But over the 11 months since he scored that winning goal, Faiz has had to suddenly carry the hopes and dignity of a country whose team currently ranks 161 in the world below Aruba and above Macedonia, a far cry from its 79th place in 1993 when the ranking was first devised.

Born a Malay, Faiz has also had to carry the burden and pride of the majority ethnic group, which is still struggling with its post-colonial identity even nearly 60 years after Malaya declared itself independent.

Let them eat (halal) cake!

Published in Malay Mail Online

The only times I go to McDonald’s are for completely unhealthy reasons like grabbing supper on particularly hungry late nights or for a quick meal in between assignments.

I have to admit I have a soft spot (somewhere in my tummy, obviously) for their sundaes, Prosperity Burger and the elusive McRibs, which is made of chicken here. (But chickens do not have ribs that huge so what are they but why are they tasty though?)

Therefore, I have to admit that it is baffling that somebody would want to celebrate their birthday in McDonald’s, much like how I am weirded out by students who do their group study or couples who go on dates there. It is a sign that I am either too old, or not old enough.

But I can sympathise with those who do. McDonald’s is certainly not that cheap by Malaysian standards (nor does it have a good price-to-deliciousness ratio), but it is perhaps one of the few places that is welcoming to all. I have to confess that I do not see many birthday celebrations in mamak shops.

So, when it was revealed that the fast food chain only allows halal-certified birthday cakes, understandably it raised quite a few eyebrows. And just like McDonald’s itself, the policy seems absurd, but understandable.

Will there still be one Malaysia in 2017?

Published as “A Malaysia for All” in Malay Mail Online

The year 2016 has left many of us bruised and battered, emotionally and spiritually, and it is easy to make the mistake of anthropomorphising the year to lay blame at its feet.

There were major celebrity deaths and earth-shattering socio-political upheavals; you would think that 2016 was being unnecessarily cruel to humankind, making it one of the worst years in history.

But alas, 2016 has no mind of its own, nor were the events a deliberate machination of fate. Things just happened.

And in this country, the year 2016 symbolised the start of the deepening fissures that aim to cleave Malaysia in two — a repercussion that we have felt ever since the divisive 2013 general elections.

Why Muslims are more educated than their peers

Published in Malay Mail Online

A recent Pew Research Center study showed that in Malaysia, Muslims on average are more educated than adherents of other religions, that is they have more formal schooling compared to others.

It had measured the level of education of three cohorts: the “oldest” (born 1936-1955), “middle” (born 1956-1975) and “youngest” (born 1976-1985).

Pew found that in the country, Muslims receive an average of 10.2 years of formal schooling followed by Buddhists (9.8 years), Hindus (9.7), Christians (9), and those unaffiliated to the four religion groups (8.2).

The average period of schooling in Malaysia is 9.9 years, below the required six years of primary education added with five of secondary.

The study caught the attention of non-Muslims and non-religious in the country who felt slighted and had a hard time accepting the fact. It is as if their deep-rooted racism and prejudice made them believe that the Muslims are bound to be uneducated, backwards, and perhaps stupid.

But few of them asked the right questions.

Sympathy for the Dajjal

Published in Malay Mail Online

One of my guilty pleasures these days is a TV show called Lucifer, which strange as it may sound is just a crime procedural show — but with the titular fallen angel as its lead.

The series itself is based of a graphic novel series by the same name, a spin-off of the seminal “Sandman” graphic novels by Neil Gaiman.

In both the TV show and comic, Lucifer is shown as a suave, charming gentleman who now runs a nightclub called Lux, after he abandoned Hell and his lordship over it. After millennia, Lucifer has grown tired and bored with his reign, and felt that he was forced to rule just because he had rebelled against God.

And in both, Lucifer detests the stereotypes and prejudices that humans have projected upon him: that the Devil was the one who forced mortals to commit evil and sin. After all, is it not convenient to blame somebody else for all your failings and weakness?

While the Devil often gets the blame, in certain Muslim cultures, another figure also regularly gets the blame for every single conspiracy theory and malady afflicting the community: the Dajjal.

Holding human rights to ransom

Published in Malay Mail Online

As I turned one year older on Human Rights Day yesterday, I contemplated the human rights situation in this country.

Malaysia was cited for “grave violations” of the rights and treatment of the non-religious in the annual Freedom of Thought Report by International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) — a worldwide umbrella of humanist, atheist, secular and similar organisations .

With a score of 4.5 out of the worst score of 5, Malaysia joins Muslim-majority neighbours Indonesia and Brunei as the worst offenders in the region — especially with the existence of Shariah laws that heavily punish apostasy, even with death, although the penalty cannot be enforced yet.

In the category of “family, community, society, religious courts and tribunals”, IHEU noted that there exists “systemic religious privilege results in significant social discrimination” and “religious control over family law or legislation on moral matters.”

An example of the instance where religious control and privilege benefit Muslims disproportionately is when it comes to divorce and unilateral conversion of a child; when one parent decides to convert into Islam when he/she has already entered into a civil marriage.