A slight abberation to what I usually post, but this is such a MUST post!

Shila Amzah from Malaysia wins the Asian Wave 2012 in China with her amazing voice, stage presence and lovely choice of songs from three languages – English, Mandarin and Malay.

Not only is Shila a testament that language is no boundary and music and passion conquers all, she’s truly an inspiration for many of us, especially Muslim youth worldwide.

Congrats Shila! The judges’ reactions are totally EPIC (especially at 14:57)! Haha! You rock!

Best wishes from the concrete island across the causeway 🙂

I was invited to be the Guest of Honour at the 2012 Canossian Awards. This ceremony is an annual event organised by my alma mater – St Anthony’s Canossian Secondary School –  to recognise students that have achieved academic excellence for the year. Teachers are also commended for their efforts in support the students. It was also a wonderful opportunity for me to not only be updated with the various improvements made for the school, but also meet some old teachers and sisters that played a part of my growth as a teen.  Below is a text of my speech.

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Good morning everyone,

First and foremost, I would like to thank SAC for giving me this great honour of attending this year’s Canossian Awards ceremony and addressing you today. It was really a pleasant surprise when Mrs Yip called me one afternoon while I was at work to tell me about this.

I think she was a bit amused by my reaction — “Oh wow, that’s so cool”. It was a nice piece of news amidst the stress and uncertainty in my preparations for PhD; and its very humbling to know that my little steps of progress are being recognised by an institution that has played a significant role as in my teenage years. Thank you, once again.

The theme of today’s event is about aiming high and reaching for the Stars. How everyone has the potential to be a shining star and achieve their goals in life. The concept of individuals as stars is also relevant for the fact that only the bigger shinier stars are visible to the naked eye. Its only when we use a telescope that we are able to see a range of smaller stars in the sky.

Similarly, in life, we often only hear about the success stories of a few, when there are actually many others out there who have had many achievements and more importantly touched the lives of others.

That said, why are some stars more visible than others? Why are the achievements of some individuals recognised more than others?  In my short address to you today, I’ll highlight four  points that I think are important for becoming illuminating stars. I must say that I am far from being a bright guiding North Star at this point of time, but there have nevertheless been lessons through my schooling years and short working period that I think would be relevant to young individuals like yourself.

Point #1: Know Yourself and Your Opportunities

Know what topics interest you, and seek to develop those interests further. Start a hobby – apart from surfing on Facebook. Know what your strengths are and know what you like to do. When I was in secondary school, I only knew I liked talking about politics and current affairs. So I opted for history rather than biology in Sec 3.

Also know your weaknesses and how to overcome them. Like many of you, I hated exams. I also knew that I preferred to be given essay assignments rather than sit for a 2 hour exam. However, given the exam-based systems that we have for O-level and A-level, I just had to suck it up and do my best. Fortunately O-levels went well, although my A-levels was pretty bad- a point which I will get to later.

Also know that in the working world, personality matters more than paper qualifications. This does not mean that academic grades are irrelevant. Rather its a basic requirement. Everyone has a diploma or degree and sometimes even a masters.

Employers want to know what other skills you can bring to their organisation — such as leadership skills, social skills and willingness to work as a team. Developing such skills definitely cannot be done via memorising text books, but rather through the various CCAs that you participate in.

I know you’ve probably heard this before, but its really true. Because when you’re actually trying to create an impressive CV for your first job, you’ll be really happy that you participated in CCAs, or regretting that you didn’t do enough of it in school.

In Sec 1, I was chairman of my class, then moved on to be a prefect and a member of the Student Council. I was also a Girl Guide and subsequently became a patrol leader. At some point in upper secondary, I was also a Peer Support Leader and a School Year Book Committee Member. For me, these experiences allowed me to develop important life skills that I would further enhance through other CCAs during my undergraduate days and other activities that I engage in outside of work.

Point #2: Listen to the little stars around you.

While we can often look up to the bigger stars and achievers highlighted in the mainstream media, oftentimes it doesn’t take much to find inspiration from those around us – especially those older and with more experience than us. This includes your family and your teachers — They would be in the best position to guide and advice you, if you are willing to listen. Such advice may sometimes come across as nagging, but always take a deep breath and bear in mind that what you don’t understand now, will be understood later on.

Aside from family and teachers, little stars can also be random people that you meet in life. For instance, one person I find inspiration from is an elderly janitor that works in NTU.  This lady is a widow in her mid 60s and comes to work earlier than anyone else. She earns maybe about 400 to 600 dollars a month, and has the simplest of lunches – usually some rice topped with a bit of ikan bilis and soy sauce that she brings from home. Yet, despite these challenging circumstances that she faces, she still makes the effort and time to do community service at an old folks home and a neighbourhood mosque. It made me think, if she can do all this, why can’t I? Why is it that we – who have a life much easier than her – still complain of being too busy and not enough time to do anything?

This brings me to my 3rd point –

Point #3: Take Advantage of Adversity.

It is important to note that achievements don’t occur overnight and are part of a long-term process of development. Often those who are successful, have failed at some points in their life. Doing badly in my A-levels, was one of them. I also experienced a rough patch in my third year of University, due to a few personal issues.

The most useful lesson for me during these rough periods was the importance of picking myself up and channelling the energy to other activities. During my University days, I took on responsibilities in at least 4 Committees in Hostel (which are called Colleges in Australia) – specifically the College Year Book committee, Environment Committee, Diversity and Volunteer Committee and Arabic Society. I was also Director/Producer of the College Play, President of a Senior Common Room, was part of an external dance troupe and participated in other random inter-college events. Ironically, this crazy schedule forced me to be more organised with my time. In addition to graduating with a 2nd upper class honours, my CCA efforts had unexpectedly paid off as I was also awarded the Collegian of the Year Award. In retrospect, its interesting how my performance was most mediocre when I was most inactive in Junior College.

The fourth and last point: Communicate Globally and Locally Effectively.

The history of astronomy has demonstrated the importance of stars by all civilisations, thus showing its universal relevance to mankind. Similarly the potential to make your ideas relevant to a wider audience beyond Singapore is immense. Globalisation is such an intrinsic part of our daily life, it would be a shame not to make the best of it. Sharing ideas through social media is an effective tool – if used with a sense of professionalism. For instance, if you would plan to maintain a blog, rather than it being a series of rants and posts beginning with “dear diary this is what I did today”, take the effort to compose thoughtful, clear and constructive commentaries on an issue.

Truth be told, some key opportunities that I received in the past few years was a result of people contacting me because they were interested in my environment-related blog posts. Firstly, it allowed me to get connected with people who understood and shared my ideas (at a time when others around me didn’t understand my ideas). Secondly, it provide a chance for me to present my ideas at international conferences, and from there opening doors to other networks and opportunities.

That said, communicating locally is just as important, so that we are clear on what’s happening in our own backyard. At the end of the day, Singapore is our home and we have a responsibility to this island.

There was a quote I found on Twiiter, that I think sums this up very well – it said:

“The grass isn’t greener on the other side, its greener where you water it. Don’t lust over something that isn’t yours and invest in what is.”

This is, however, the most difficult task to accomplish, but overcoming it will be most rewarding.

So there you have it, 4 points to being a shining star. Having said all that, some of you might be thinking, “Well that’s all very nice, but I’m still not convinced that being a bright shiny star is for me. I don’t even know where to start”.

 My response to this would be to reflect on the vision of SAC.

“To be a passionate learning community, renowned for its spirit of innovation and excellence  , within a culture of compassion.”

  1. Passionate learning community — meaning you’re always hungry to know more about everything and anything
  2. Spirit of innovation & excellence – referring to new ideas, and being the best that you can
  3. Within a culture of compassion  — for me – that the key word: compassion.

Here in Singapore, we’re always told to be #1 in everything. We have various institutions and resources dedicated to education, training and research — all in a bid to support innovation. But most of the time in the working world, what drives innovation is not compassion, but individual gain.

People tend to innovate not for principles but for profit. Or sometimes, they may have started with principles, but strayed away from their original mission.

This is the challenge I pose to you – future stars of St Anthony’s Canossian Secondary School.

How will you strike a balance between getting a good job  that you love and enjoy while still giving back to society?

How will you innovate primarily for compassion rather than cost-cutting?

So the next time when you switch on your computer or smartphone —  Instead of immediately logging on to Facebook, take a few minutes to do a google search on a topic or idea that you would like to develop or know more about — and constantly reflect on how it can be relevant to your life and society as a whole. It’s a small start for bigger things to come.

And with that, thank you and I’d be happy to leave my contact details with the teachers if anyone you want to have a chat about your ideas on being a star.

I wish you all good luck and God Bless 🙂

A big shout out to Arwa Aburawa and others from The Green Prophet for interviewing me on my thoughts on the environmental challenges in Southeast Asia and the role that women play in it. What an honour it is to be featured along side other awesome green Muslims like Ibrahim Abdul Matin, Kristiane Backer and the ever-so adorable Jeddawis from Naqaa Enterprise.

It’s also great how some of us green Muslims have progressively connected with one another – both online and offline – and sometimes in instances we least expect! The first of these instances was when I met Nadia Janjua, one of the founders of DC Green Muslims, while participating in the 6th World Islamic Economic Forum in Kuala Lumpur in 2010. That was cool 🙂

This is only the beginning and I look forward to a day when all us Green Muslims worldwide get to meet up for some great chats of cups of tea and vegetarian potluck, InshaAllah 🙂

To read the interview, please click here.

Three things need to be shared worldwide: clean and green living, good soulful music and lots of love.

While much of the work on this blog has highlighted the former, Junoon – the U2 of Pakistan – has been one of my main inspirations for the latter two. This article has been written in commemoration of Junoon’s 20th Anniversary.

Thank you Salman Ahmad for asking me to contribute a piece to this wonderful milestone. Allah Hafiz!

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Selamat Hari Jadi ke-20, Junoon![1]

I can’t actually remember how I got to know about Junoon. It must have been the result of a random search on Youtube in the late 90s. But I’m thankful for that random Youtube search, as Junoon music videos demonstrate a combination of some of my favourite things – Sufism, Rock Music and awesome beats to be grooving to… (and ok yes, I’ll admit.. a pretty darn cute guitarist!!)

Students of political science and international relations, such as myself, are accustomed to the term ‘soft power’ as coined by Prof Joseph Nye of Harvard University. Soft power refers to factors such as values and cultures which are primary currencies in influencing world politics. This is opposed to notions of hard power, where the use of military force and coercion are paramount.

One of the best biographies I've ever read.

Junoon is by far one of the best examples of soft power. As the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, once said, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” Junoon’s songs have clearly crossed linguistic and territorial boundaries far beyond the Indian sub-continent. Junoon’s music has and continues to be a shining beacon of peace and love.

Junoon’s ability to transcend linguistic barriers is clearly reflected in my own circumstances – a Singaporean with pretty much a 90% non-Urdu speaking background. The use of Urdu in my family pretty much stopped with my paternal grandmother. She did not speak Urdu with her children as it was the “secret” language that she would use with her elders!

In 2002, my love for Junoon grew more than just as a fan on Youtube and downloaded music videos on Napster. JUNOON WAS COMING TO SINGAPORE! I still remember going to Kallang Theatre with my pal Vik and seated right smack in the middle. Although down with a flu, I was still determined to be there to see Junoon in the flesh. *Hi Salman!!*

It was a great night, with fans both young and old clapping and bobbing their heads to the hypnotic beats. There was no mosh pit, but half way through the concert, some youth made their own in front of the stage.

Junoon was also particularly significant in my undergraduate years in Perth, Australia, where I and a fellow Singaporean friend, Jeskiran, would be crooning away during meal times in our hostel’s dining hall and beating dining tables like tablas.  Top tracks were Yaar Bina Dil Mera and Sayonee. It was such good fun for us, though our other girlfriends would often cringe when we hit the high and long notes.

It’s been about 6 years since those dining hall duet days, but Jeskiran and I still take the opportunity to drum tables in restaurants when we girls have get-togethers. More importantly, 20 years on, the spirit of Junoon continues to drum up passion and love for one and all.

Happy 20th Anniversary, Junoon!


[1] translation of title: Happy 20th Anniversary, Junoon (in Malay).

A video was recently circulating amongst some Green Muslims on Facebook – Project ME and A World of Green Muslims – of how the ingenuity of one slum dweller in the Philippines literally brought light to the lives of his neighbours. With the lack of electricity available to slum dwellers living dangerously close to railroad tracks, “Solar Demi” made solar-powered light bulbs out of plastic bottles.

REAL Toys!

In this modern age of Kindles and Smartphones, it seems so easy for many of us living in developed or industrialising countries to overlook the simplest things in life, which often should be the most treasured. I must say, it freaks me out to see mothers simply putting an iPad in front of toddlers to watch/listen to  nursery rhymes rather than actually reading it to them from a REAL book.

It would be a very sad world if children grew up not knowing what lego was or what playing masak-masak meant. Hell, when was the last time you saw a kid playing hop-scotch?

In this blog post, I’ve gathered a few videos that have some nifty plastic bottle ideas. Not totally for child’s play since the use of scissors is vital… but would nevertheless be great activities in being crafty (and sane) with real objects, rather than the virtual world. And the best part… doesn’t cost your wallet and the Earth much! Enjoy! 🙂

Bracelets!

Flowers!

Foot reflexology?

Gift Box

Vase

“Only when the last tree has been cut down, Only when the last river has been poisoned, Only when the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.”

— Cree Indian Prophecy —

When will all this happen? Given the rate that we are consuming the limited resources on earth, probably pretty soon. Here’s some facts and figures:-

When the the last tree is cut down

When the last river is poisoned

When the last fish is caught

When money can’t be eaten

Hopefully, all this will sink into people’s brains, and make them more conscious of how they live their lives and treat their environment.

When? I’m not sure, but it had better be soon.

So I woke up on Christmas morning and got a call from a friend who told me to flip to page 8 and 9 of the day’s Berita Harian (Singapore’s Malay-language Newspaper… no, not the Malaysian version). So there I was, slated as one of the 50 Malay/Muslim individuals that would likely to be playing an influential role in the community as well as for the country in general.  *GASP*

Caption reads "These are among the individuals expected to 'colour' 2011". No pressure, folks.

 

It was quite a surprise and totally unexpected, though its nevertheless nice that whatever little contribution I am making related to the environment is being recognised. It was also a nice plug for the United States Institute of Environment (USIE) (a programme of which I was the pioneer batch in 2009. Click here to read about the USIE Reunion).

Such contributions and mini-successes are of course not without help from many people who I owe their guidance and support. Guidance from the Almighty, family and friends have been crucial in every stage of my development. As for my professional development, I owe much of it to Assoc. Prof. Mely Caballero Anthony, whose tireless nurturing and support as a boss and dissertation supervisor has been most significant in the past 4.5 years. I am grateful also to  have had the various opportunities that have come by my way – whether it be USIE, speaking at various forums such as the World Islamic Economic Forum, or participating at the 6th International Session of Asia and the Middle East in Paris in 2010.

While these events have been exciting and deeply influential in my development, this is only the beginning. 2011 promises to be a jam-packed (and somewhat taxing) year. But hey, no pain no gain.

I look forward to various things including work at the RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies, the regional chapter of the Marketplace of Creative Arts, and of course, the development of Project ME: Muslims and the Environment. We have a long way to go, but as the old saying goes — Sedikit-dikit, lama-lama menjadi bukit.

Here’s to 2011. Happy New Year, folks!