In an International Women’s Day special on the Breaking Silos Podcast, Huda Hamid from Fempreneur Secrets dropped some truth bombs about pursuing business as a minority.

While we celebrate the great strides that women are taking every single day, it’s equally vital to acknowledge the persistent challenges that exist; even down to the sort of language that we think is “normal” to be used.

Huda also shared the important work that she is doing with her Fempreneur Academy, and also her new e-book on “The Art of Firing Your Boss”. Do check them out!

Are you facing challenges in succeeding in business and life? I would love to hear from you and help where I can. Leave your details below, to be updated on future silo-breaking content and activities.

A roundabout in Morocco, 15 km away from the Spanish occupied territory of Sebta.

Take-aways/observations:

1. Spain apparently tries to attract its citizens to settle in Sebta with higher paying jobs.

2. Interesting to see Border security on patrol, looking out for asylum seekers trying to cross in to Spain.

3. Surreal to see Fnideq’s main market.. where Morocco’s “mule women” bring the goods they transport in from Sebta.

Hmm…

spain morocco travelphotography women womensrights humansecurity refugees bordersecurity schengen colonialism geopolitics

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A couple of weeks ago I moved out of my on-campus studio room and in with my office-mate, Ayu, from Indonesia. *Damn yearly contracts!*

Ayu’s 80-something year old dad has been visiting Canberra for the past month. Ever so often Eyang (“Grandpa” in Javanese) would have a look of disbelief when he sees me having oats and fruit in the morning and other veggie stuff for dinner. “Is that enough? Are you sure you are not hungry???”

There’s also a look of curiosity when I’m cooking, and I’ve always been more than happy to serve some of my flexitarian meals to Eyang… All very new and “strange” to his tastebuds.

He seemed to really like my vegetarian Chinese style crispy noodles (first time I cooked it for at least 3 people!) and had seconds.

Today, he seemed enthralled with the aroma of dhal that I was cooking — i.e. the smell of dried chilli, garlic and bit of butter tossed in a pan before adding it to the boiling lentils.

I think I’m getting better at this. Definitely upping those domestic skills. And if I don’t survive PhD, at least I know I’ve earned brownie points on the marriage meter! Haha!

The power of the pot will prevail.

Anyway, here’s wishing one and all a prosperous Year of the Snake.
GONG XI FA CAI!!

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 🙂

Me: “I’m having a Green Iftar on National Day, and you’re welcome to come. We’ll be breaking our fast with all things vegetarian.”

Cousin:”Huh?! Where’s the meat? No meat, sure pengsan (faint), lah!”

Well,  no we didn’t pengsan.

I’m glad that I finally got a chance to do a little green iftar with a few environmentalists on Singapore’s 47th Birthday. While it was just a small group of girls (the boys couldn’t make it!), it was perfect way of testing out a new initiative with some heart-to-heart conversations on various topics related to the environment, as well as our faiths and cultures.

But… Why a Green Iftar?

1) Less consumption, more health

Simply put: To walk the sustainability talk.

Similar to other efforts by Green Muslims worldwide, we incoporated sustainable practices in our iftar. In a bid to reduce waste and carbon footprint, no disposable utensils were used during the event, and guests were encouraged to bring spare tupperwares to take home any leftovers. We even opted for using the fans instead of the air-con!

To make our iftar more personal and meaningful, each person was to bring a vegetarian dish to share. It was wonderful to have home-made nutritious dishes (some of which took quite a bit of effort) and just gain a greater appreciation for vegetarian food.

From vegetarian bee hoon and pasta to baked tomatoes stuff with quinoa and capsicum, wonderful salads and dips (including home grown ingredients like mint and bluepea) topped off with pound cake, homebaked cookies, fruits, juices and lemongrass tea. It was all deeeeelish!!! 😀

Healthy vegetarian iftar FTW!

2) Green Chit-Chat

One of the main aims of the green iftar was also for environmentalists to have a chance to get together and share their thoughts and experiences on various issues related to the environment. Topics of discussion included challenges in engaging sections of society to be more environmentally conscious, encouraging environmental conscious behaviour via highlighting the significant benefits to one’s health, ways of improving the connections between various stakeholders, the humane treatment of animals as part of food choices, the importance of environmental issues in intercultural exchange, and various tools/methods to enhance the sharing of experiences.

3) Enhancing inter-faith dialogue

What I found to be the best aspect of the green iftar, was the ability to use an environmental initiative for the benefit of other social and cultural exchanges. While my initial thoughts of invitees were to be Muslims, I chose to extend the invitation to non-Muslims as well. No man is an island, and the environmental movement is clearly a reflection of that. In addition to non-Muslim guests gaining greater insight to Islam and the diversity amongst Muslims, the green chit-chat was certainly enhanced with a discussion on the cultural aspects and values associated with the environment based on our own ethnic backgrounds. Common threads such as food and water have played significant roles in bringing communities together as well as a means of understanding and appreciating how nature works.

It was agreed that such spaces for sharing such environmental as well as cultural values and practices would be a way of transcending differences and a means of facilitating greater collaboration. With events such as  Diwali, Eid al Adha and Navratri coming up in the next few month, it would be a chance to have yet another similar gathering. Yay! 😀

Resources on the environment, faith and communities.

OK… Then what?

While the Green Iftar was a lovely experience, there are perhaps two factors that make it difficult to translate environmental (or any other) activities into something bigger. One comment was that the energy and enthusiasm created in environmental events tends to die off after a while, for the fact that people are sucked back into their “normal” life. Another comment was because society prefers to remain passive and would only latch on to an initiative if there’s a “leader” spearheading it. While this may be to extent true, I’d like to have some hope that there are some people in society that care enough and are willing to experiment on their own.

Leading people is good, but empowering people to be leaders in their own right would be so much better. Moreover, for initiatives that encourage personal behavioural change, you are ultimately your own leader. Taking the effort to have a green iftar with one’s own family and friends outside environmental circles, for instance, will be a challenge but is ultimately the best chance of avoiding being ‘sucked’ back into the normality of careless consumption.

10-day Ramadan Challenge for fellow Muslim brothers and sisters:-

As we commit to more intensive spiritual reflection and rituals in commemoration of Lailatul Qadr in the last 10 days of Ramadan, let’s also make a conscious effort to reinforce one of the main reasons of why we are fasting. To put ourselves in the position of those who have so much less than us. To put ourselves in the position of those that can’t afford meat, let alone enjoy a decent meal.

Several Muslims have demonstrated that it is possible to adopt healthier and greener iftars, if we put our minds to it. Do try to take the effort to reduce your meat intake during this tail end of Ramadan, which just means making a conscious decision of what you want to eat. Encourage family members, such as mothers, to cook vegetarian recipes that are nutritious but also filling. For Muslims in Southeast Asia, think sayur asam rebus, sambal tempeh/telur, kacang pool, or even a banana shake! It would also be much easier to have vegetarian meals at this point, given the fact that many of us would already naturally have a smaller appetite after fasting for the past 20 days. If you must, then limit white meat intake to a couple of days a week.  More importantly, do share the experience and beauty of Ramadan to your non-Muslim friends.

Still can’t get over just having veggies for iftar and sahur? Well think about it, at least you know it’s been worth it while you’re busy stuffing yourself on Eid! 😉

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.

Screenshot from MuzlimBuzz.sg

How awesome is that? I got interviewed by NTUMS’s Eleven and MuzlimBuzz.sg!

Thanks very much folks, for listening to my two cents worth on the need to increase environmental awareness and action amongst Muslims.

It is my hope that such messages will in time be shared further and ultimately reach a critical mass for a truly environmentally conscious Ummah, inshaAllah 🙂

If you haven’t checked out the interviews yet, click here for the Muzlimbuzz article  and here for the Eleven article.

Greenwashing, as we know it, is the “deceptive use of green PR or green marketing in order to promote a misleading perception that a company’s policies or products are environmentally friendly”.  And I could not help but think that there was a bit of greenwashing going on in the newly opened Princess Nora bint Abdelrahman University (PNU) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Said to be the largest women’s university in the world, the campus has also launched several eco-friendly initiatives such as using solar energy for up to 18% of the power used for air-conditioning and the use of electric buggies. However, what I seemed to have taken with a pinch of salt, was the fact that it prides itself with the aim of being a car-free zone.

I could not help but question, what was the real motive of making  a women’s university in Saudi Arabia covering 8 million square feet a car-free zone? Was it merely a convenient excuse to abide by the country’s norms of not allowing women to drive (which has nothing to do Islam. Duh!)?

Whether a convenient excuse or noble environmental cause, the policy could nevertheless pose an inconvenience to not only women on campus, but also to the University’s budgets. So, ok great there’s a shuttle monorail but what are its operation hours – especially during those late nights of cramming for exams? Yay for electric buggies, but who drives them?  Given the fact that its highly unlikely that the fairer sex will be behind buggy wheels, this would perhaps create the need for male buggy drivers [Read: Foreign Labour… so much for Saudization policies] to meet the needs of a campus population of 50,000.

This economic rationale however still misses the point. Driving is almost universally a choice and provides a sense of empowerment, liberty and mobility for women.

I am not suggesting that adopting a  car-free system in the University is a bad idea and that we should go on emitting carbon, but rather the time and place chosen to implement the system deems greater analysis (or dare I say scrutiny) in light of broader issues. Just saying.

To Saudi sisters reading this, I have two messages:-

1) This post is just my modest two cents worth, and I look forward to any thoughts you may have on it.

2) For those choosing to make a stand on June 17, Allah Ma3ak 🙂