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Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The Adventure and The Tragedy.

The Adventure
Humans have a tendency to take advantage of anything that is available to them. I know this sounds like I'm going to talk about the environment but trust me, you couldn't be more wrong. I was given the opportunity to assist my dad with his care-taking of Yusuf Islam's stay in Malaysia and man, did I take advantage of that or what?

I was told that I would be Yusuf Islam's helper for 5 days while he stayed in Malaysia and I was to take care of anything he asked for. But before I could help him, I had my driver's theory test. I failed. Twice. And the saddest part is? I needed 42 out of 50 questions right to pass the test. I got 41/50. Twice. Anyways, after that failure, I went to the hotel where he would be staying in and consequently where I would be staying as well. And I'm not talking about any normal hotel room: we got the full VIP treatment! Top floor suites with perfect views of Kuala Lumpur (aside from the fact we couldn't see KLCC because it was blocked by the neighboring building -.-') and an exquisite restaurant where we got to dine in for breakfast, lunch and dinner if we so choose to and yeah, we chose to.

I had to wear a suit and to those who know me well enough: I HAD TO WEAR A SUIT! No complaints though: I looked good =P.

Sheikh Yusuf Islam and my family had met before on a previous occasion where he went to Dubai. My brothers and I were not quite knowledgeable back then and I do not think I could fully appreciate what I was blessed enough with to witness: he is an honorable man and a great Muslim, tow things of which we don't see enough nowadays. He is a soft-spoken, courageous preacher who speaks on behalf of his religion, Islam, and has changed the lives of many, and at his stay here we got to witness such an event.

He knew my dad from before when my dad worked with Dubai Media City and I think they took a liking to each other. That's the reason, I think, my dad was informed of his visit to Malaysia and was asked to manage his stay here. When he finally got here, I was asleep. So I didn't get to meet him until the night after. Owh wait. I may have not met him yet, but during the afternoon, while I was watching TV, he called via the hotel phone. My dad was out and I didn't think there was anyone else in the suite so... I picked up.
It was weird. Honestly speaking, I did not expect to hear Sheikh Yusuf Islam's voice over the phone and the way I imagined what our first encounter with each other will be was nothing like this. Meeting him in the hallway was still in the range of what I had imagined. The phone though? Not even close.

I said hello and I think I heard him chuckle after he replied hi. Obviously, he hadn't expected to hear a teenager's voice when he called.

He had just woken up and he wanted breakfast. It was in the afternoon but hey, he's the VIP. So I asked him what he would like. His order was an English breakfast, carrot juice, some weird thing he saw on the menu  which I can't remember and one other thing that's completely lost on me right now. The carrot juice stuck with me because i honestly didn't think anyone liked carrot juice...

The first actual face to face meeting with him, however, was a semi-formal affair; wear something neat that had a collar, basically. It was for dinner, supplied by the hotel's finest chefs and in the VIP dining room. There was talk earlier about his first dinner in Malaysia would be all Malaysian style food so we knew what to expect. But the main event was of course, Sheikh Yusuf Islam himself walking into the room. He was wearing a dark purple long sleeve no neck shirt with a black vest jacket. His white beard was short but full, his white hair short and neat. He was thin and quite tall and his voice was deep and somehow or rather, he gives out a feeling of being very humble. The other thing that was noticed by my brother was that he looked exactly the same as when we saw him before, no change at all. After a brief introduction, we dined.

The course was all Malaysian; Malaysian starter, Malaysian soup, Malaysian main course, Malaysian appetizer, Malaysian sweets and Malaysian fruits.Surprise,surprise, it was really good. Hey, if u have a great gourmet chef's cooking team cooking food for you, it's bound to be good. And the Teh Tarik was, Ya Allah, so so so so so delicious! I had 4 refills or something. I would have gotten more but it felt odd every time I asked the waitress for more, like sort of rude? Anyways, all in all, it was a stomach-filling dinner and a great honor as well since the company consisted of such famed people. Alhamdulilah. It was time for thank yous and goodbyes, handshakes and smiles, and finally it was time for bed.

Next day: formal. Suit and Tie. Not a scene you would normally catch me in. We were going to the VIPs of the whole country's houses: The Agung's (King) and the Prime Minister's. So yeah, wearing a singlet or t-shirt was not even a thought! So, after getting dressed up, we headed downstairs to the cars. Sheikh was going to ride in a different car than I was, which was probably for the best seeing as how the car I was in had 6 people already in it. Oddly enough, there were policemen standing next to our cars and I thought at first it was because we had parked in the parking slot that had the disabled person sign on it...Great, dad, get an awesome car and the first thing you do is get a ticket.

But no one else seemed to mind that the police were there and the police weren't writing a ticket so I came to the conclusion that they were there to see the new Proton Inspira but not until we were all ready to go did the real answer come: I heard one of the uncles telling the policemen to go ahead of us; they were escorting us! We had two secret services officers riding motorbikes and shooing people out of our way! My dad basically had a passport to drive at 140+km/h on a busy Kuala Lumpur road in the middle of traffic.Funny thing was: everyone who had to pull over to the side because of us looked into our car and saw 4 people cramped tightly together in the back seat; it was the most cramped VIP car they had ever seen. And to those who looked into our car, we smiled and we waved.

The Agung's place wasn't very far away. It only took us around 5 minutes to get there. It was big. Not much else you can say about it really. Especially since I wasn't actually allowed to go in. VIPs only. Not their assistants. So in the car I waited. Sad, huh? After a while though, a man in green suit decorated with medals came up to the car. Calmly, I freaked out. Inside me: holy crap, a general's coming this way! What am I supposed to do?! Outside: opened door, said hi sir, how can I help you? Luckily, he had only come over to see the car. His exact comment translated into English would be:  Hi, I just wanted to see the car; it's not out on the streets yet. It's good, right?

If you ask my best friend, Amir, what I knew about cars, he would probably tell you "Nothing". He's not wrong. The only thing I could do was tell the general what I had heard from other people about the car; it was good but too bad it's only an imitation of Mitsubishi Lancer. No actual comments about the handling or performance was made though; I couldn't drive yet so I didn't have a clue about it.

After the meeting with the Agung, we headed back to the hotel. We were to change into something more appropriate for prayer, Friday Prayer at that too. Most of us just took of our suits *Alhamdulillah!* and went with our white shirts. Sheikh Yusuf went up to change, so did his wife, Sheikha Fauzia, who I think had bonded a very strong friendship with the Dato's wife. So, after everyone had prepared, we went to UIA, University Islam Antarabangsa (Islamic international School)  There, Sheikh Yusuf was asked to give a Tazkirah(practically means Reminder, so something along the lines of a speech that reminds people of God).

After his speech, he was swarmed by nearly everyone in the Masjid, each and everyone of them wanted to shake his hand. He practically needed to be escorted out of the mass. He looked a bit pale when he got out.
Saif and I were also able to meet up with a very, very old friend, Kamal, after 5 years; another serendipitous thing we have to say Alhamdulilah for. We had lunch there, lasagna made by the University cooks. It was quite good.

That night, Sheikh Yusuf was interviewed by TV3 and the interview was aired early the next morning.There was this one part that made everyone in the room laugh; the cameraman asked Sheikh Yusuf to talk while the camera was focused on him and while the interviewer "pretended to listen" to him talk.

Sheikh had a very interesting comment on it: the sound was bad, all we could hear was the AC in the room. The morning it was aired, Saif and I had an American-style breakfast but we were dressed up formally because what was coming up right after the breakfast was a really, really big deal.

Next up was undoubtedly the biggest thing yet: the Prime Minister's house. One word: PERRGGGHHHHHH!!! In English, this would translate to: WOOAAAHHHHH!!!

It was huge. First of all, it was located on the side of a mountain, so they had all the space to design the house in and they did not mess up. Let me tell you the story first, then I'll describe the place.

When we got through the main gate, we followed the policemen towards a really big building where we were dropped off. However, there was no one there to greet Sheikh Yusuf into the building, so we had to wait outside. Suddenly, a woman comes out of the house and asks us what we were doing here. Odd, right? Sheikh Yusuf was invited over but no one seemed to be expecting him. After a brief talk with Uncle Zul, the woman goes back inside and a few minutes later comes out and tells us that we were at the wrong building. Shockingly, there was another building that we were supposed to go to that was even more private than this one. A place more private than the PM's house. Apparently it was the PM's family house, where he invited family and close friends over. Yeah, he wanted to give off the impression that he considers Sheikh Yusuf family; really nice of him. Next time, though, please give us a heads up on the location of the building. The policemen had no idea where it was and somehow, we ended up taking a bit of a tour around the place; we even got to a parking zone for buses!

When we got to the building, it was once again only the VIPs allowed in. That was a bummer, but it didn't actually bum me; I honestly didn't know what to do inside the house of a Prime Minister so being outside it was just fine. The last time I met a Ministry Official, I was scolded because I was standing in the wrong position to talk to him: I had my hands on my hips. I'm guessing if I was even in the same vicinity of the Prime Minister, I'd have to stand like a soldier; straight, strong, quiet.

Now, the description of what I saw outside the building:

Right outside the really private house there was a roundabout which had an amazing view over the whole area and far away in the horizon you could see the busy life of KL, but in closer view you had the true greenery of Malaysia and the contrast between the two made both their beauty more obvious. The roundabout really had only two exits, one to the building and the other to go out of the building. I guess they thought it would look nicer with a roundabout rather than a straight road. Once away from the roundabout, there was a field with green, short grass and in the field there were brighter green round patches of grass. Saif said it was a golf course, and I don't doubt him. It was vast.

Ahead of the field was a beautiful still lake that reflected the sky exactly like a mirror. It stretched out towards the left and right and seemingly had no end, almost like a river. The lake was, in estimate, nearly a football field and a half worth of distance wide and on the other side was a forest, thick and dark, filled with a variety of trees and maybe even animals. It certainly was big enough to house a whole bunch of animals anyways. Beyond that was God knows what. I couldn't see the other side of it.
To the right of the golf course, there was a small rocky walkway under a wooden roof. If you walk on it, it will lead you down a stairway to the lake and also, if you take a right, to a small area meant for picnicking. You had to skip across wooden platforms that was above the lake water to get there and once you do, there's a wooden bench in an open area with small trees growing around it. Man, I would have loved to have picnicked there.

After touring the place for a bit - and also coming across a really fat cat that reminded one of the infamous Garfield - it was time to go back to the hotel. Sheikh Yusuf had been interviewed by the Prime Minister and the press and everything was done for the day. That night, however, there was one more order of business: Dinner. At another hotel.

This hotel was themed Chinese and as such, so was the dinner. It was Chinese Sea food. There was a variety of different sea food there: lobster, fried fish, other stuff I couldn't identify but there was also (and I loved it to no ends) sweet chicken. They served all the food onto two of those spinning topped tables. One table was for the VIPs, 8 in total, and the other one was for Saif, Uncle Rusdi and me. The servings were equal on both table. You do the maths. In that maths of yours, which of the tables was happier? =P
After that, there was nothing much else to talk about. I had a few conversations with Sheikh Yusuf Islam, most of which consisted of him asking about Malaysia and his plans to move here but the exciting events were over and soon enough, it was time for him to go to Australia.

We still had the car though.

Like I said: humans have a habit of taking advantage of things that are available to them. My dad took my grandma, my cousin, my two nieces and me on a 5 hour drive to Perlis to visit our family there in the Inspira and my dad did not need police escort to make people make way for him! He practically scared people into giving way! I don't know exactly how fast he drove, but it was fast enough to cut a normally 8 hour drive into a 5 hour drive.

In Perlis, I had a small adventure in the form of my uncle driving the Inspira. He took it on a road test; potholes, narrow roads, sudden brakes etc. I bet if he could have tried to make the car do a backflip, he would have. We were actually driving to go buy crabs and I was gifted by the shop owner with the "special" crab because I was playing with it. It was separated from the rest because it was too dangerous. The shop owner tied the crab's claws shut with a plastic rope and handed it to me. It was like having a crab on a leash! So much fun. It also freaked out my nieces to the point where the youngest one cried her eyes out. Again; so much fun. We also went shopping *yawn* but that was mostly for my cousin who said it would be a waste to go to Perlis and not visit the shopping central.

Once back in Kuala Lumpur, I had to take my driver's test again. I failed again. I took it one last time and finally, I got the 42/50 needed to pass the test. It was such an amazing relief and such an annoying result that I was laughing all the way back: I had gotten 41, 41, 41, 42. Just one mark more. You have no idea exactly how frustrating that was. Or how annoying.

The Tragedy
The day I got my L license was also the day I was able to watch"Natrah: the Tragedy" the Musical. And, Alhamdulillah, I got to watch it in a VIP seat too!
 The story is about a young girl, Natrah/Maria, who was born a Dutch and was baptized as Maria, a Christian. During WW2, her mother, Adeline Hertogh, could not support her family and her husband was Missing In Action, so she turned to her best friend at the time; Aminah, a Malaysian Muslim woman. Aminah could not have children of her own so Adeline gave Maria to Aminah at the age of 5, asking her to take care of Maria like she would care her own daughter. 8 years later, Adeline's husband had returned and they searched for the now-named Natrah.

The main conflict was her religious upbringing: she was brought up Muslim but if she goes back to her parents she would be converted to Christianity. The problem was that Aminah had no documentation of Natrah's adoption. Natrah was, at first, told by the High Court to go back to her biological parents but after a second appeal, she was allowed to stay with Aminah, her adopted mother. Natrah soon after got married to a 22-year old teacher in training, whilst she was still 14. This could be seen as a maneuver by Aminah to stop further attempts to take away Natrah as the law states that she now lawfully belongs to her husband, a Muslim Malaysian man. I did some research and I found out that this event escalated into a global scale: there were reports that Muslim countries such as Pakistan claimed that any attempts to separate the couple would be an open challenge to the Muslim world. There were also support given from Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

The marriage caused even more friction, however. Singapore (where the marriage took place) was under English rule at that time. In English law, marriage was not allowed for people under 16 years of age. So the marriage of Natrah was void. The law also states that the biological father has the right of claim over the religion of his children, whilst they were still minors. Natrah's father testified that he would never allow her to become Muslim. So, the Court ruled in favor of the Hertoghs. Soon after, a picture of Natrah kneeling in front of the Virgin Mary was published and the Muslim community rioted. The end result was 18 deaths, 173 injured and Natrah moved to Netherlands. The battle for Natrah had been lost and the battle for Maria had been won. The year was 1950.

The theater version of the Natrah Tragedy conveyed the story well, but failed to evoke a powerful emotion inside me or my dad or the uncles who had joined us to watch it. It was a tragedy, and as such it should have brought tears into our eyes. However, the comedy of the Englishmen speaking Malay was such that it sort of canceled the tragedy. If they had just spoken in English...

One of the uncles had a problem with the scene where they showed Natrah kneeling towards a huge statue of the Virgin Mary. He said that showing the picture that caused the riot would have been enough and that they went a bit overboard with it. It was true. I have a lot of Christian friends and I feel that they would have been quite insulted by how their religion was conveyed. I'm a Muslim and I know for a fact that it is Haram to insult other people's religions. Nabi Muhammad never insulted the Quraysh who threw stones at him. Of course, I do not claim that the scene was actually meant to insult; it could just have been an attempt to convey the seriousness of the matter.

The other thing was that they seemed to put a lot of emphasis to the love story part of the tragedy. It was... Unnecessary. Yeah, everybody loves a good love story, but going into so much detail for the love story of this amazing tragedy was a, I think, waste of money, time and focus. I mean.. There was even a Bollywood dance for it! Why, oh why, did they do that? It attracted a lot of attention, but for this tragedy, the attraction was for all the wrong reasons.

The only part that evoked a powerful reaction in me was the first time Natrah was taken away from Aminah, the adopted mother. There was nothing to do with religion, nothing to do with Malaysia being biased against by the law, nothing at all except for raw, heart-breaking cries of mother and daughter being separated by brute force. The actress who played Aminah was brilliant, simple brilliant, at that scene. I don't know how she faked the emotions behind her screams but it felt real. It felt like she was having her heart ripped out of her, like she was desperately fighting to stay breathing. It was brilliant.

There are a lot of controversies surrounding the Tragedy amongst which is that some people seem to think that it is a sin to allow Natrah to marry at the age of 14. It's actually not. Anyone that's hit puberty is allowed to marry. Natrah never had adult relations with her husband while married to him. The problem here is that people seem to think that marriage and adultery are synonymous. You can be married and not do anything. Marriages were used to represent a bond between tribes and families, showing the respect and honor a man and a woman is given by their respective tribes and families as they were trusted to represent them. Natrah actually lived with her mother after the marriage, so I don't actually see what some people are talking about.

The theater showed us things mostly from the Malaysian point of view. If we looked at it from the biological parents' point of view, we see that the mother was in a financial crisis during the WW2 when her husband was Missing In Action. The father knew nothing of Maria's adoption and so was angry at the fact that his daughter was given away. All he wanted was his daughter back. Back then, there was no one to legally document the adoption, so Aminah had no proof of the adoption and he had every right to claim his daughter.  So, who would you feel sympathetic towards: the Dutch parents who was forced to give away their daughter due to hardships of war or the Malaysian woman who had cared for Natrah as her own daughter for 8 years and was physically forced to separate from her?

But that's all in the past. Nothing we say can change what had happened to poor Maria/Natrah who became mentally deranged in her later years (who can blame her? Her childhood was a global-scale hysteria). There was news that Maria had planned to murder her husband because she was afraid to file for a divorce in case she lost the custody of her children. The plan failed because news got out that she was planning it. In light of her past, however, she was excused. She died of leukemia in 2009.. They say that she was constantly unhappy with her life and wanted to go back to Malaysian land but couldn't because of finance.

In conclusion: It was one of the most exciting, the most gleeful, the most eventful week of my life. And I have my dad to thank for it. Thank you, Abah. I really, really appreciate it. Sorry I couldn't go to Terengganu with you. Oh, you can read his blog if you want more on Yusuf Islam: 1426.blogspot.com

Really long blog post huh?
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