Monday, July 16, 2018

Rationality vs Deep Thought

Assalamualaikum and greetings dear Bits and Pieces readers,

I'm reading a book written by John Ralston Saul entitled "Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West". I started reading it in 2016 and even after two years, haven't finish. This is record breaking for me as I've always been a fast reader. Still, it is unsurprising because the writer is a philosopher. Like most philosophers, it's so difficult to fathom his thoughts!

Fortunately (and alhamdulillah), his ideas got across to me recently. I am able to boil down his points into one simple sentence:
People make wrong decisions when they confuse rationality with deep thought.
You are questioning this sentence, aren't you? "Is not rationality similar to deep thought," you ask? Even Thesaurus lists wise as a synonym to rational. Well, you and Thesaurus have never been more wrong.

No, this post is not a book review to support that fact. The book review might come in the future, God willing. Probably eons away in the future. The actual purpose of this post is to explain how rationality is different from deep thought based on two simplest examples.

Image by tsukiko-kiyomidzu

1. Social media posts
It is easy to say that a person is narcissistic when (s)he post a lot of selfies on social media. People quickly presume that someone is an attention seeker when (s)he post a lot of personal struggles online. These conclusions are rationale, after all.
But should we think deeper, we might arrive at a different conclusion; the former might be suffering from a mental condition (which a study had recently pointed out) while the latter could view writing in social media as a form of therapy.

O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah ; indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful.
[Quran: Chapter 49 Verse 12]

2. Stages in life
We are often advised to embark in life by following these steps: obtain an education, get a high paying career, get married, and have kids. These stages must be followed accordingly and religiously. The masses have agreed that to skip any step or to not follow them in order would translate into a difficult life. To clarify further: If you don't get an education, it will be difficult for you to find a high paying job. And if you can't find a high paying job, you won't have enough money to start a family. This insecurity will cause difficulties. Difficulties in turn, cause restlessness and sadness. These are the lines of a rational thought.
But if we pause for awhile and observe, we'll notice that this isn't necessarily so. People go through these stages of life at different times and at a different pace. Some might not go through one or more of these stages at all. Thus you wonder sometimes, how can the poor still smile and be at peace amidst chaos? How are the rich can be so serious and worried though in stability?

But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not. [Quran: Chapter 2 Verse 216]

You may surmise two things from the above examples. One, cliche and two, morality or ethics.

Well my dear readers, these cliches can be analogous with what Saul wrote in his book. Politics and economics, topics that we would deem novel, have been made complicated by a rational line of thinking. These complexities then have been confused with deep thought. This is because rationally, anyone who possess deep thought, would be able to figure it out. The reality is, these complexities are to create a class or a caste that would separate people by "knowledge" (I think the strike through together with the quote will further emphasize how knowledge, in this sentence, is an oxymoron).

Anyhow, like I said earlier, I'm not going to elaborate further what Saul wrote in his book; at least not in this post. But I'd like to share a conclusion that I've arrived at.

To be a person with deep thought we need:
1) Simplicity
2) Morality/ethics
Do you agree with me? Or you simply don't care?

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Hiking and Discovery

Assalamualaikum and greetings dear Bits and Pieces readers,

Currently in Malaysia, mountain and hill hiking are becoming a fad. Facebookers elate when they find new hill hiking spots and people race to post their hiking adventures on Instagram. These did not go unnoticed. Both responsible and irresponsible hiking trip organisers mushroomed and more people get sucked into the euphoria.

The hiking "fad" isn't necessary a negative connotation, though. It actually presents another method of spending time aside from the typical activities of shopping, dining, gaming, clubbing, and watching Korean soap operas. It began to dawn on people that they can still have a blast and de-stress while sweating.

There are also those who went one step further and find hiking therapeutic. Somehow, the world made much more sense, serenity becomes less elusive, and God is all the more omnipresent. I would like to believe that I'm in this category.

1. Constant steep trail = Never ending trials
Mount Datuk in Rembau is the most popular place to hike for those who want to transition from hill hiking to mountain hiking. 80% of its trail involve steep and tiring ascends. I remember pushing myself hard, controlled my breathing, and asked hikers descending the mountain how long more until we reach the top.

One of a few set of stairs leading to the top of Mount Datuk

Raihan, a friend of mine, told me that this steep trail symbolises the never ending trials that we face in life. The capability to breath in oxygen always comes with responsibilities, hardship, anger, annoyance, misunderstanding, and sometimes, the urge to just kill one self. This is simply how ALLAH had designed life to be.

2. Effort, patience, and perseverance always pay off
Still, ALLAH had also decreed that those with effort, patience, and perseverance will pull through. If not in this world, the next.

Kutu Hill is NOT a hill; its a mountain. Situated in Kuala Kubu Bharu, it rises 200+ meters more than Mount Datuk. If Mount Datuk is tiring, Kutu Hill is grueling. My knee gave way and my brother literally had to carry me down for a short while. Its not that the Kutu Hill trail is steeper, but it's longer, wilder, and lonelier. In comparison to Mount Datuk, not many people hike here.

View from the top of Kutu Hill

The Kutu Hill trail reminds me of my PhD studies a bit; a long, winding, and lonely odyssey which has not yet end! To quote Linkin Park, "Uphill struggle, blood, sweat, and tears". Nevertheless, each time I reach the peak of the mountain (or hill) that I'm hiking on, it gives me optimism that I can finish it. This also applies to my ambition of becoming a novelist (despite not being able to fulfill promises to my readers)! 

3. Its the journey that matters
Although messy and unpredictable, its often the journey that matters. There's no meaning if we achieve success by cheating and manipulating. The journey should pain us so that we grow wiser and kinder.  

This hit me when I hiked Botak Hill in Puncak Alam. The top was completely bare like a bald head (hence the name Botak) but the trail was pleasant. We were greeted by ferns, huge boulders, and birds freely roaming the vast sky.

Botak Hill trail

4. Compassion and teamwork
I felt pain not at Botak Hill but at Batu Chondong Hill in Ulu Klang. I fell when I was climbing down a tree. My friend Aisyah, not me, was traumatised with the incident (not to worry, I'm fully recovered, alhamdulillah).

The tree that I fell from, Batu Chondong Hill trail

Truthfully, I did not felt pain when I fell. Maybe I was in a daze but I also like to think that it was because Azratee and Aisyah comforted me. They were willing to slow down to my injured pace and hold my hand as I descended. I, who tends to be secretive, came to terms to the fact that expressing can reduce emotional hurt. 

5. Learning is infinite
To be honest, Batu Chondong Hill trail was the fastest hike for me in comparison to Kutu Hill, Botak Hill, and Mount Datuk. My knee didn't hurt one bit! Indeed, with experience comes skill. But, falling down from a tree, teaches me that I must never feel over confident. I should always be humble, careful, and keep on learning to become better. 

Gasing Hill is an educational jungle set in bustling Petaling Jaya, my very first hiking trail as an adult. Hence the word "educational" absolutely hit home with me because I had learned my very first lesson there; hiking is therapeutic. I remember that I was almost near crazy trying to include waqf (Google it!) into my economic model.

Gasing Hill trail

6. History is a great teacher
History has always been close to my heart. I was the best student for history during PMR (a centralised exam for Form 3 students during my time) and History of Mathematics was my favourite subject during undergraduate studies. My first publish book (which I retracted, by the way) was inspired from that subject.

People always say that we should forget the past. That, in my opinion, is utterly wrong. We have to accept and learn from it because the past is an invaluable teacher. Events in the past, can help guide our thoughts, feelings, actions, and decision making. For instance from the Quran:

And We certainly sent Noah to his people, and he remained among them a thousand years minus fifty years, and the flood seized them while they were wrongdoers. (Surah Al-Ankabut: 14)

This verse teaches us that even 950 years of effort can't change people's minds. It is really up to the individual themselves. Yet the Prophet Noah pressed on because he knows that ALLAH counts his effort; not whether he succeeds or not. As such, we should internalise these lessons that had occurred in the past when we read this verse. Not to mention, finance and economic, two out of many "professional" and "real" areas, still rely heavily on historical data for forecasting.

It is the reason of history that I attempted the Mount Berembun trans Telapak Buruk trail in Pantai twice. During the first try, I wasn't able to reach the World War-II B-24 Liberator air craft crash site. Still eager to see, I attempted the second time and made it to the site. Indeed, nobody can ever know how death may approach.
Remains of the aircraft on Telapak Buruk
7. Living reminders of God
It is hard to shake the awe that every hill and mountain hiking has to offer. The animals serve as a reminder that ALLAH is Al-Khaliq (The Creator) while the ruins elucidate ALLAH as Al-Mumeet (The Destroyer). The fruits and rushing water speak of ALLAH Al-Muqeet (The Feeder) while the view from the mountain top shouts ALLAH Al-Aliyy (The Most High). Easy trails echo ALLAH Ar-Raheem (The Merciful) while the arduous ones constantly whisper ALLAH Al-Hafiz (The Guarding One). When I rest and put my head on the bare ground in prayer, I can't help but hear ALLAH Al-Mujeeb (The Responding One). As I descend down the hill, got in my car, and head home, my heart sings ALLAH Al-Ahad (The One).

Broga Hill in Broga

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The House Dilemma

Assalamualaikum and greetings dear Bits and Pieces readers!

I am now a part time lecturer teaching Foundation of Islamic Finance at a public university in Malaysia. It was not long before I realise that students, no matter how boring the topic may be, pay attention when the lecturer is passionate. One such occasion happened when I was arguing on the necessity of a house bought through mortgage.  

Source: Binyamin Mellish
No, it is not the purpose of this post to debate on whether Islamic home financing is truly Islamic. Instead, it is to point out some obvious realities of home financing that people dismiss simply because the realities are not attach to any financial nor economic jargon. It is my personal opinion that when  making decision to buy a house, one should also be aware of the realities and repercussions attached to that decision.

1. Does house equates to a home?
Pause and observe; do all house owners view their house as a home? Some view their house as a long term investment which is not wrong; but some also view their house as a burden. Burden in two senses; burden of debt and burden of not having a real home. A real home is where we view our house as a sanctuary from the elements; both realistically and metaphorically. To describe the latter, most people are working long hours just to pay off the house. This causes fatigue and instead of feeling happy to spend time with their family when they get home from work, they would feel disgruntled. Hence a house that should by default be a home, becomes a mere symbol of financial security. I used the strikethroughs on purpose.  

2. Does house ownership equals to fulfillment of basic need?
Most tolerate the long working hours and family time because they argue that owning a house is a basic human need. House provides shelter and protection for their families, after all.
The fact of the matter is, other choice of housing like renting and mobile homes also give similar protection too. In relation to this, developed countries of Europe chose to rent instead of buying which could be mind boggling for people coming from less developed countries. Taking some points from the link, potential house owners should consider other costs attached to owning a house such as insurance and upkeep before making their final decision.

3. Does a house on a mortgage is truly our house?
It is always wise to be aware of the fact that the house we own is not really our house; at least not until we finish paying the monthly installments that often take up decades. I repeat, in underline and bold, decades. Until then, the house that we see as a financial security, is actually a mirage.
How so?
Consider these risks; losing our job, savings and investments dried up, major health issues (assuming no health insurance was taken), economic crisis etc. Wouldn't this affect our ability to pay the monthly installments? And when we can't pay, the bank will seize our house. Notice the strike through.
I had a conversation with my husband regarding this which I would like to add as a side note. Imagine that we face a religious, morale, and/or principle clash at work. But because of the need to pay down debt, we would easily step on our principles instead of quitting the job. It is as though we become slave to our employers due to debt which had enslaved us in the first place. It's as though we are worshiping two gods without us even realising.

4. Is living within our means and in moderation are backward concepts in this modern era?
This question reminds me of this book, "Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West"  which I am still reading. John Ralston Saul, the author of this book, strongly critiques the technocrats that ivy league universities are producing. According to the author in page 22, technocrat is "the man who understands the organization, makes use of the technology and controls access to the information, which is a compendium of "facts"". The education they receive, according to him, emphasized more on technical jargons instead of analysing real problems. Even when the problems were address, the solutions were often superficial.
Corresponding to this, it is to my believe that living within our means and in moderation are not backward concepts at all. Instead, they are two simple yet wise principles grounded to reality. Hence, one should not feel dejected when (s)he is being accused by the community as idiots for not taking a mortgage. You are merely considering your physical and mental capacity to shoulder debt.

I would like to end this post with a clarification. I am not criticising those who have taken mortgage. I am merely pointing out the fact that acquiring a mortgage is not necessarily an indicator of financial security. At least, that is what I believe. What do YOU believe?