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?

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Japan: A Land Steep with Reminders - Part II

Assalamualaikum and greetings dear Bits and Pieces readers,

It is a joy of its own to recount back the days I had in Japan. I love being able to write during the shinkansen (bullet train) and train rides in between gazing through the window. Hence this post is a continuation of Japan: A Land Steep with Reminders - Part I which has long overdue. I really need to stop promising you readers regarding the date of my next post. I am absolutely ashamed of myself.

Day 4 - The Illusion of Death
We were at the grounds of the Kyoto Imperial Palace, sparring some time for rest and prayers. There were a number of crows which reminded us of Uchiha Itachi. We wondered why the crows are there. It's not like the place was dirty. Given that Uchiha Itachi liked to disguise himself as a crow, I bet that crows are closely related to Japanese culture.

My brother praying at the grounds of the Kyoto Imperial Palace. That white plastic bag is not litter but his.

After praying, we took a stroll on the grounds and came upon a tree on top of which the Sakura flower was blooming in magnificent pink. From what we gathered from our stroll, this is one of the few Sakura blooms on the castle grounds. The rest were still dead or appear dead. Kindly note that we went to Japan during early spring.

Sakura blooming on the castle grounds

The Sakura flowers that appear dead, or basically any forms of fauna, are similar to us humans and our lives. With our limited knowledge and foresight, we reached to a conclusion that certain people and situation will forever remain gloom; that their hearts are dead and there is not even a glimmer of hope. We simply couldn't see that a drug addict could be clean one day, that a dyslexia child will fulfill his or her dreams, or that a country will eventually see peace. Even worse, we might view ourselves as a hopeless case.

But we always take for granted the fact that the appearance of Sakura obeys the seasons in accordance to ALLAH's will. The same goes with humans and situations that we view as dark and hopeless; they will change according to ALLAH's will. We always assume that the key reason for people to change is advice from us. Wrong! The key reason is because ALLAH wills it. Our efforts and that person's (the one who should change) effort are secondary reasons.

Surah Al-Anfal [8] verse 24

In the case of hopelessness within ourselves, we should always be reminded how the flower although dead in winter, was able to reborn during spring. People all over the world would flood to Japan just to admire the beauty of Sakura when it blooms. Japanese even hold picnics to admire them. These teach us that mistakes we made and the hardships we go through make us a better and mature person; a more beautiful person up to the point where we will touch people's lives. Thus we should make tawbah (repentance) every time we commit sin and shake of the slithering whispers that say we couldn't be better. On top of that, we should also hold on, be patient, and persevere when the world seems dark.

Surah Ash-Sharh [94] verses 5 - 6

Surah Al-Baqarah [2] verse 257

Day 5 - Tawakkul (trust in ALLAH's plan) and the Fleeting Life
We were at the brink of panic. We need to reach the airport by 9.30am but according to Google Maps, the earliest JR Haruko shinkasen is at 8.48am. That is too late for us! Ditching Google Maps, I remembered that I read earlier before our Japan trip that we can also catch a JR Haruko train at Kyoto Station. Being a central hub and the fact that Japanese take their public transport and time seriously, there must be one train that should give us enough time to reach the airport by 9.30am. I trusted my intention (which was inspired by ALLAH) and put my complete trust in ALLAH. It turns out that I was correct.

In the shinkansen, I didn't write much. Instead, I soaked in the views, cherishing the last moments of my stay in Japan. 5 days went by so fast. But we knew that we had made the most out of the five days. It makes one wonder whether one have made the most of one's time here in this world? Did I actually do something with my life? Will my Maker be happy with me when my time is up?

Surah Al-Mu'minun [23] verse 115

Monday, May 8, 2017

Japan: A Land Steep with Reminders - Part I

Assalamualaikum and greetings dear Bits and Pieces readers,

I went to Japan on March 10th to March 14th. For years I've been longing to travel to Japan so it was a do'a (prayer) came true. My brother and I visited Kobe, Tokyo, Hikone, Konan, and Kyoto in those five days.

However, I'm not narrating my journey in this post, at least not a physical one. This blog as you know, is not travel themed. But it was built to inspire others through my writing, and to that I stay true. This post is filled with advises and reminders. 

Day 1 - The Art of Alhamdulillah, Striving, and Patience
I was blown away on day 1, I couldn't quite believed that I'm in Japan! After acquiring our Japan Railway Pass at the airport, we find our way to Kobe Mosque, the oldest and most historic mosque in Japan. It had survived two major catastrophes; the World War II bombing and the 1995 earthquake, reportedly to be one of the worst earthquake in Japan.

Me in front of Kobe Mosque

I stepped out of Motomachi station confidently. With the pocket wifi, power bank, and my phone's GPS, we were confident that we won't get lost. It's only a 10 minute walk from Motomachi Station. What can possibly go wrong?

Well the GPS on my phone went wrong. It couldn't lock our location so it couldn't guide us to Kobe Mosque. We tried to find any nearby streets or buildings that were near to us and erected along the route to Kobe Mosque but to no avail. We then switched to my brother's brand new iPhone but he wasn't able to find the GPS function! It was really frustrating that our journey began in such a state of well, frustration!

We wandered aimlessly for half an hour. Our stomachs began to rumble and the cold was barely bearable. We haven't had lunch. We had planned to eat at Naan Inn before praying, a halal Indian restaurant just few steps away from the mosque. All in all we were stymied. I remembered that my head had played The Shallows, a movie full of frustration and suspense throughout where Blake Lively tries to reach for the beach just 183 meters away with a giant white shark in between.  

Despite all that, we had to remain calm and composed. I reminded myself of how much I wanted to be here. It's literally a dream come true to travel to Japan. So I kept thanking and praising ALLAH (the attitude of alhamdulillah) for giving me the chance to come here. Finally, after 45 minutes, my brother noticed a place that is near to Kobe Mosque. So we took the street and lo and behold, Naan Inn was at the right of us. Without further ado, we went inside and ate.

The interior of Kobe Mosque. Quite similar to the mosques in Turkey
since Islam came to Japan through the Ottoman Empire

After eating and praying, we walked back to Motomachi Station and head to Tokyo. In the shinkansen (Japan's bullet train), I wrote down my thoughts of this day. I had been reminded that despite any impediments in life, we must always be thankful to ALLAH, and remain patient and positive. This is because ALLAH will never let our effort go to waste. If not here, we will surely gain something in the akhirah (afterlife).   

Surah Hud (chapter 11) verse 115

Day 2 - The Mirage of Absolute Power
Although I live in one, I never quite like a bustling city life. Thus in my notebook, I didn't write down anything at the end of my day in Tokyo. I feel like there's nothing to write. There's only the typical stuff like eating and shopping. But as I walk down my memory lane of Tokyo, one stuck out: the Meiji shrine.

At the Meiji Shrine
The Meiji shrine was significant to me for one reason, the anime Samurai X. Any anime fans, excluding the hentai (basically porn) genre, would agree that Samurai X is one of a kind, definitely on par with Naruto. These two animes had long ignited the interest in Japanese culture and history within me. Samurai X tells the story of an assassin, Himura Kenshin, who had brought the Meiji era and ended the shogunate ruling system. After that, he abandoned his sword in exchange for a sakabato (a blunt sword), a symbol of his resolution to stop killing.

The shogunate ruling system was in place for more than six centuries before its downfall. For a ruling system that can last this long, no one could predict its demise. This piece of history reminds me that absolute power is unreal; it only exist with ALLAH. Humans are only granted limited power for a certain period. Hence we should not fear any corrupted person, whether (s)he is a leader, a bully, a criminal, a hypocrite, and similar others.

Surah Ar-Rum (chapter 30) verse 8

Day 3 - Diam - Diam Ubi Berisi
Diam-diam ubi berisi is a Malay proverb. It mostly refers to a quiet person or thing that hold something of substance inside. This proverb describes the village of Konan in Koka City beautifully. The streets were deserted and only a few people crossed our path. Although the village is a spitting image of a ghost town, in it lies a unique gem.

The street in Konan
Konan possesses the only remaining authentic ninja house in all of Japan, the Koka Ninja House. Once belonged to the Head of Koka ninja clan, the place was full of ninja traps, weapons, and scrolls containing ninja techniques. We even pretended to be ninjas and threw shurikens.

Inside the Koka Ninja House. Be weary that the tour is in Japanese.

On this day, I was reminded to not look down upon others and assume that I'm better than anybody. That person might have a "treasure" that I do not have. That person might be more wise than I am. Thus I should be more humbled, positive, and open minded.

Surah Qalam (chapter 68) verse 7

To be continued...