Wednesday, September 30, 2009


In one word: adventure. The wild and wonderful South Island of New Zealand offers everything from remote trekking to whale-watching. Within an area the same size as England and Wales, you can float over tranquil meadows in a hot-air balloon, get up close to a glacier, enjoy the fruits of the southernmost wine-making region in the world, and even get a glimpse into Antarctica.

Christchurch, capital of the South Island - and a city that will probably feel comfortably familiar, with Gothic-style architecture, punting on the river and plenty of green spaces including the vast Hagley Park. The centre of Christchurch is compact and easy to explore on foot; there is also a tram service which starts in Cathedral Square and makes a loop across the Avon river and past the park. Tickets, valid for 48 hours, cost NZ$12.50

A couple of free museums are well worth visiting. The Canterbury Museum on Rolleston Avenue (00 64 3 366 5000; has a Maori gallery; it opens 9am-5.30pm daily. And at the striking new modern art museum, Te Puna O Waiwhetu on Worcester Boulevard (00 64 3 941 7300;, current displays include an exhibition of the Canterbury Arts and Crafts Movement, until 27 February. Open daily 10am-5pm, until 9pm on Wednesday.

The Arts Centre (00 64 3 366 0989;, which runs along Worcester Boulevard, was converted from the buildings of the old Canterbury College. It contains artists' workshops, cafés, and Rutherford's Den, the rooms where the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who split the atom began his distinguished career. The Den opens 10am-5pm daily. Admission is free.

Christchurch's airport is one of the leading aviation hubs for researchers in Antarctica - and a short walk from the airport, at 38 Orchard Road (00 64 3 353 7798;, you find the Antarctic Centre. This is a working Antarctic research centre, but there are also -interactive exhibits, rides, and the chance for visitors to experience Antarctic conditions. The centre opens 9am-8pm daily, admission NZ$20

You could just step into Christchurch airport, which is the centre of the South Island's air network. Air New Zealand has a busy domestic network serving Nelson, Dunedin, Invercargill and Queenstown. All the South Island's airports are small, so check-in times are short and the whole process is very relaxed. If you book well in advance online at, you can travel very inexpensively. For example, a Christchurch-Queenstown return can cost as little as NZ$168

New Zealand's railways are in decline, but two scenic journeys have survived and are well worth including in your itinerary. The TranzCoastal runs down the coast and through the lush Canterbury countryside from Picton to Christchurch, stopping at Blenheim and Kaikoura on the way. The TranzAlpine chugs across the mountains from Christchurch to Greymouth, a useful jumping-off point for a visit to the Fox or Franz Josef glaciers. Both trains have an open-sided observation carriage, and the guard points out interesting landmarks on the way. If you book in advance on 00 64 4 495 0775 or through, you can buy a supersaver ticket from Christchurch to Greymouth for NZ$50

The South Island has a range of long-distance bus services, such as Atomic Shuttles (00 64 3 322 8883;, whose drivers may even be prepared to make a detour to drop you at your accommodation. The journey from Christchurch to Queenstown, for example, costs NZ$45, Blenheim to Nelson is NZ$20

You could - and many visitors are thrilled by the lack of traffic and the scenic roads. But bear in mind that New Zealand has a very poor accident rate. An alternative to renting a regular car is to hire a camper van, from a company such as Pacific Horizon (00 64 4 233 8881;, and take your accommodation with you. Daily rates start at NZ$79

The South Island has an increasing number of good hotels. Choose a smaller, boutique hotel if you want luxury, such as the George on Park Terrace in Christchurch (00 64 3 379 4560; where rooms start at NZ$260 (£97), with an extra $19.50 for breakfast; or Eichardt's Private Hotel on the waterfront at Marine Parade in Queenstown (00 64 3 441 0450; Rooms start at NZ$1,375, such as the lovely Lemon Tree Lodge at 31 Adelphi Terrace in Kaikoura (00 64 3 319 7464;, a private house with four en suite rooms and a hot tub overlooking the ocean. Prices start at NZ$125 for a double room including breakfast.

In the main tourist areas there are also serviced apartments that can be rented on a weekly or daily basis. Look out for the Vintners Retreat at 55 Rapaura Road in Renwick, near Blenheim (00 64 3 572 7420;, or the Glebe at 2 Beetham Street in the centre of Queenstown (00 64 3 441 0310;, where a one-bedroom unit will cost NZ$240 a night.

Elsewhere there are plenty of motels, as well as backpackers' accommodation, including BBH Backpacker ( which has hostels all over the South Island. Shared accommodation starts at around NZ$20 per person.

The sheep population of New Zealand outnumbers the humans by about 18:1, but there are plenty of other animals and birds to see. One of the most breathtaking of New Zealand's wildlife experiences is to go whale-watching in Kaikoura, the only place in the world where whales can be seen all year round. Boat excursions are run by Whale Watch (00 64 3 319 6767;, based at the Whaleway Station - yes, the trains come in here, too. The trips are weather-dependent, so can be cancelled at short notice; in general, conditions tend to be better in the early morning. It is worth making several bookings in advance; no charge is made until you actually check in. Sightings can't be guaranteed, although you are unlikely to return without at least seeing some New Zealand fur seals basking on the rocks, pods of dolphins jumping around the boat, and albatross soaring overhead.

There is also an albatross colony - the only mainland breeding colony in the world - at Taiaroa Head (00 64 3 478 0499; on the Otago peninsula in Dunedin. The Albatross Centre is open daily from 8.30am; hour-long tours take place daily except Tuesday morning, and cost NZ$25. Nearby is the Yellow Eyed Penguin Conservation Reserve (00 64 3 478 0286;, open daily from 10am until sunset, where the birds can be viewed at close quarters from observation huts.

That is certainly one of the reasons why so many people go to Queenstown. The sport was started here by A J Hackett in 1986, and it is still possible to jump from the original bridge over the Kawarau river; more than a million-and-a-half people have made the jump so far, paying NZ$180 (£68) for the privilege. But there are more than enough other activities in Queenstown if you don't like the idea of bouncing upside down on a bit of rope, the best known of which is jet-boating. This involves a 45-minute ride in an open boat which can travel at terrifying speeds - sometimes over extremely shallow water - performing 360-degree turns as it goes. Prepare to freeze, even in summer, get soaked, even though you will be given a waterproof cape, and scream with enjoyment throughout. The Kawarau Jet departs from Marine Parade, and trips cost NZ$85.
Alternatively, go to the top of the Skyline Gondola (00 64 3 441 0101; for NZ$6 (£2.25) per adult and hurtle down the luge track, or go whitewater rafting (00 64 3 442 7318; And in winter, nearby Coronet Peak and the Remarkables are New Zealand's main ski fields.

Admire Christchurch and the Canterbury plains from above in a hot-air balloon. Trips are organised by Up, Up and Away (00 64 3 381 4600;, and cost NZ$220 (£83). If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, Hanmer Springs is a mountain village, an hour-and-a-half's drive north of Christchurch, with natural thermal pools. The thermal reserve is on Amuri Avenue (00 64 3 315 7511;, and is open daily 10am-9pm. Entrance costs NZ$10. Or you could head north to Nelson, a small, attractive coastal town noted for its high concentration of art galleries and studios.
Nelson is a popular destination in its own right, just along the coast from Abel Tasman National Park - the smallest and most popular of New Zealand's national parks. There are daily excursions from Wakefield Quay in Nelson (00 64 3 548 8066;, but for longer visits it is only accessible by foot, if you are a serious hiker, or by aqua taxi (00 64 3 527 8083; from Marahau. Accommodation in the national park ranges from Department of Conservation huts (, which start at NZ$5 a night and are spaced three hours' walk apart, to luxurious lodges such as Awaroa (00 64 3 528 8758; Rooms are well-appointed, have views over the bush and wetland areas, and prices start at NZ$230 for two people. This is a good spot for sea-kayaking, which is a good means of reaching otherwise remote beaches. The Sea Kayak Company (00 64 3 528 7251; can provide equipment and organise trips, with prices starting at NZ$65 for a half day.

The beautiful Fiordland, which covers the south-west corner of the island, and consists largely of lakes and fjords. The lakeside towns of Manapouri and Te Anau are good bases, and the best way to explore, since there are few roads, is to take a boat trip through Milford or Doubtful Sounds, narrow fjords that open into the Tasman Sea.
The newest of New Zealand's national parks is Stewart Island, off the southern tip of the South Island and a 20-minute flight from Invercargill. This is an excellent area for walking with plenty of short trails, as well as the tough 75-mile Northwest Circuit along the north coast of the island.

Most of New Zealand's Maoris are in the North Island, but some traces of Maori culture can be found in the South Island. An insight into Maori life is provided by the half-day tour run by Maurice Manawatu in Kaikoura (10 Churchill Street; 00 64 3 319 5567; It includes a visit to the sites of local pas, or fortified villages, a bush walk, and a stop at Maurice's home to share a drink and food - an important Maori tradition. Tours cost NZ$75.
At Kotane Wildlife Centre in Christchurch (60 Hussey Road; 00 64 3 359 6226;, and at the top of the Skyline Gondola in Queenstown (00 64 3 441 0101), you can see performances that include a traditional Maori welcome, the haka; the price is NZ16.
The scenery that formed the backdrop to the movie versions of J R R Tolkein's Lord of the Rings trilogy has become an attraction in its own right, but you need not have seen the films to appreciate the beauty of the landscapes. The movies were shot all over New Zealand, but many locations were in the South Island, particularly in the mountains around Queenstown.

"When David Gatward-Ferguson, owner of Nomad Safaris, first gazed across Skippers Canyon all those years ago, he instantly felt he was looking at 'The Road to Mordor'," says a local tour company (00 64 3 442 6699;, which started running trips to the area before the location scouts arrived. The company will take you to see the Pillars of the Kings in the Kawarau river; the Ford of Bruinen, an amalgam of the Arrow river and Skippers Canyon; the Remarkables and Deer Park Heights which were the location of several scenes in the three films.

The scenery around Glenorchy also provided several cinematic backdrops, and Mount Potts, a vast sheep station west of Christchurch, was turned into Edoras.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

WOW...New Zealand

While I'm in Wellington, there is an ongoing spectacular show. Something that is WOW!

For many, the words wearable art have unfortunate connotations, smacking of models in body paint, posing self-consciously at pretentious art-gallery happenings and product launches. But that feeble sort of wearable art has nothing to do with the Montana World of WearableArt, which goes by the entirely apt acronym WOW. Its award show, held annually over several days in Wellington, New Zealand, is a fabulous event that's equal parts couture, choreography and craziness.

Slide 01

WOW: an off-the-wall art extravaganza

World of WearableArt, Wellington
24 September - 4 October 2009

New Zealand's World of WearableArt (WOW) is a unique Kiwi event - billed as 'Mardi Gras meets haute couture' - where art and fashion collude in a spectacular stage show.

HAVING A BALL: Lady of the Wood , an 18th-century-style all-timber ballgown, took the top prize at the World of WearableArt awards.
ANDREW GORRIE/ The Dominion Post
HAVING A BALL: Lady of the Wood , an 18th-century-style all-timber ballgown, took the top prize at the World of WearableArt awards.

From a little country art gallery promotion 21 years ago, the Montana World of WearableArt has grown into New Zealand's largest and most dynamic art event, and a global art phenomenon.

This dazzling show now lists on the international cultural calendar, attracting entries and an audience from all over the world.

2009 Winners

Creative Capital
Each year WOW brings together more than 300 designers, and 400-plus cast and crew for a week of sell-out shows in New Zealand's 'creative capital', Wellington.

The 2008 event attracted entries from the UK, USA, Australia, India, Japan, Thailand, Germany, The Netherlands, Israel, Fiji, Canada and New Zealand, and an audience of 35,000 people.

WOW guest judge, BBC correspondent Michael Peschardt, described the 2008 event as "colourful, spectacular, artistic, funny, and almost impossible to judge. I’ve seen major cultural and fashion shows around the world and this is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before."

Humble beginnings

The glittering capital city event is a long way from the show's humble beginnings in the small South Island city of Nelson.

Back in 1988, while trying to find ways to promote a local art gallery, Nelson sculptor Suzie Moncrieff came up with a ground-breaking concept.

Moncrieff's inspired solution was literally off-the-wall, taking art from the gallery wall to adorn the human form. Her vision saw artists and designers creating wearable art, then exhibiting those interpretations on stage in a spectacular dramatic setting.

The result was more than a promotion, it was a mesmerising, unforgettable performance that has grown progressively.

WOW moved to Wellington from Nelson in 2003 having outgrown its original home.

2009 performances
In 2009, WOW is scheduled for a record 10 performances from 24 September to 4 October. Prize winners will be announced on 25 September.

From the original 300 entires, a total of 35 finalists will be selected.

Artists will compete in seven sections for a total of NZ$100,000 in prize money. The Supreme Award winner will receive NZ$10,000, plus American Express international travel valued at NZ$10,000, and the winners trophy.

Design challenge
The show features theatrical rather than traditional catwalk fashion. Dancers and models in wildly imaginative garments, made from unusual materials, lose their human selves in a graceful freestyle performance set to a pulsing music and light show.

WOW designers are challenged to create something that has impact on a large stage and can withstand detailed scrutiny, but there are no rules about following traditional handcraft or sewing techniques.

Participating artists represent the worlds of film, fashion, photography, craft, design, sculpting, drama and art. Some entrants are professional artists but the contest also attracts entries from many new young designers.

In the past the show has also travelled to Asia, the Middle East, Japan and Australia.

World of WearableArt Museum, Nelson

The World of WearableArt & Classic Cars Museum in Nelson houses creations from finalists and winners for the past 20 years.

The collection offers visitors a chance to view garments up close, including examples made of ballet shoes, metal coils, tiny pairs of jeans, paper clips, tyres and feathers, human hair, coral, tree bark and pages from a book.

Backpacker Accommodation in New Zealand

Image -

I used to travel on budget during student days, even later while working when travelling on personal basis. Kind of fun staying in hostels around NZ, Australia and some other European and American cities.

Right now in NZ, it is nostalgic to be staying from hostel to another hostel. Either youth hostel or backpacker hostel. NZ is heaven for backpackers. Abundant options with right prices and locations.

I will encourage my kids to travel the world by backpacking. Meeting new people from all over the world is refreshing and interesting. They are from all ages, well, my ensuite room neighbour is an American with some white hairs like me. On the same floor, there is a Fijian family, an Indian group, Swedish blondes and Korean students.

I met a lot of not-so-young backpackers around, senior citizens who enjoyed travelling within their means. Sometimes, it is not about budget constraint. It is about adventure.

If we have time and love meeting other strange backpackers, this option is a great way to enrich our experience and knowledge.

Booking is easy, either online or by phone. Immediate and fast. Simple. Yes, it is simple life as ordinary travellers.

There are so many web sites, not to mention brochures available. NZ of course is a tourism country where information is everywhere. Friendly people who will assist you.

One good web site is BBH World Traveler Accommodation NZ.
Another one is Nomad backpacker Blog.

Nomad Hostel in Wellington is managed by a Malaysian lady.


In NZ, Backpacker Accommodation is BBH Accommodation, and it's REALLY different to backpacker accommodation anywhere else.

With over 350 independently owned and operated hostels, BBH is everywhere you're going to be. The essential ingredient of a BBH hostel is people. Different people doing similar things and similar people doing something completely different, all brought together in the informal communtity of a BBH hostel. The average size of a BBH hostel is only 36 beds, so you'll rarely be reduced to just a booking number on a computer screen. Chances are, the same person who checks you in will still be there later to help with information and probably to check you out at the end. Chances are, it will be the owner or sole helper. Chances are, you'll be recognised if you return. And more than 350 self-catering hostels are all different. Spoiled for choice, you'll KNOW you've dropped out of your comfort zone into something even better!

There's a variety of room styles:
  • Single - one person per room.
  • Double - two people per room in one double bed.
  • Twin - two people per room in separate beds
  • Share - up to 4 people per room.
  • Dorm - more than 4 people per room (often in bunks).
An "ensuite" room has a private bathroom attached.

Fees are low because hostels cater for travellers who are prepared to think and act for themselves. There is no valet parking for the Porsche, no bellhops to carry the Louis Vuitton, the Maitre d' may be out back sweeping the yard and you are expected to clean up after you've cooked. Bedding is available, but for added economy, you can bring your own sleeping bag or sleep sheet. There are no age restrictions though some hostels are unsuited to children, so check when making a reservation.

BBH hosts are usually flexible enough to let you change your mind any time before check out time (normally 10am) so you can take advantage of opportunities that arise on the spur of the moment.

It's a wonderful and unique system. Make the most of it.

Take care not to be processed as a Backpackage. Don't be pursuaded to pre-book hundreds of dollars of transport, activities or accommodation before you arrive - or when you've just flown in - jet lag isn't conducive to good decision making! It can be expensive or even impossible to get refunds if you want to change your mind. Most operators can deal with you making decisions the night before or on the day. That way - if weather causes cancellations & you need to move on or you simply get a better offer - refunds are easily arranged on the spot. Remember - your local host is the local expert. Book and pay locally.

Pelabuhan Lain

Wellington Harbor

Pada setiap persimpangan
terhimpun segala kemungkinan
timur barat utara selatan
sekadar satu dari pilihan
menjejak pahit manis perjalanan
merungkai hayat kehidupan

Memandang segar ke belakang
seribu peristiwa berbalam
hitam putih secantik lukisan
di paparan usia dan ruang
tiada kesalan, hanya kenangan
meniti suram tembok perasaan

Nun jauh indah di hadapan
anak-anak terus berlarian
mengejar kembara harapan
meriah mengisi kepelbagaian
doa teriring, bermainlah kalian
di muka bumi tanpa sempadan

Telah singgah di merata pelabuhan
masih berakar di kampung halaman
kebebasan menongkah pelayaran
bernafas merayakan kemerdekaan
jatuh bangun satu perjuangan
dalam saujana kesementaraan

Kita hanya perantau
tidak lagi mengejar neon berkilau
di gurun atau bukit bukau
pun timbul batu sebagai pulau
kerana realiti yang pasti
terus hidup sebelum mati!

Lambton Quay, Wellington
29 september

Monday, September 28, 2009

Waikato hold out Oxford

By IAN ANDERSON - Waikato Times

TRIUMPH: Waikato University cox Ainslee Ashton, left, and crew, from left, Dane Boswell, Daniel Murtagh, Nathan Twaddle, Adam Tripp, Tobias Wher-Candler, Nathan Cohen, Joseph Sullivan and Duncan Grant.
MARK TAYLOR/Waikato Times

TRIUMPH: Waikato University cox Ainslee Ashton, left, and crew, from left, Dane Boswell, Daniel Murtagh, Nathan Twaddle, Adam Tripp, Tobias Wher-Candler, Nathan Cohen, Joseph Sullivan and Duncan Grant.

While the riverbank crowd watched nervously, the guiding hand of the Waikato University crew was the most confident participant in the finish of yesterday's Great Race.

Coxswain Ainslee Ashton pushed her rowing eight to victory over Oxford University despite the visitors having the favoured side of the Waikato River to finish on in the battle for the Harry Mahon Trophy.

The home team led from the start but, with Oxford in calmer water, there were concerns Waikato might get mowed down in the dying stages.

Not for Ashton though.

Were you confident you were going to win?

"I was when we went three lengths clear in the last bit," Ashton said. "That's exactly how I would have wanted it to go last year."

Ashton was the cox of the Waikato crew that was pipped in last year's race against Cambridge University. Ashton's performance and that of the crew of Dane Boswell, Daniel Murtagh, Nathan Twaddle, Adam Tripp, Tobias Wehr-Candler, Nathan Cohen, Joseph Sullivan and Duncan Grant yesterday drew praise from victorious coach Ross Tong.

"It was a fantastic win for Waikato University and for New Zealand rowing, given the calibre of the Oxford crew," he said.

The visitors contained a host of Olympians, including New Zealand bronze medallist George Bridgewater, and were convincing winners over Cambridge University in this year's Boat Race.

"Ainslee did a great job for us it's such a coxswain's race."

Tong admitted after the hosts lost the coin toss before the race, which enabled Oxford to choose the preferred side of the river to finish on, that Waikato "would have chosen the west bank, too".

"But we had a really good look at the river this morning and knew we could be patient and make a decision in the running of the race when to go.

"The third cross was a key point to put ourselves in such a good position. Attacking the crossings gave us the opportunities we wanted to be ahead by two lengths minimum under the last bridge," Tong said.

Waikato raced out to an early lead and gradually increased their advantage.

Passing under the Fairfield Bridge they were two lengths clear of the Oxford crew of cox Andy Hay, Colin Smith, Bridgewater, Brodie Buckland, Alex Hearne, Justin Stangel, Michal Plotkowiak, Michael Valli and Colin Keogh.

They were three lengths clear passing beneath the Claudelands Bridge and, although Oxford tried their utmost to claw back the deficit, the gap was too great.

In the women's race for the Bryan Gould Cup, Sydney University pulled off the feat Oxford couldn't manage when they chased down Waikato University in the final stages.

The hosts again lost the coin toss and this time it proved costly.

Waikato powered away at the start and led comfortably at every crossing of the river as both crews at times hit their oars against overhanging willow branches as they attempted to hug the banks.

The home crew of cox Ivan Pavich, Erin Tolhurst, Odette Sceats, Lucy Spoors, Emma Twigg, Ali Burnside, Laura Fischer, Regan Barkla and Julia Trauvetter seemed set for victory as they led by two lengths with less than 500 metres to row.

But the visiting eight of cox Ali Williams, Sally Kehoe, Charlotte Walters, Liz Kell, Sarah Cook, Emma Costello, Ailsa Tremayne, Ashleigh Peppernell and Emma Cook powered home, as Waikato tied up, to snatch victory by a third of a length.

Tahun-Tahun Itu

Tahun-tahun itu
diam membeku
janggal dan kaku
dibalik pohon dan batu
monumen saujana waktu

Fragmen-fragmen ruang
datang dan hilang
hadir berbayang
dikalis suasana tenang
kembara singkat pun memanjang

Wajah-wajah kejauhan
dekat di jarak perjalanan
bersurai tanpa pesan
meratah sisa kenangan
dalam warna perasaan

Tahun-tahun itu
adalah cebisan rindu
sungai waikato yang lesu
menggamit perantau lalu
untuk sesekali bertamu!

Kampus univesiti Waikato,
Hamilton, New Zealand
28 September 2009

Sunday, September 27, 2009

New Zealand 2009

kilauan bayang-bayang
menerojah ruang
hitam putih kelabu
menyegar suatu waktu
di sini, tanah berbudi
merakam seribu memori

masih warna angin
menyusup musim dingin
setiap yang bergerak
terus menjarak
di sini, sendiri mengukur

menyapa pada realiti
superfisial dalam diri
imej-imej itu kembali
suara-suara terus bernyanyi
di sini, remaja yang pergi
indah bersemadi

27 Sept 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009

Why the West craves materialism & why the East sticks to religion

By Imran Khan
My generation grew up at a time when colonial hang up was at its peak. Our older generation had been slaves and had a huge inferiority complex of the British. The school I went to was similar to all elite schools in Pakistan. Despite gaining independent, they were, and still are, producing replicas of public schoolboys rather than Pakistanis.
I read Shakespeare, which was fine, but no Allama Iqbal — the national poet of Pakistan. The class on Islamic studies was not taken seriously, and when I left school I was considered among the elite of the country because I could speak English and wore Western clothes.
Despite periodically shouting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ in school functions, I considered my own culture backward and religion outdated. Among our group if any one talked about religion, prayed or kept a beard he was immediately branded a Mullah.
Because of the power of the Western media, our heroes were Western movie stars or pop stars. When I went to Oxford already burdened with this hang up, things didn’t get any easier. At Oxford, not just Islam, but all religions were considered anachronism.
Science had replaced religion and if something couldn’t be logically proved it did not exist. All supernatural stuff was confined to the movies. Philosophers like Darwin, who with his half-baked theory of evolution had supposedly disproved the creation of men and hence religion, were read and revered.
Moreover, European history reflected its awful experience with religion. The horrors committed by the Christian clergy during the Inquisition era had left a powerful impact on the Western mind.
To understand why the West is so keen on secularism, one should go to places like Cordoba in Spain and see the torture apparatus used during the Spanish Inquisition. Also the persecution of scientists as heretics by the clergy had convinced the Europeans that all religions are regressive.
However, the biggest factor that drove people like me away from religion was the selective Islam practiced by most of its preachers. In short, there was a huge difference between what they practiced and what they preached. Also, rather than explaining the philosophy behind the religion, there was an overemphasis on rituals.
I feel that humans are different to animals. While, the latter can be drilled, humans need to be intellectually convinced. That is why the Qur’an constantly appeals to reason. The worst, of course, was the exploitation of Islam for political gains by various individuals or groups.
Hence, it was a miracle I did not become an atheist. The only reason why I did not was the powerful religious influence my mother wielded on me since my childhood. It was not so much out of conviction but love for her that I stayed a Muslim.
However, my Islam was selective. I accepted only parts of the religion that suited me. Prayers were restricted to Eid days and occasionally on Fridays, when my father insisted on taking me to the mosque with him.
All in all I was smoothly moving to becoming a Pukka Brown Sahib. After all I had the right credentials in terms of school, university and, above all, acceptability in the English aristocracy, something that our brown sahibs would give their lives for. So what led me to do a ‘lota’ on the Brown Sahib culture and instead become a ‘desi’?
Well it did not just happen overnight.
Firstly, the inferiority complex that my generation had inherited gradually went as I developed into a world-class athlete. Secondly, I was in the unique position of living between two cultures. I began to see the advantages and the disadvantages of both societies.
In Western societies, institutions were strong while they were collapsing in our country. However, there was an area where we were and still are superior, and that is our family life. I began to realize that this was the Western society’s biggest loss. In trying to free itself from the oppression of the clergy, they had removed both God and religion from their lives.
While science, no matter how much it progresses, can answer a lot of questions — two questions it will never be able to answer: One, what is the purpose of our existence and two, what happens to us when we die?
It is this vacuum that I felt created the materialistic and the hedonistic culture. If this is the only life then one must make hay while the sun shines — and in order to do so one needs money. Such a culture is bound to cause psychological problems in a human being, as there was going to be an imbalance between the body and the soul.
Consequently, in the US, which has shown the greatest materialistic progress while giving its citizens numerous rights, almost 60 percent of the population consult psychiatrists. Yet,
amazingly in modern psychology, there is no study of the human soul. Sweden and Switzerland, who provide the most welfare to their citizens, also have the highest suicide rates. Hence, man is not necessarily content with material well being and needs something more.
Since all morality has it roots in religion, once religion was removed, immorality has progressively grown since the 70s. Its direct impact has been on family life. In the UK, the divorce rate is 60 percent, while it is estimated that there are over 35 percent single mothers. The crime rate is rising in almost all Western societies, but the most disturbing fact is the alarming increase in racism. While science always tries to prove the inequality of man (recent survey showing the American Black to be genetically less intelligent than whites) it is only religion that preaches the equality of man.
Between 1991 and 1997, it was estimated that total immigration into Europe was around 520,000, and there were racially motivated attacks all over, especially in Britain, France and Germany. In Pakistan during the Afghan war, we had over four million refugees, and despite the people being so much poorer, there was no racial tension.
There was a sequence of events in the 80s that moved me toward God as the Qur’an says: "There are signs for people of understanding." One of them was cricket. As I was a student of the game, the more I understood the game, the more I began to realize that what I considered to be chance was, in fact, the will of Allah. A pattern which became clearer with time.
But it was not until Salman Rushdie’s "Satanic Verses" that my understanding of Islam began to develop.
People like me who were living in the Western world bore the brunt of anti-Islam prejudice that followed the Muslim reaction to the book. We were left with two choices: fight or flight. Since I felt strongly that the attacks on Islam were unfair, I decided to fight. It was then I realized that I was not equipped to do so as my knowledge of Islam was inadequate. Hence I started my research and for me a period of my greatest enlightenment. I read scholars like Ali Shariati, Muhammad Asad, Iqbal, Gai Eaton, plus of course, a study of Qur’an.
I will try to explain as concisely as is possible, what "discovering the truth" meant for me. When the believers are addressed in the Qur’an, it always says, "Those who believe and do good deeds." In other words, a Muslim has dual function, one toward God and the other toward fellow human beings.
The greatest impact of believing in God for me, meant that I lost all fear of human beings. The Qur’an liberates man from man when it says that life and death and respect and humiliation are God’s jurisdiction, so we do not have to bow before other human beings..
Moreover, since this is a transitory world where we prepare for the eternal one, I broke out of the self-imposed prisons, such as growing old (such a curse in the Western world, as a result of which, plastic surgeons are having a field day), materialism, ego, what people say and so on. It is important to note that one does not eliminate earthly desires.. But instead of being controlled by them, one controls them.
By following the second part of believing in Islam, I have become a better human being. Rather than being self-centered and living for the self, I feel that because the Almighty gave so much to me, in turn I must use that blessing to help the less privileged. This I did by following the fundamentals of Islam rather than becoming a Kalashnikov-wielding fanatic.
I have become a tolerant and a giving human being who feels compassion for the underprivileged. Instead of attributing success to myself, I know it is because of God’s will, hence I learned humility instead of arrogance.
Also, instead of the snobbish Brown Sahib attitude toward our masses, I believe in egalitarianism and strongly feel against the injustice done to the weak in our society. According to the Qur’an, "Oppression is worse than killing." In fact only now do I understand the true meaning of Islam, if you submit to the will of Allah, you have inner peace.
Through my faith, I have discovered strength within me that I never knew existed and that has released my potential in life. I feel that in Pakistan we have selective Islam. Just believing in God and going through the rituals is not enough. One also has to be a good human being. I feel there are certain Western countries with far more Islamic traits than us in Pakistan, especially in the way they protect the rights of their citizens, or for that matter their justice system. In fact some of the finest individuals I know live there.
What I dislike about them is their double standards in the way they protect the rights of their citizens but consider citizens of other countries as being somehow inferior to them as human being, e.g. dumping toxic waste in the Third World, advertising cigarettes that are not allowed in the West and selling drugs that are banned in the West.
One of the problems facing Pakistan is the polarization of two reactionary groups. On the one side is the Westernized group that looks upon Islam through Western eyes and has
inadequate knowledge about the subject. It reacts strongly to anyone trying to impose Islam in society and wants only a selective part of the religion. On the other extreme is the group that reacts to this Westernized elite and in trying to become a defender of the faith, takes up such intolerant and self-righteous attitudes that are repugnant to the spirit of Islam.
What needs to be done is to somehow start a dialogue between the two extreme. In order for this to happen, the group on whom the greatest proportion of our educational resources are spent in this country must study Islam properly.
Whether they become practicing Muslims or believe in God is entirely a personal choice. As the Qur’an tells us there is "no compulsion in religion." However, they must arm themselves with knowledge as a weapon to fight extremism. Just by turning up their noses at extremism the problem is not going to be solved.
The Qur’an calls Muslims "the middle nation", not of extremes. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was told to simply give the message and not worry whether people converted or not, therefore, there is no question in Islam of forcing your opinions on anyone else.
Moreover, we are told to respect other religions, their places of worship and their prophets. It should be noted that no Muslim missionaries or armies ever went to Malaysia or Indonesia. The people converted to Islam due to the high principles and impeccable character of the Muslim traders. At the moment, the worst advertisements for Islam are the countries with their selective Islam, especially where religion is used to deprive people of their rights. In fact, a society that obeys fundamentals of Islam has to be a liberal one.
If Pakistan’s Westernized class starts to study Islam, not only will it be able to help society fight sectarianism and extremism, but it will also make them realize what a progressive religion Islam is. They will also be able to help the Western world by articulating Islamic concepts. Recently, Prince Charles accepted that the Western world can learn from Islam. But how can this happen if the group that is in the best position to project Islam gets its attitudes from the West and considers Islam backward? Islam is a universal religion and that is why our Prophet (peace be upon him) was called a Mercy for all mankind. (Internews)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ramadan at Guantánamo

Moazzam Begg

19 September 2009
My final Ramadan was spent alongside the world’s most dangerous terrorists (according to Bush) and its finest examples of patience and fortitude (according to me). I first read the Dickens’ classic, Bleak House, in solitary confinement, Camp Echo.

The concentric part of this story is based on the fictitious—though accurately representative—and never-ending case of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce, which ultimately consumes and destroys the lives of it’s central characters, rather like the Supreme Court decisions relating to the Guantánamo detainees. But it was the first sentence of another Dickens classic, A Tale of Two Cities, which reads, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” that captured my imagination back then. For that is precisely how I would have described the noble months of Ramadan spent in US custody.

It was the night before the festival of Eid ul-Adha that I was sent from Pakistani custody into US custody at Kandahar. After the brutal initiation of being processed like an animal and locked in a cage made of razor wire, I couldn’t believe my ears when a visitor from the Red Cross was wandering around the cells, with an army escort, handing out small pieces of meat and cold bread to detainees, uttering the words, “Eid Mubarak.”

That was the first Eid my family ever spent without me. Another five (both Eids of al-Adha and al-Fitr) were to pass before I saw them again. For most people in Guantánamo, it is approaching 16 of these blessed days over a period of eight years, dwelling in cages. And still they pray for deliverance.

However, the worst Ramadan I’ve ever had in my life was not in Guantánamo; that happened in Bagram—the US detention facility in Afghanistan. This was a place where already torture, humiliation and degradation of detainees regularly occurred. We were not allowed to talk, we were not allowed to walk or exercise without permission. We were not given access to natural light—or dark. We had to guess prayer times and were not allowed to pray in jama’ah (congregation), call the Azaan or recite the Quran out loud. I had to make tayyamum (dry ablution) for a year and had forgotten how to make wudhu (ablution) correctly by the time I arrived in Guantánamo, since water could only be used to drink, but not for wudhu. Anyone failing to comply with these rules was unceremoniously dragged to the front of the cell, their wrists shackled to the top of the cage and a black hood placed over the head. It happened to us all—sometimes for hours, and even days, on end.

When Ramadan came I was already dreading it. I think we were all dreading it. There were no hot meals or drinks for us in Bagram. Fresh vegetables were a luxury we were not afforded. Fresh fruit was a rarity. There was none of the food we all so lovingly prepare and indulgently consume during this month of abstention in our homes. There were no snacks between meals or keeping food until later: everything had to be handed back within 15 minutes—eaten or not. The meals were small pre-packed sachets, the types used for campers, and, sometimes, a moldy piece of Afghan bread thrown in for good measure.

There was no Taraweeh prayer, no Eid prayer. In fact, the Jumu’ah (Friday congregational prayer) has not been performed by any of the Guantánamo prisoners for the best part of a decade. The detainees in Bagram and Guantánamo shortened every prayer not only as a mercy from Allah, but as a refusal to accept any permanence of incarceration, even though that was—and continues to be—a looming reality in one way or another. It was a defiant rejection of imprisonment without charge or trial—a fact unnoticed and quite irrelevant to our captors.

As if to punish us for the very arrival of Ramadan we were given only two meals: the suhoor (pre-dawn meal) and iftaar (sunset meal), the latter being given to us often several hours after sunset. On the day of Eid ul-Fitr we did not feast and make merry like most of the Muslim world. Instead we were made to fast from dawn to near midnight when we were finally given a food sachet. One of the guards, a young female to whom I used to speak often about Islam, history and literature was appalled by this and gave me some of her own food, at real risk to herself. It is a gesture I will never forget, but she was a rarity.

That was the worst of times. But it wasn’t over. I spent the following Ramadan alone, in solitary confinement. In truth, I dreaded the approach of this Ramadan too. I knew the outlook was bleak. I had to imagine how my family was passing this month and the festival that followed. It is a month of blessing, extra prayer, sharing, inviting others to meals; a month of anticipating celebrations with family and friends who, for me and many others, were both only a distant memory by then.

After the passing of this Ramadan in seclusion, with no contact from another Muslim for close to two years, I was longing, praying and agitating that the next one will be spent in the company of Muslims—even one Muslim. My prayer was finally answered. And thus, my final Ramadan and Eid were both spent in the company of the world’s most dangerous terrorists (according to Bush) and the world’s finest examples of patience and fortitude (according to me).

Some guards ridiculed the Azaan when the muezzin’s voice echoed around Guantánamo—particularly at sunset, when it clashed with the US national anthem that simultaneously rung out on loud speakers. What followed was a daily reminder to us all about our [soldiers and prisoners] purpose in life: one group—the one dressed in khaki—stopped in their tracks, stood in the direction of their flag, raised their right hands and saluted the object of their devotion: the US flag. The other group—the one dressed in orange—also stopped in their tracks, stood facing east and raised both their hands to salute the object of their devotion: the Unseen God and Lord of the Worlds.

During the day, despite the intense tropical Caribbean heat, we recited and memorised the Quran, had debates on any subject from medieval African history to Hubble’s expanding universe theory; from the Islamic ruling on captives to the latest Western methods of capturing them. We exercised vigorously, many of us far surpassing the physical capabilities of the full time soldiers guarding us. Some of us controlled our anger and antipathy towards the guards during this month and offered smiles and kind words, when the opposite would have been expected. That too was an act of defiance.

But there was an act of defiance even more potent. It was more powerful than throwing liquid cocktails at the soldiers, stronger than lashing out with shackled hands towards them; even stronger than the hunger strikes that nearly claimed the lives of many a brave man. It was the prayer and the du’aa (supplication) to Allah of the Imam reverberating, alone, amidst the chimes of razor wire rubbing against barbed wire impelled by a soft Caribbean breeze. It was saying “Ameen” in unison to a prayer we all wanted answered. It was the tears we all shed in the knowledge that each of us had a reason to weep. It was the sadness that was almost sweet. It was our ultimate symbol of defiance. It was the best of times.

Moazzam Begg was held in Guantánamo between 2003 and 2005. This article first appeared at ‘Cageprisoners’ in October 2006 and was subsequently published in The Muslim Weekly.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Maid and her faith

Story like this is not uncommon, even in Malaysia. We have to look into both perspectives. The demand for maids in certain countries is high. Countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Philippine are amongst the top exporters.

There are 600,000 Sri Lankans work as maids in Saudi Arabia. Roughly 1 in every 19 Sri Lankan citizens - work abroad. Sri Lankans are also in big number in the UAE and commonly known as mafias in QS world.....most of QS are said to be from Sri Lanka.

Among the total population, 70 percent of Sri Lankans are Theravada Buddhists, 15% are Hindus and 7.5percent Christians. About 8 percent of Sri Lankans are Muslims, mostly from the Arab-descendant Moor and Malay ethnic communities.

A maid and her faith
By Sameera Aziz

Many non-Muslim housemaids enter Saudi Arabia without revealing their religion and tend to keep it hidden if being from faiths other than Islam. Shanti, a Hindu Sri Lankan housemaid presented herself as a Muslim under the name ‘Fatima Bibi’. Also, she did worse by teaching her faith to the son of her Muslim Saudi sponsor.
“I was shocked when I saw my 6-year-old son Naif imitating the Hindu praying rituals,” said Umm Naif.
Umm Naif explained how a scene depicted a Hindu marriage ceremony at a temple. The groom applied vermilion in the parting of the bride’s hair to which young Naif exclaimed, “this is kumkum which you should put in your hair too, with a red ‘bindi’ over the forehead to indicate you are married.”
“No, we are Muslims and this is not our faith,” Umm Naif responded in shock inquiring how he did have such detailed knowledge about this act.
Hesitant, young Naif eventually informed his mother that the Sri Lankan maid had educated him about this. The maid had been doing so for months and warned him not to tell anyone, he said.
Nearly 600,000 Sri Lankan housemaids are resident the Kingdom. Sri Lankan government estimated that more than a million Sri Lankans - roughly 1 in every 19 citizens - work abroad. Stories of the housemaids’ sufferings are also widespread in the media.
“It is unfair to only think the maids’ sufferings. I agree that maids experience sufferings at the hands of their sponsors but, sometimes deprivation causes them to resort to unacceptable ways. In my case, the housemaid was spoiling my child’s fundamental faith,” said Umm Naif.
“I was paying her more than the signed contract. We never abused her and I always dealt with her politely,” said Umm Naif. However, Fatima denied teaching unIslamic practices to Naif and claimed that the recruitment agent had told her to hide her religion. She said that she later embraced Islam.
Umm Naif explained that she had paid the recruitment agent SR8000 for a Sri Lankan Muslim housemaid. The agent said he could not be certain of the faith of the maid.
Among the total population, 70percent of Sri Lankans are Theravada Buddhists, 15% are Hindus and 7.5percent Christians. About 8percent of Sri Lankans are Muslims, mostly from the Arab-descendant Moor and Malay ethnic communities.
Muhammad Al-Goba, general manager of Al- Goba Recruitment Company, explains that most people demand a Muslim housemaid from Sri Lanka. “We cannot guarantee that a maid is Muslim as we have to believe her personal information according to the passport and documents submitted”.
Al-Goba also added that, many Muslim Sri Lankan housemaids come to the Kingdom for mainly Umrah or Haj and seek to return home afterwards. Therefore, the recruitment agents avoid sending Muslim housemaids.
Many recruitment agents cheat the Saudi sponsors by concealing the housemaid’s real identity and faith. “Sponsor can return the housemaid within three months to the agency and we guarantee replacement during this period. But after three months the Saudi sponsor is responsible to give her the Iqama (legal permit) and ticket to return,” said Al-Goba. Umm Naif was unfortunate to bear the costs of returning her maid six months after her recruitment, “I could not have her around as she had lost my trust,” she said.
Umm Naif shared the last words of Shanti (Fatima) at the time of departure from Jeddah. “I will be back on housemaid visa provided by someone else.”
“I did not wish to further bother myself by reporting her to the labor office or to hire a lawyer. Instead, I simply applied for another housemaid in hope of a better substitute. I am, however, more cautious now especially, as a parent” said Umm Naif. – SG

UAE Construction Worst-hit in GCC

It is not really a secret. There are less activities on the ground level except for some major road and infrastructure constructions. More lay-offs and more one way departures. More abandoned cars and more people caught for bounced cheques.

However, Dubai is still a good place to live in the Middle East with the existing infrastructure and right atmosphere for business.

UAE Construction Worst-hit in GCC
Issac John
17 September 2009
DUBAI — As a result of the global economic crisis, the UAE’s once-torrid construction industry has cooled more dramatically than any other construction market in the GCC region. Even so, the Emirates are still seeing “an extraordinary level” of activity, with 1,372 projects either being built or in the bidding process, according to a report issued on Wednesday by the Dubai-based research firm Proleads.

Since the construction business began feeling the chill in late 2008, developers have put on hold or cancelled a total of 566 projects comprising 29 per cent of all those planned across the UAE’s office, hotel, residential and retail sectors, Proleads said.

“In the worldwide shakeout, no region has been immune and, as a result, a strong element of realism has entered the real estate investment landscape,” said Chris Speller, Cityscape Group Director.

The report was based on a study that Proleads made for organisers of the Cityscape Dubai property exhibition set to take place at the Dubai International Exhibition and Convention Centre on October 5-8 2009.

With total projects worth $900 billion, including those put on hold or cancelled, the UAE accounts for 60 per cent of the $1.5 trillion of total projects in all member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The UAE accounts for 46 per cent of the GCC’s total of 3,000 projects, the report said.

While some of Dubai’s major property plans are among those that developers in the UAE have dropped, the Proleads database shows a continuing high level of activity in the Emirates that would be “the envy of many” economies elsewhere, Speller said.

The study shows that a total of 340 commercial projects are under construction or in the bidding process, with 147 cancelled or on hold. In the hospitality business, 288 projects are under construction or bidding, with 118 cancelled or on hold. A total of 495 residential projects are being built or in bidding, with 217 cancelled or on hold; in retail, 249 projects are in construction or bidding, with 84 on hold and no cancellations.

The impact of the economic downturn elsewhere in the Arabian Gulf has been decidedly less severe, the study said. The report was based on a survey of thousands of projects across the Gulf, each worth at least $10 million.

Of projects worth more than $387 billion in Saudi Arabia, 19 per cent of the total number have been cancelled or put on hold. Kuwait has total projects worth more than $114 billion, with 17 per cent cancelled or on hold. Oman has total projects worth more than $38 billion, of which 8 per cent are on hold and none cancelled, while Bahrain has $36 billion of projects, with 27 per cent cancelled or on hold, Proleads said.

The rock star in Islamic World

Khaled’s message is more than ‘air-conditioned Islam’

Last month, as I joined a group of media researchers and experts in Amman for a Cambridge University workshop on religious broadcasting in the Middle East, I realised the impact that satellite television has had on the presentation of Islamic values to an international audience. The convergence of religion and television, two powerful players in this region’s cultural life, has given rise to a new genre of Islamic “televangelism” that seeks to promote Islam as a religion of peace, tolerance, and love in their simplest terms.

Islam provides peace of mind for more than one billion people around the world and defines much of their cultural identity in an age of globalisation. I see the new generation of satellite television preachers as fostering global receptivity to Islam and the Muslim world. When one speaks of the new wave of Islamic “televangelism”, Amr Khaled always jumps to the forefront.

Billed as “the Billy Graham of the Muslim World”, Mr Khaled was named in 2007 by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Time noted that although the lay preacher “is not a household name in the West”, he is still “a rock star for a segment of the Islamic world” and “a needed voice for moderation”. Contrary to some commentaries that see the rise of the Mr Khaled as a function of show business, I believe the combination of his innovative presentation style and his theological perspectives are the key to his spectacular success.

For young Muslim audiences, Mr Khaled’s preaching style has been inspiring primarily because it engages their senses in a spiritual and communicative experience. He uses simple verbal and non-verbal presentations to reveal Islam’s cherished values. Unlike traditional preaching styles defined by sometimes monotonous and abstract formulas, Mr Khaled directly addresses the audiences and relates theological abstractions to their concrete realities.

I remember watching one of his Quranic stories on Abu Dhabi Television earlier this Ramadan in which he told the story of the birth and upbringing of the Prophet Moses in Egypt. He showed video footage of a small boat sailing in the Nile, presumably carrying the baby to escape being killed by the Pharaoh. In another Quranic story about “people of the cave”, Mr Khaled travelled to Jordan and shot a video of what is believed to be the cave where, according to the Holy Quran, seven young men escaped oppression and stayed asleep for 309 years .

But the Amr Khaled phenomenon is not limited to his televised sermons and speeches. It has come to include tangible philanthropic projects catering to the needy in this region. His “Life Makers’’ project encourages young men to implement action plans for transforming their lives and communities through the application of Islamic values. The project, in which 35,000 volunteers take part, has helped nearly 7,000 families this year in countries such as Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Sudan and Egypt. As part of a project in Yemen, Mr Khaled launched a social development initiative to eradicate poverty and illiteracy among children.

It is amazing to see the Amr Khaled phenomenon also address Muslim relations with the West. In the aftermath of the Danish cartoons incident some three years ago, Mr Khaled, along with another television preacher, Tareq al Suweidan of Kuwait, contributed to an interfaith dialogue organised by the Danish government to debate the infamous drawings. In his message, he condemned the cartoons as well as the violent reaction to them across the Muslim world and called for sustained Muslim-Christian interaction. According to The Independent, the UK foreign secretary sent Mr Khaled a message of support for organising the Copenhagen conference, praising him for his “courage and strength” in attempting to bring cultures together.

As Muslim societies grapple with the challenging tasks of adapting their distinctive cultural identity and building enduring ties with the West, the need for voices like Mr Khaled’s that echo the spirit of Islam as a religion of peace, love and tolerance has never been more fully appreciated.

Of course, the lay preacher has been taken to task for his lack of formal religious training. Some Muslim scholars have referred to his work scornfully as an “air-conditioned” brand of Islam. But what counts is that Mr Khaled has made a difference not only in how Islam is being understood and practised in this region, but also in how it is being perceived by those in non-Muslim societies. And here, the Amr Khaled phenomenon could be instructive to the traditional preaching establishment.

Muhammad Ayish is a professor of communications at the University of Sharjah