Sunday, January 31, 2010

The National Abu Dhabi on Aruah Sultan Iskandar

There is an article published by The National daily of Abu Dhabi. I hope nobody will make a police report back home.

It is an interesting article to be read by residents of the UAE. It could have some negative tones, however, we cannot deny the press from publishing such information.

(I had signed in the condolence book at the Dubai's Consulate and as a Johor-born (but lived in Pahang most of my growing years), al Fatihah to the aruah Sultan Iskandar).

King of Malaysia carried a shotgun on his Rolls-Royce patrols

Iskandar served as Malaysia’s king for five years. Jimin Lai / AFP

Baginda Al Mutawakkil Alallah Sultan Iskandar Al Haj ibni Almarhum Sultan Ismail, who has died aged 77, was the eighth Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or king of Malaysia, for five years from 1984 to 1989.

Although the tributes poured in after his death, he was not quite the model royal he might have been. His extra-curricular interests certainly befitted his status: he played polo, and bought helicopters and a ship for cruising the shores of Johor, the state of which he was sultan.

He liked fast cars, race boats and hunting, and if his youthful passion for boxing and go-karts waned with age, his appetite for life’s luxuries did not. Nor did his enjoyment of the immunity enjoyed by the monarchy in Malaysia.

In 1992, Iskandar attacked Douglas Gomez, a state hockey coach. Incensed at his son’s exclusion from the Johor side, he had decided consequently to withdraw the entire team from the tournament. Gomez’s criticism of this decision was intolerable to the sultan, and the coach suffered for his audacity. It was not the first time that Iskandar had shown his temper. In 1987, while serving as Agong, he was accused of attacking a golf caddie at the Cameron Highlands golf club and, in some reports, was said to have killed him. Away from the greens, Iskandar patrolled the roads of Johor in a Rolls-Royce with a red light and siren – and a shotgun strapped to the dashboard. If any driver dared pass his car, he would mete out justice, either by imposing exorbitant fines for speeding, or requiring them to perform squat jumps. Rumours of assaults in Kuala Lumpur’s nightclubs and gambling debts tried the loyalty of the Malay people.

After an early education in Johor, Iskandar studied at Trinity Grammar School in Australia and later in Britain, before joining the state civil service as a cadet officer. He received basic military training with the Johor Military Forces, founded by his great-grandfather in 1885.

As his father’s eldest son, he was named Tunku Mahmood Iskandar. However, as all other sultans of Johor who bore the name “Mahmood” had met with unfortunate luck, he dropped it on succeeding to the title. It was perhaps already a little too late. In 1961 – a mere two years after he had been appointed Tunku Mahkota, or Crown Prince of Johor – his father dismissed him after an incident in which Iskandar reportedly chained two policemen in a dog kennel for a day after they had displeased him. Notwithstanding, in 1981 on the death of his father, he assumed the role of sultan.

In 1984, he became King of Malaysia. With his prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Iskandar maintained friendly relations until Mahathir led a campaign in parliament to remove legal immunity from royal members. Iskandar took the slight badly.

Iskandar was born on April 8, 1932, and died on January 22. He is survived by his second wife, Tengku Zanariah binti Tengku Panglima Raja Ahmad, two sons and eight daughters.

* The National

Rencana dari Sinar Harian hari ini 31 Jan 2010

Bila Burj Dubai Bertukar Menjadi Burj Khalifa.

Oleh : Fudzail, Dubai, UAE

Biodata : Fudzail adalah ekspatriat Malaysia yang bermastautin di UAE sejak tahun 2000 dan terlibat secara langsung dalam pelbagai projek mega seperti Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City, Palm Jumeirah, Palm Jebel Ali, International City, Discovery Gardens, Dubailand.

Tanggal 4 Januari 2010 menjadi sejarah unggul emiriah Dubai apabila struktur tertinggi planet bumi dirasmikan sempena ulangtahun ke empat penobatan Sheikh Mohammad Al Maktoum sebagai Emir Dubai. Dalam kemelut hutang yang mencecah Dhs80 bilion, menara setinggi 828 meter ini diharapkan dapat memulihkan nasib dan reputasi emiriah kedua terbesar dalam persekutuan UAE.

Satu generasi sebelum ini, Dubai hanyalah sebuah kampung nelayan yang sunyi. Kemudian bangkit sebagai pusat kewangan dan bisnes Timur Tengah yang menempa kejayaan demi kejayaan, terutama dibawah kepimpinan Sheikh Mohamed Al Maktoum sejak menjadi Putera Mahkota lagi.

Sebelum itu, visi ayahanda beliau, Sheikh Rashid Al Maktoum dengan pembinaan prasana seperti pelabuhan, lapangan terbang, creek, zon dagangan bebas dan polisi ramah bisnes menjadi asas pada kemakmuran Dubai yang tidak mempunyai sumber minyak yang banyak seperti Abu Dhabi.

Setelah lima tahun dalam pembinaan dan dikenali sebagai Burj Dubai, malam perasmian memberi kejutan apabila menara itu kini dikenali sebagai Burj Khalifa, mengambil sempena nama Presiden UAE, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Keseluruhan kos pembangunan projek Burj Khalifa seluas 500 ekar adalah Dhs20 bilion. Kos strukturnya sahaja dalam USD1.5 bilion.

Burj Dubai dianggap kemuncak pembangunan pesat Dubai sedekad lalu walau krisis ekonomi akhir tahun 2008 membantutkan banyak pembinaan hartanah dan hiburan mega lain seperti Dubailand, Palm Jebel Ali dan Jumeirah Gardens. Pernah Sheikh Mohamed Al Maktoum mengatakan yang apa yang dilihat hanyalah 10% dari visi beliau!

Disebalik tanggungan hutang yang membebankan, upacara perasmian Burj Khalifa dibuat dengan penuh gemilang dimana 10,000 bunga api, pancuran air dan pancaran laser mencerahkan langit dengan persembahan yang menakjubkan. Penghuni Dubai bersesak untuk menyaksikan perasmian dan terlupa seketika mengenai krisis serta cabaran lebih besar tahun 2010. Meninggalkan pelbagai peristiwa tahun 2009 yang memberikan gambaran sebenar disebalik kilaun pembangunan rancak Dubai sepanjang dekad lalu.

Perasmian sktruktur se gah Burj Khalifa tanpa kehadiran Presiden yang namanya diabadikan membawa pelbagai spekulasi. Abu Dhabi baru-baru ini mem'bail-out' Dubai saat-saat akhir dengan pinjaman USD10 bilion untuk membantu membayar hutang anak-anak syarikat kerajaan Dubai seperti Nakheel dan Dubai Holdings.

Menurut lapuran media barat, pinjaman itu tentunya datang dengan syarat-syarat tertentu. Pelbagai andaian timbul kerana dua emiriah besar dan berpengaruh dalam UAE ini sering kelihatan saling bersaing dan berselisihan. Sheikh Mohamed Al Maktoum beberapa kali menafikan timbulnya krisis antara mereka dan menyatakan berulang-kali yang keduanya adalah adik beradik. Sesuatu yang tidak kedengaran dari pihak Abu Dhabi.

Dikatakan antara tawar-menawar untuk membantu Dubai melunaskan tanggungan hutang ialah beberapa aset penting dan strategik Dubai mestilah dibawah kawalan Abu Dhabi. Selain beberapa kuasa eksekutif bertukar tangan. Semua andaian dan spekulasi ini menjadi sebahagian dari perbualan awam di mana-mana.

Abu Dhabi adalah emiriah terkaya dengan simpanan hasil minyak antara yang terbesar di dunia dan simpanan dana yang amat besar, dikatakan USD700 trilion. Menjadi tunggak UAE di mana ibukota UAE adalah Abu Dhabi. Dubai mempunyai kuasa eksekutif sebagai Naib Presiden dan Perdana Menteri. Pengagihan kuasa antara Abu Dhabi dan Dubai adalah termaktub dalam perlembagaan dan emiriah lain tidak mempunyai kuasa untuk mengubah apa-apa.

Abu Dhabi lebih bersifat sederhana dalam banyak perkara, manakala Dubai memang agresif. Tidak heran ramai yang lebih kenal Dubai dari Abu Dhabi mahupun UAE sendiri. Ini kerana imej hebat Penerbangan Emirates dan Pelabuhan Dubai yang mempunyai rangkaian pelabuhan sedunia, selain kota Dubai yang bersih, aman dan glamor.

Sememangnya pembinaan Burj Khalifa adalah terlalu besar untuk tergendala kerana maruah Dubai akan lebih terjejas teruk. Tahun lepas ada pengumuman sebuah lagi menara yang mahu dibina setinggi 1 km oleh Nakheel. Projek itu terbantut sebaik krisis ekonomi menelanjangkan keadaan kewangan Dubai. Kalau tidak, Dubai akan mempunyai dua menara tertinggi dunia, sesuatu yang membazir dan tidak diperlukan sama sekali.

Dengan perasmian struktur tertinggi dunia yang mempunyai 160 tingkat berpenghuni, 57 lif terpantas akan serentak memberi cabaran lebih besar untuk memenuhi 160 unit bilik mewah hotel dan 1,044 buah unit apartmen apabila sektor hartanah Dubai masih teruk merudum. Banyak projek tergendala dan lebih banyak bangunan kosong di mana-mana.

Ramai ekspatriat Dubai yang kehilangan kerja dan banyak kereta ditinggalkan di lapangan terbang kerana mereka pulang tanpa mahu membayar hutang. Dikatakan penduduk Dubai berkurangan dalam tahun 2009 walau kesesakan jalanraya masih belum berkurang.

Harga sewa rumah dan apartmen yang pernah menjadi isu besar sebelum krisis ekonomi kini kembali ke harga sebelum krisis. Malah di mana-mana banyak kelihatan iklan 'rumah untuk di sewa.' Tuan rumah yang selama ini tamak dan sombong kini terpaksa menurunkan harga sewa dari kehilangan penyewa yang mempunyai banyak pilihan.

Syarikat pemaju Burj Khalifa, Emaar telah menjual sebahagian besar unit apartmen dalam masa 2 hari dalam tahun 2004 ketika hartanah melonjak ke taraf luar biasa. Sewaktu kemuncaknya dalam tahun 2008, satu kaki persegi bernilai RM10,000.

Seperti nilai hartanah lain di Dubai yang jatuh 50%, harga sekaki persegi di Burj Khalifa dijangka akan terus menjunam 30% lagi.

Cabaran sebegini akan menjadi ujian besar untuk memulihkan kepercayaan kepada Dubai oleh para pelabur yang sudah ramai kerugian. Malah perbankan dan kewangan dunia juga akan sama memerhati sejauh mana Burj Khalifa akan dapat memulihkan kedudukan Dubai.

Sheikh Mohamed turut mengheret ramai eksekutif anak-anak syarikat kerajaan Dubai ke mahkamah atas tuduhan korupsi. Antara mereka ialah tokoh-tokoh dan pemimpin korporat yang sebelum ini berprofil tinggi.

Lebih mengejutkan dalam satu perstrukturan semula apabila antara yang disingkirkan dari kerusi lembaga pengarah Dubai Investment Corporation yang menjadi tunjang pelaburan Dubai (seperti Khazanah) ialah Mohamed Gergawi (pengerusi Dubai Holding dan menteri), Mohamed Al Abbar (pengerusi Emaar) dan Sultan Sulayem (pengerusi Dubai World) yang sebelum ini menjadi ‘poster boys’ pada pembangunan pesat Dubai.

Hanya Mohamed Al Abbar, manakala Gergawi dan Sulayem tidak kelihatan di majlis perasmian Burj Khalifa.

Ironis sekali apabila Burj Khalifa menjadi ikon kemegahan turut juga membawa simbol saling bercanggahan. Ketinggian Burj Khalifa membawa ekonomi Dubai rebah ke bumi. Apakah Burj Khalifa membawa petanda Dubai akan mengalami kejatuhan dan Abu Dhabi akan mengambil alih sepenuhnya peranan Dubai sebelum ini.

Begitulah kenyataanya, aspirasi Sheikh Mohamed al Maktoum untuk membawa Dubai terus ke mercu kejayaan sebagai pusat kewangan dunia memerlukan perancangan semula yang seperti bertukarnya nama Burj Dubai, memastikan Abu Dhabi bukan sahaja sebagai rakan tetapi bos!

AirAsia X Performs U-Turn On Abu Dhabi Hub

The announcement came as a shock to a lot of people, including me.

What is really happening?

AirAsia

We’re suspending our services to Abu Dhabi after 21 February. We will resume it later once we are able to have a more economical aircraft to service this route. We remain optimistic about the potential of Abu Dhabi, and we believe with the right aircraft, the economic upside can be very promising, especially if we can pair up Abu Dhabi with another onroute destination. For affected guests, you will be notified by email on your options. You can also opt to write to airasiax@airasia. com



Summary

When AirAsia X was first dreamt up, the vision of a long haul low cost travel was cheered – so why has the dream now evaporated?

Analysis

AirAsia X had initially identified using Dubai International Airport as the regional “hub-of-choice” to deploy its ridiculously over-crowded Airbus A330-300s on flights to Europe and beyond.
Quickly realising that Emirates would absolutely annihilate this fanciful child-like fantasy, AirAsia X switched attention to the neighbouring emirate of Abu Dhabi – again, hoping it’d be able to set up a hub to poach business into Europe and Africa.
And now, AirAsia X has “ruled out” setting up a hub there.
Someone fetch the tissues…
Abu Dhabi is not just the capital of the UAE. It is not just the political powerhouse of the GCC nations. It is also home to Etihad Airways – an airline that has more metal on order than the fleets of Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines combined.
Etihad is racing quickly to match Emirates growth and hunger for continued expansion. There simply is no way that the ruling elite would have allowed a cheapskate airline to set up home in its backyard.
Abu Dhabi Airports Co. may have liked to have seen a new entrant, but Etihad calls the shots and any remote threat of traffic dilution by a sub-par operator was never going to be considered acceptable, let alone digestible.
Expect AirAsia X to drop Abu Dhabi as quickly as it changed its posturing about a base there.
Unlike Emirates, Etihad has a growing fleet of Airbus A320s that it hopes to expand and suck in traffic from around the region – it will not allow its customers to then board an AirAsia X jet to end up some 40 miles away from Central London by landing in the slums of Luton Airport.
"When we fly to London, 30 percent of our passengers from London Stansted take a connecting Ryanair or EasyJet flight to so many places around Europe," says AirAsia X CEO Azran Osman Rani.
And you can bet your buck that zero percent of Ryanair or Easyjet passengers will ever use AirAsia X to travel to Malaysia while Etihad and Emirates offer superior products, prices and a greater choice of frequency.
Low cost long haul travel is not a thing of the future and it’s unworkable – particularly when like AirAsia X, you have to make a pit-stop before you even arrive.
Nice tryexpect AirAsia X to up sticks from Abu Dhabi and end up in lowly Muscat or Salalah before long.
Not that it’ll make their pipedream any more of a reality, naturally.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Cerpen dari Berita Harian 30 Januari 2010

4

Oleh Fudzail




(1)
SEMUANYA bermula dari kemas kini status Dina di Facebook. “Membayangkan saya, 1 isteri dan 4 suami!”

Berderet komen-komen daripada rakan-rakan Facebook Dina yang mencecah dua ribu orang. Ada yang menyokong dan ada yang memperolok-olok Dina sebagai gila. Pelbagai komen mereka yang majoriti berusia 30-an. Variasi yang membayangkan perubahan generasi dengan kepelbagaian pendidikan, pemikiran, pemahaman dan pendirian warga Malaysia setelah 53 tahun merdeka.

Ada Melayu, Cina, India, Kadazan dan sebagainya. Ramai rakan-rakannya tentu mereka yang mengaku sebagai Muslim. Membentuk kumpulan masyarakat majmuk di dalam kepompong jaringan sosial global yang menjadi cerminan kehidupan realiti.

Ada komen-komen yang keras sekali. Menuduh Dina telah murtad kerana menyanggah hukum agama dan tidak sepatutnya menjadi gurauan, walau sekadar bayangan, sekadar imaginasi. Tidak sepatutnya dijadikan bahan humor walau pada kurun ke 21.

Kurun di mana kebebasan bersuara dan hak-hak wanita menjadi sebahagian daripada manifesto asas dalam demokrasi. Kurun yang semakin gila dengan pelbagai isu alam, pemanasan global dan penipisan ozon.

“Kau gila Dina, memang gila!” Itulah kata-kata pertama sebaik saya bertemu Dina kemudiannya. Seperti biasa pertemuan di luar Facebook dan telefon mudah alih. Bersantai di sebuah kafe tempat para profesional melepak dengan alat-alat komunikasi canggih sambil mengulang pelbagai gosip mengenai apa saja yang digosipkan dalam Facebook.

Dina tergelak. Kami telah lama berkawan, lama sebelum Facebook, mahupun Internet menjadi alat perhubungan yang tidak kenal sempadan dan masa. Lama sebelum kami mengenal lelaki di sebuah sekolah berasrama penuh untuk pelajar perempuan. Intim. Akrab dan saling mempercayai.

Dia Dina yang menjadi rakan paling rapat dalam semua keadaan. Turun naik kehidupan.

“Gila yang dihalalkan!” Jawab Dina sambil matanya mengekori langkah seorang lelaki tampan yang lalu berhampiran. Perangainya yang tidak berubah, apalagi setelah bergelar janda muda yang tidak mempunyai anak. Bercerai hanya selepas dua tahun berkahwin. Bercerai kerana suaminya bermain kayu tiga dengan sekretari sendiri dan kena tangkap basah.

“Susahnya ada yang tidak dapat membezakan antara humor dan serius! Aku pun hanya mengutip apa yang ditulis oleh penulis wanita Saudi, Nadine al-Bedair ... kau tahu bukan?”

Saya mengangguk. Tulisan Nadine mengenai saranan membolehkan wanita berkahwin empat, seperti lelaki mengamalkan poligami mencetuskan polemik di Saudi dan beberapa negara Arab. Dengan Facebook dan Internet, Nadine menjadi wira baru di kalangan wanita Muslim lain yang sekian lama menentang poligami. Malah pendapat songsang Nadine turut diterima beberapa ulama yang menyatakan tulisan Nadine sekadar mengutarakan masalah kaum wanita yang hidup berpoligami. Ketidakadilan suami dalam memberi nafkah zahir dan batin kepada isteri-isterinya.

Sesuatu yang menjadi sebahagian daripada kehidupan saya ketika ini. Sesuatu yang sensitif, tabu dan penuh kelukaan dalam diri. Sesuatu yang membakar dalam bara-bara keredaan. Melakonkan kebahagiaan untuk para penonton yang mengikuti drama rumah tangga kami.

Hidup sebagai isteri pertama, dengan dua anak membesar. Tentunya sudah tidak lagi muda dan menawan. Siapa yang lebih memahami daripada hati yang menanggung semuanya.

(2)
“Kau ni macam sudah sama masuk aliran Wahabi sahaja!” Selamba Dina berkata kepada Aida, seorang lagi rakan Facebook yang kami terserempak pada sebuah seminar hak-hak wanita dalam perundangan syariah. Sama-sama mahu mendalami bidang yang selama ini diambil ringan. Tidak tahu hak-hak sendiri dalam keadaan yang tidak menyebelahi dan penuh hipokrasi.

Kami tergelak. Lucu sekali mendengar ungkapan sebegitu, terutama daripada Dina yang kadang-kadang kelihatan sebagai Islam liberal, walau definisi itu dia sendiri tidak dapat menjelaskan secara tepat. Sekadar kononnya dia tidak termasuk golongan kolot dan jumud.

Diskusi kami menyentuh mengenai isu semasa antara seorang mantan mufti dan jabatan agama negeri. Ditangkap kerana berceramah tanpa kebenaran. Juga mengenai pelbagai amalan orang-orang Melayu yang diperkatakan oleh mantan mufti sebagai tidak termasuk dari sunnah.

Aida, seperti saya juga mengakui tertarik dengan apa yang dibaca di laman web mantan mufti muda itu. Apa yang dilontarkan sesuai dengan apa yang ada dalam pemikiran. Ada logik dan rasionalnya. Dengan kupasan dari al-Quran dan hadis-hadis.

“Kau tahu puak Wahabi ini cukup fundamental, bidaah sana, bidaah sini, semua bidaah!”

Dina membuat ulasan selari. Kata Dina dia banyak membaca maklumat dari laman web pertubuhan wanita Islam Kosmopolitan (PWIK) yang diikutinya, belum lagi menjadi ahli, sekadar penyokong, termasuk dalam Facebook.

Pemikiran Dina agak selari, malah zahirnya sama seperti pendukung PWIK yang tidak bertudung. Antara rakan-rakan daripada alumni, hanya beberapa orang sahaja yang masih tidak bertudung dalam usia senja sebegini. Walau hampir semua kami siswazah universiti Barat, sebaik bersuami dan mempunyai anak, perlahan-lahan bertudung.

“Banyak perkara yang kita tidak tahu, kena belajar lagi walau tua-tua begini, urusan dunia berkait dengan urusan akhirat. Kena faham betul-betul, jangan sekadar ikut-ikutan, nanti apa yang dikerjakan sekadar perbuatan sia-sia!” Sambung Aida yang semakin banyak mendalami ilmu agama, semuanya daripada pembacaan. Tiada ustazah antara kami untuk merujuk.

Mungkin kami bertiga seperti tiga orang buta yang masih dalam perjalanan ke satu destinasi. Mencari kebenaran dalam kekeliruan dari pelbagai asakan yang datang menerojah pemikiran. Mencari berpandukan maklumat yang bertindih-tindih.

Mengharapkan suami sendiri, seperti saya dan Aida, jauh sekali. Mereka masih dalam dunia perlumbaan. Dengan golf, kerjaya dan tentunya isteri-isteri kedua yang lebih muda. Seperti saya, Aida juga bermadu dalam kelab isteri pertama yang belum didaftarkan seperti kelab poligami yang khabarnya mendapat sambutan ramai.

Bezanya, Aida tidak mampu mempunyai zuriat atas sebab-sebab kesihatan. Dia merelakan takdir kehidupannya. Membenarkan suaminya berkahwin lagi atas pilihannya sendiri.

Tiba-tiba Aida ditegur oleh seorang wanita.

“Ini rakan Facebook saya, Naseem, pelajar sarjana Iran di universiti sini!”

Kami berpelukan.

“Inikah Dina yang hangat dengan empat suami dalam Facebook?”

Tanya Naseem sebaik diperkenalkan pada Dina. Kami ketawa. Nampaknya Dina kian dikenali dengan kenakalannya mengusik minda. Cepat merebak ke rangkaian rakan-rakan lain dalam Facebook.

“Itu imaginasi sahaja, tidak kena-mengena dengan yang hidup atau mati!” Jawab Dina mengenyit mata.

Sambil mengerling ke arah beberapa kumpulan bersembang lain, perlahan Naseem berbisik.

“Jangan terkejut, saya sudah ada tujuh suami!”

Kami memandang Naseem dari atas ke bawah. Memang terkejut. Tidak percaya wanita semuda itu sudah berkahwin tujuh kali! Cantik dan anggun. Sama pula dengan Elizabeth Taylor. Tujuh suami, masya-Allah.

“Saya kan Shiah.....itu semua boleh dalam nikah muta’ah!”

(3)
Sekali lagi, suami sekadar menghantar SMS memberitahu yang dia tidak dapat pulang. Sudah biasa dengan kiriman SMS begitu. Sekali lagi saya sendiri menyambut ulang tahun perkahwinan. Kali ini ulang tahun kali ke-15. Kali ini juga alasannya yang isteri kedua mengadu sakit, mungkin berbadan dua. Sesuatu yang dinanti-nantikan mereka berdua. Sesuatu yang saya harapkan juga.

Anak-anak sudah mengerti dengan apa yang terjadi. Mereka dilahirkan sebagai perempuan yang mempunyai ayah berpoligami. Bukan sahaja biasa dengan seorang ayah yang selalu kesibukan dengan urusan kerja. Ayah yang pulang ke rumah mengikut hari-hari tertentu.

Kami berterus-terang dengan perkahwinan kedua ayah mereka dua tahun lalu. Kejutan yang hampir membinasakan perkahwinan. Demi anak-anak, akhirnya saya reda. Apa lagi datang daripada keluarga yang mengamalkan poligami. Semuanya adalah suratan yang memerlukan pengorbanan.

Mulanya janggal dan keliru, tetapi untuk apa dirahsiakan dan merasa malu dengan keadaan. Dunia sudah berubah dengan keterbukaan. Maklumat bukan lagi komoditi. Biar mereka membesar dengan suasana yang terbuka. Di bawah perlindungan seorang lelaki bergelar ayah.

Cuma lelaki tetap lelaki. Walau berjanji akan adil dan sama rata, tentunya nafsu melebihi kewarasan. Poligami dihalalkan sekiranya menepati syariat. Sekiranya dapat berlaku adil. Alasan mahu berkahwin lagi kerana mahukan anak lelaki. Katanya tertekan dengan perasaannya tanpa zuriat lelaki.

Bukan kami tidak mencuba dengan pelbagai ikhtiar. Begitulah ketentuan yang diterima sebagai dugaan. Tetapi bukan kebetulan yang isteri keduanya jauh lebih muda dan cantik!

Sekali lagi juga, Dina menjadi teman pada hari ulang tahun. Dina yang menjanda sejak 10 tahun lalu. Bukan dia tidak mempunyai perhubungan lain, tetapi jodohnya masih belum tiba. Dan hampir kesemua lelaki yang mendekati adalah suami orang. Sesuatu yang tidak akan menjadi pilihan Dina untuk bermadu. Pantang buat Dina yang kuat dengan pegangan, menentang poligami. Baginya, poligami adalah kekejaman terhadap wanita. Biarpun mungkin dia tidak melihat dari perspektif wanita yang memerlukan suami apabila lebih ramai wanita daripada lelaki, sesuatu yang menjadikan saya lebih insaf.

Sehingga idea gilanya mengenai polyandry menjadi polemik hebat dalam Facebook. Menambahkan bilangan ‘rakan-rakannya’ hampir ke empat ribu.

Dina datang dengan komputer mudah-alih, segera menulis kemas kini status di Facebook.

“Pada malam ulang tahun seorang rakan tanpa suami poligaminya, bayangkan ada suami pertama untuk cinta, suami ke-2 untuk wang & kemewahan, suami ke-3 untuk seks & suami ke-4 untuk perbualan intelektual yang santai, apakah itu syurga?”

Sebaik Dina mencatat, kami ketawa. Memecah malam yang dipenuhi berita mengenai lontaran bom di sebuah gereja. Berkaitan daripada isu kalimah ‘Allah’ yang menjadi polemik besar. Berita sensasi yang menenggelamkan kemelut pelbagai isu semasa politik. Dunia realiti yang tidak habis dengan prasangka, prejudis dan dendam. Kehidupan di luar Facebook yang sama dipenuhi paradoks dan antiklimaks.

Kami ketawa bukan sahaja kelucuan. Ketawa yang meraikan kebebasan bersuara dalam Facebook yang kalau sebuah negara adalah negara yang ke empat terbesar di dunia.

Ketawa untuk melupakan sebentar keresahan yang mengulit hati-hati wanita dalam pelbagai situasi berbeza. Mencari sesuatu yang lebih bermakna daripada kegelisahan meniti hari-hari tua yang semakin mencabar. Sesuatu yang bernama hidayah dan tentunya berada di mana-mana kalau mencari dengan ketulusan.

Kami terus ketawa dengan pelbagai komen yang mencurah. Membiarkan para ‘rakan-rakan’ bergelumang dengan emosi, bertekak dengan kata-kata kesat, selain merapu dengan pendapat yang songsang, tanpa rujukan sahih. Mereka meraikan kebebasan bersuara yang mungkin boleh menikam diri. Yang boleh membawa ke penjara, kalau tidak ke balai polis.

Tiba-tiba anak sulung saya muncul dari biliknya. Dengan wajah yang terpinga-pinga. Sesuatu yang tidak lucu lagi buat dua rakan yang terlupa mengenai cepatnya spekulasi dan gosip merebak melalui elektronik. Melalui Internet. Terlupa yang maklumat merebak secepat kilat. Maklumat yang kekadang di sebalik humor, membawa bencana daripada kekeliruan.

Pertanyaan yang menenggelamkan ketawa kami. Sepi suasana seketika. Kami berpandangan.

“Betulkah mak cik Dina berkahwin 4?”

Biodata: Penulis
Fudzail


Fudzail berkelulusan sains komputer & matematik dari New Zealand, pernah menjadi pengurus IT di TV3 dan kini ekspatriat Malaysia yang bermastautin di UAE sejak tahun 2000. Terlibat dalam pembinaan projek mega seperti Dubai Internet City dan Palm Jumeirah.

Pernah memenangi hadiah sastera Utusan, Johor dan Hadiah Sastera Malaysia 2006/7. Antologi puisi "Waikato' diterbitkan oleh DBP dalam tahun 2001 dan antologi cerpen 'Dotkomania' diterbitkan oleh DBP dalam tahun 2009. Beliau boleh dihubungi melalui emel fudzail@gmail.com dan blog 1426.blogspot.com

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Time to look East (China & India)

The 'Look East' policy by Dr Mahathir back in the 80s meant looking towards Japan & Korea for their successful development models.

However, we had learned the hard way that these two countries would not transfer their technologies or impart with their know-how. Proton as a fine example whereby only until recently, all the main parts were imported from Japan and any Proton cars were only assembled in Malaysia under tight Japanese control.

Now in the 21st century, from this part of the world, as suggested by James Wolfensohn , 'look east' means India & China, the most populous nations on earth and the emerging economy powerhouse.

The below is an excerpt from an article in Arabian Business.

Of all the speakers, for my money ex-World Bank president James Wolfensohn was the best. Grandfatherly and kindly by appearance, the vision of the near future he painted was one of very rapid seismic transfers in the world order. Forgive me for reproducing much of it here, but is worth passing it on.

He said: "By 2050, according to research undertaken by the World Bank and the UN, the demographics are pretty clear. The world will grow from six billion people as it is today to a peak of nine billion in 2050. The consensus estimate is only a hundred million of that growth, of the people between six and nine billion, goes to the so-called wealthy countries, the OECD countries, and the other 2.9 billion goes to the developing countries. And that brings with it some very dramatic consequences.

"The first is the general consensus view that by 2050 China and India will comprise approximately 50 percent of global GDP. That has happened before, it happened in 1815, and it happened in the year 1500. And if you visit China and India, I think you will conclude that Chinese development is ahead of Indian development at the moment. But you have nonetheless a very strong movement in India. My belief is that somewhere around 2035 and 2040 the US will be replaced as the number one economic power by China and then India. I believe that is almost certain to happen.

"The other direction that is clear is that world consumption shifts. Two thirds of the world's consumption from the middle class will move to Asia. It is currently one third with two thirds coming from the OECD countries. So you will have then a 4.5 billion population on the planet that is middle class, with 1.5 billion being in the OECD countries, and three billion being in China, India and Asia. The direction is totally clear, and this is the working assumption that the World Bank is currently working on."

We have all heard for a long time that India and China are on the rise, but to have it laid out so starkly and with such certainty was arresting.

Wolfensohn's message was that these shifts in financial and cultural power presented huge opportunities for the forward thinking as well as huge challenges for the governments of nations affected by the changes. He urged the Middle East to look East now to build for the future.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Malaysia - Looking to the Middle East

Najib's recent official visit to the UAE was actually refreshing in terms of reinforcing the friendship and bilateral trade. Unlike previous visit by his predecessor, which was an utter failure, Najib had made a great stride and impression. Whatever my political inclination and personal opinion, his trip was good for our country, our companies and professionals. Such visit must be held regularly.

There are more works to do to further improve our share in the growing market. I believe, our think-tank team has identified the best strategy forward as the competition will not stay idle.

Besides business deals, Najib’s trip to the Middle East also gave him the opportunity to reflect on Malaysia’s situation in terms of race relations and human capital development.

As a good example of his 1Malaysia concept, Najib pointed to the 6,000 Malaysians in the UAE. “Malaysians of every race and religion are represented here and all of them have done well in giving Malaysia a good name,” he said.

Looking to the Middle East

By LEONG SHEN-LI

PETALING JAYA: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s recent tour of two countries in the Middle East reinforces the importance of the region to Malaysia in terms of business as well as cultural, spiritual and even personal bonds.

Much interest: Najib looking at an illustration of the Burj Khalifah in Dubai recently. — Bernama

Saudi Arabia and especially the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been targeted by Malaysia as major sources of investments and both countries have already put significant amounts of money here. At the same time, many Malaysian companies have made inroads into the two countries, especially in the UAE where they are involved in construction projects.

Yet, in line with Najib’s constant reminders of the dangers of businesses resting on their laurels, there is no letting up in the push to attract more business to Malaysia and to open up further avenues for Malaysian companies in the region.

Najib’s three days in Abu Dhabi, the largest of the seven emirates in the UAE, and side trip to Dubai gave him the opportunity to savour the successes of Malaysian companies in the country.

He witnessed the handing over of seven residential towers in the massive Marina Square project on Reem Island in Abu Dhabi constructed by Malaysian companies after visiting the Capitala Rihan Heights-Arzanah development, which forms part of the Zayed Sports City complex in Abu Dhabi, where a Malaysian construction company is involved in a joint-venture project to build residential units.

His visit to Dubai, which he made after delivering his keynote address at the World Future Energy Summit, underscored even more clearly how well Malaysians were doing, both individual businesses and big companies in mega or iconic projects.

The Prime Minister took the time to drop by the Marrybrown outlet in Dubai to celebrate the Malaysian chain’s presence in the Middle East after visiting the Meydan racetrack complex where a Malaysian company had supplied steel structures for the massive project.

Najib’s visit to the Burj Khalifah, the world’s tallest building, looked very much like he was doing the tourist thing. But in his mind was a multi-million dollar contract for the maintenance of the building, which a Malaysian company that also handled the maintenance of the Petronas Twin Towers is eyeing.

“If they’re successful in their bid, it would be a significant achievement,” he said later at a press conference.

In terms of investments into Malaysia, Najib saw the signing of the US$100mil (RM339mil) agreement between 1Malaysia Development Bhd and UAE’s Masdar, the company behind the development of the world’s first carbon-neutral city. The deal was for both companies to explore and develop renewable energy and green projects, including the possible development of Malaysia’s first carbon-neutral city.

Najib’s audience with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, General Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan, also secured a commitment by the emirate’s investment arm Mubadala Development Company to invest in Malaysia. Sheikh Mohammad is Mubadala chairman.

Preceding Najib’s visit to the UAE was his tour of Saudi Arabia, the region’s powerhouse. The visit generated a lot of interest and was widely covered by the Saudi press, highlighting the close relations between Malaysia and the kingdom which had reached historic heights under Najib’s administration.

The Prime Minister quickly noted that Saudi Arabia’s US$144bil (RM489bil) budget for 2010 should translate into attractive possibilities for Malaysian companies to be involved in the kingdom’s economic activities and other fields. In 2008, Malaysia ranked the 13th largest foreign investor in Saudi Arabia.

During the visit, a memorandum of understanding between Malaysia and Saudi Arabia was signed for the exchange of intelligence on crime and terrorism, where the two countries agreed to co-operate to fight terrorism, drug trafficking, falsifying of documents and cross-border crimes.

On the final day of his visit, Najib was conferred Saudi Arabia’s highest award – the King Abdul Aziz Order of Merit (First Class). Najib attributed this not so much to his own abilities but the exemplary behaviour of the thousands of Malaysian pilgrims performing the haj every year.

Besides business deals, Najib’s trip to the Middle East also gave him the opportunity to reflect on Malaysia’s situation in terms of race relations and human capital development.

As a good example of his 1Malaysia concept, Najib pointed to the 6,000 Malaysians in the UAE. “Malaysians of every race and religion are represented here and all of them have done well in giving Malaysia a good name,” he said.

After his visit to the King Abdullah University of Science Technology near Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Najib said the Saudis were brave enough to set up the university, which was controversial, as it did not follow the strict sex segregation laws of the country and brought in a Singaporean professor to head the institution.

“Are we brave enough to go for such transformation? Are we ready to let a foreigner head a public university in Malaysia?” he asked.

Najib said the two countries had the vision, boldness, courage and the commitment to deliver and execute projects in a very fast and timely manner, all of which were important ingredients.

“We can’t be inward-looking, we can’t be petty, and we can’t be envious of one another. If we do not change the attitude and the mindset of Malaysians, we’ll never be a 21st century nation.”

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Growing up with a mother of non-Saudi origin

By Reem Eskander
Kids of mixed marriages face a myriad of challenges

Saudi children of non-Saudi mothers live normal lives here as do those who are born to Saudi mothers since most foreign mothers are eventually granted Saudi citizenship. However, given their multicultural and multilingual upbringing, children of non-Saudi mothers are faced with a number of day-to-day challenges.

“I have a major problem in communicating with my maternal relatives who do not speak Arabic. I try to communicate with them in English while also learning their language – Urdu,” said Khalida Bin Mahfouz, a 13-year-old Saudi girl whose mother was born in India.
“My mother, who is Saudi now, is well aware of our culture. She speaks good Arabic. However, at times I feel sorry for not being in touch with my maternal relatives,” said Bin Mahfouz.

However, Abdullah Mandora, who has an Indonesian mother and a Saudi father, says he learnt his mother’s language as well. “I can speak Arabic, English and Bahasa Indonesian. This makes me feel intelligent and happy,” said Mandora, adding that understanding different cultures with a broad approach and confidence has benefited him. However, not all children of non-Saudi mothers think similarly. Mohammed Ahmed (family name undisclosed on request) does not want people to know that he can speak Urdu, despite the fact that his father and forefathers have Indian origins.

“I never heard my father publicly speak Urdu. It gives me the feeling that there is no pride involved in revealing to others one’s South Asian background. That is why I feel hesitant to speak Urdu – a language that is known to all the members of my family,” said Ahmed.

He said that most of the men in his family married Indian women since they are considered “good and humble wives”. But once married, the husbands leave no stone unturned to force them to adopt Saudi culture. Some of them are not even allowed to communicate with their children in their mother tongue, said the 14-year-old Ahmed.

In a study that appeared in the 2004 issue of the American Journal of Psychology and Aging, researchers said that bilingualism or multilingualism may counter the effects of aging and that it helps keeps the mind young. “People who are bilingual have an advantage over the rest of us, and not just in terms of communication skills. The bilingual brain develops more densely, giving it an advantage in various abilities and skills”, reported WebMD which provides health information. A slightly more tricky situation for children of non-Saudi mothers is when the mother comes from non-Islamic Western background.

Raghad Al-Salami, 14, daughter of an American mother, is proud of her fine English-speaking skills, but finds it difficult to teach Saudi ways to her mother. “Most of the time, me and my siblings correct the Arabic grammar and accent of my mother. She beats us if we criticize her harshly or laugh at her incorrect Arabic, said Al-Salami.
She said her mother was unable to speak Arabic to her, which became a ‘major issue’ for her in school.

“I could not communicate with my teachers and friends. Then with time I learnt Arabic but I am still not as confident as my younger siblings,” said Al-Salami. She said her 20-year-old cousin who was born to a French mother finds it difficult to visit in France. “The ban on Hijab is presently one of the most controversial issues in France. My cousin, therefore, avoids meeting her maternal relatives due to the cultural differences,” added Al-Salami.

Children of non-Saudi mothers face additional challenges because of the demands of both paternal and maternal relatives. “My paternal relatives remain concerned for our – me and my siblings’ – traditional upbringing, which annoys me. On the other hand, I am unable to adjust in my maternal grandparents’ house for a number of reasons, such as, I cannot eat spicy food, and I do not understand a single word of their language, which leaves me embarrassed,” said eight-year-old Khaled Omar (family name undisclosed on request), whose mother is a Pakistani national.

“My elder sisters and brothers can speak Urdu and manage well with my maternal kin. They always tell me that I will learn the language with time just like they did,” said Khaled.

Nawal, Khaled’s elder sister, said she is proud of her mother because she is an “educated, successful career woman”, while admitting that many Saudi children do not feel the same about their mothers.

“Some children do not want others to know that their mother is a foreigner, especially if they are from Asia or any under-developed country. When their friends come home, the children do not want them to see their mothers,” she said.

“Actually,” she continued, “children of mothers of South-Asian origin are worried about being laughed at when others call them ‘Ya Hindi’. The chances of this happening increase if the mother is uneducated, is not fashionable or attractive, and does not speak English.”

Usually, non-Saudi mothers learn Arabic because they are urged to learn Saudi culture. “According to my root culture and parents’ guidance, a good wife adapts to the culture of her husband and his family. As I have come to my husband’s place forever, I consider it my ethical responsibility to adapt to his way of life,” said a woman of Pakistani origins married to a Saudi. Dr. Hani Al-Ghamdi, a Saudi psychiatrist, family and social relationships’ consultant and president of the Arab Union for Social Advisory, said that usually children are popular for speaking a prestigious language, and are ragged or bullied for speaking one that is not. “However, now with the changed outlook of the modern world as a global village, a lot of people are demonstrating a secular attitude,” said Dr. Al-Ghamdi.

“Saudi society,” he said, “firm in its culture, tradition and language. A non-Saudi bride in a Saudi family is expected to learn and appreciate Saudi ways.” – SG

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Other Saudi Arabia

I was in Riyadh for a while early of year 2000 before residing in the UAE. For that brief stay, I would say Riyadh is not my kind of city to live, esp without family.

Saudi Arabia is a big country and there are only few places are known to us. Beside Makkah, Madinah, Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam, the rest seems not in the map.

Beside my land trip to Makkah from Riyadh for haj, together with my family we went to Makkah from Dubai by bus and along the way, we stopped in several 'unkown' towns and villages. A very nice experience indeed.

Keys to the kingdom of Saud

Amar Grover

Nabataean rock-cut tombs at Madain Saleh, near Al Ula, are Saudi Arabia’s equivalent of Petra in Jordan, but receive only a trickle of visitors. Amar Grover for The National

When I announced a visit to Saudi Arabia, my friends’ reactions ranged from surprise to consternation. Why, they wondered, and what was there? Others were less receptive. The consensus was that visiting would be an academic exercise at best and, for western women wrapped in the obligatory abayas, a chore. The Saudi enigma seemed couched in severe and not particularly positive terms even, or perhaps particularly, by those who had never visited.

Yet for people who are curious about a place that seems at once familiar (we can all conjure a mental picture, and most can place it on a map) and yet enigmatic (just what is there?) – or simply seek a destination few people have visited – Saudi Arabia is just the ticket.

Apart from the annual Haj that draws millions of pilgrims, few outsiders are doing any sightseeing in Saudi. Until 2006, the sheer difficulty in simply procuring a tourist visa was enough to discourage tourism. While western expatriate residents can tour at leisure, tourists are thin on the ground. Fewer than 5,000 Europeans visited in 2008, with Germans forming the vanguard. However, the visa regime has softened, making the kingdom more accessible. Although visitors still need to be on an organised tour, the minimum group size is now four and the minimum age for unaccompanied women has dropped from 40 to 30 (below which they need to be accompanied by a husband or male relative).

I joined a small group including a retired couple, an ex-banker, an oil company geologist and an American art collector. Most were over 50 and extraordinarily well travelled, through either work or wanderlust – Congo, Angola, Papua New Guinea and Yemen, for example, had all been ticked. Saudi Arabia was among the last frontiers and their interest was genuine.

The women’s tailor-made and obligatory abayas – a long, generally black, robe that cancels shape (and arguably femininity and even temptation) – were awaiting them at Riyadh airport where we began our tour. As one quipped, it was the first destination where she’d needed to provide her passport details and vital measurements to get a visa. We men were fine in short-sleeved shirts or T-shirts, and no one had been daft enough to turn up in shorts. The ladies quickly adapted, and almost warmed, to their abayas and none were required to wear a niqab, or veil. They were light, comfortable and effectively removed the agonising over what to wear underneath each day.

Riyadh is capital in name but not, it would seem, of culture and commerce – that honour goes to Jeddah on the Red Sea coast. It is a modern city of boulevards and expressways and rather too much utilitarian concrete offset by a handful of architectural masterpieces. Yet at its heart stands Masmak fortress, whose mud-brick walls with rounded bastions, loopholes and crenellations evoke another, almost medieval, age. It is also where modern Saudi Arabia was born.


A small fortress overlooks old Al Ula's abandoned mud-plastered houses. Amar Grover for The National

In 1902, a young Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud seized Masmak from his family’s main rivals, the Al Rashids. You can still see his spearhead embedded in its wooden gate. Today it’s an acute and virtually official symbol of his pivotal rise, an episode dramatically recreated in a short film that plays in Masmak’s museum. Amid its halls and rooms with displays of photographs, weapons and armour is a plaque commemorating Saudi Arabia’s National Day that refers to the country’s “destiny which, first and foremost, brings honour to Allah and then to the creator of that unity King Abdul Aziz...”


His status as father of the nation – its unity was formalised only in 1932 – is reinforced in every, mostly excellent, regional museum up and down the country. Riyadh’s vast National Museum is by far the best and probably one of the finest in the Middle East.

Focusing on clarity and quality over sheer quantity, it covers history, archaeology, geology and Islam. Abdul Aziz has a separate wing comprising mainly old photographs, his Rolls Royces and some personal items such as robes and his doctor’s medical chest. The display even includes two of his brick-sized bath soaps.

We moved on to Dir’aiyah, an ancient mud-brick city on the fringes of Riyadh, which was the Al Sauds’ original power base. Here, explained Saad, our Jeddah-based guide who was to accompany us for the duration of our trip, in 1744, a scholar called Mohammed ibn Abd al Wahhab befriended (and eventually married his daughter into) the Al Saud family. The country already subscribed to the Hanbali school of jurisprudence, the most conservative of the four schools in the Sunni tradition. Abd al Wahhab’s influence coupled with Al Saud patronage steered the region into a yet more puritanical form of Islamic interpretation, and became a rallying doctrine for many Arabian tribes. It is this that distinguishes modern-day Saudi from other Muslim countries, including most its GCC neighbours.

Armed now with a semblance of basic history, the Saudi enigma had some context. We were keen to wander Dir’aiyah’s atmospheric maze of lanes but they were closed for restoration work so we could only gaze from the fences. Clearly, more tourists are expected soon.

Most of our tour was to encompass the country’s northern half and we flew to the city of Al Jouf, which lies on the main road routes towards Jordan and Iraq. At nearby Domat Al Jandal, a once vital oasis town with a recorded history starting in the sixth century BC, stands Qasr Marid. A local guide, Saleh, took over from Saad, saying the small picturesque castle was reputedly built by a grandson of Ibrahim and besieged by Palmyra’s (now in Syria) Queen Zenobia. “It may also have been visited by the Prophet Mohammed, peace and blessings be upon him,” he added.

From its ramparts, we gazed over the crumbling old town with its jumble of dissolving walls, collapsed homes and blocked streets. Dominating the view was the Umar Mosque and its distinctive tapering minaret with a tiny staircase accessing a series of little doorways. It is among the oldest mosques in Saudi Arabia, though, strangely, Saleh initially made little of it; were it not for our enthusiasm it might have been ignored altogether.

A six-lane motorway crosses Al Nafud, Saudi’s second largest desert after the Empty Quarter, south from Al Jouf to Hail. A police escort – always a feature of our journeys – drove behind and stopped midway when their colleagues from Hail took over. Saad caught our quizzical looks. “For your security ... some crazy drivers in Arabia,” he beamed, though we really only believed the first part.


Vast expanses of undulating pale orange sand dotted with sprigs of acacia slid past for hours until patchy green fields and quad-bike stalls heralded town. Opposite our hotel stood a McDonald’s (often referred to as “Eighty-eight” because its stylised “M” logo resembles the Arabic characters for 88). Off to the right stood a KFC and Pizza Hut, neither of which were particularly busy.

Hail was the stronghold of the Al Sauds’ once great rivals, the Al Rashids, and it wasn’t until the 1930s that Abdul Aziz built his mighty Al Qashalah barracks in the centre while tactfully opting not to interfere with Al Rashidi properties. It’s an imposing square building of 10-metre-high walls with machicolations and holes to drop burning oil. We walked up to ’Airif, a compact Al Rashidi fort which tops a ridge at the edge of town and has recently been thoroughly restored.

Our first real experience of Saudi markets came at Hail’s souqs. In one small section, women sold bundles of dried hibiscus and mint and carefully adjusted their abayas and niqabs in the face of our curious yet hopefully polite gaze. While none would be photographed (and why should they?), they were friendly enough and seemed to enjoy a bit of banter with Saad and our escorts.


A market in the old quarter of Jeddah. Amar Grover for The National

Later I wandered off alone to another covered parade of shops to find Bangladeshi shopkeepers serving the ladies of Hail. They were assessing jewellery and clothes and rummaging through utensils and plastic toys. It was busy, earthy and authentic. There were a few beggars, too: women with infants who, because they were dressed in ubiquitous black, looked no different to anyone else except for their outstretched black-gloved hands meekly awaiting coins.

Oil-rich Saudi was proving a little grittier than we expected. Beyond the capital, its prosperity and gloss seemed more diluted. The roads were good but many were new or only recently widened. Moreover they were used by a surprising number of old and tatty cars – far fewer prestige marques than, say, Abu Dhabi or Dubai. Many areas had a generalised, almost reassuring scruffiness to them, such as incomplete pavements and walls. Shopping seemed to revolve around basics, not luxuries - though it’s the country’s first attempt at tourism and the lack of garish or vulgar desert fantasy there was refreshing.

We headed 400km west on the main motorway towards Al Ula through mostly featureless desert steppe, pausing around lunchtime at Taima (or Tayma). For millennia, it was a vast and celebrated oasis that prospered from the caravan trade in frankincense and spices. There is a famous well here, the Bi’r Al Haddaj – reputedly the country’s largest – whose 60 draw-wheel fames and channels placed around its rim would have been worked by camels to water an intricate complex of gardens. Later, on the edge of town, we stood on the faint remnants of what was its 14km-long perimeter wall, with potsherds still scattered here and there.

One evening Georgios Papaioannou, our guest lecturer and regional expert, briefly outlined the Islamic notion of Jahiliyyah, a reference to the pre-Islamic era that is usually translated as “period of ignorance”. As the very foundations and pillars of the faith reside in Saudi Arabia, its culture seems more sensitised to this concept. Perhaps, he ventured, this partly explained why archaeology had not developed here as much as in other areas of the Middle East. There might not be buried treasure-troves, but there’s plenty of interest that has barely been excavated, such as the ancient city of Dedan by Al Ula, or Al Ukhdud – reputedly the site of the sixth-century “Massacre of the Trench” – at Najran in the far south. Yet at Madain Saleh near Al Ula, even the Saudis realise they have an archaeological site too imposing to ignore – their very own Petra.

Our final approach to Al Ula weaved through weirdly eroded sandstone hills and clusters of boulders before descending into a beautiful palm-choked valley enclosed by rugged ridges. Next morning we strolled through old Al Ula’s abandoned and now crumbling mud-plastered houses and labyrinthine lanes overlooked by a small fortress. It was a compelling prelude to Madain Saleh, where nearly a hundred rock-cut facades of tombs pierce the cliffs and spectacular island-like stacks of rock erupt on the desert fringes. This was the Nabataeans’ second city of Hegra (now better known by its contemporary name), but, unlike Jordan’s Petra, it sees just a trickle of visitors.

Accompanied merely by a breeze, we were largely free to wander among these two-millennia-old necropolises amid the echoes of ancient Nabataean caravans transporting frankincense and myrrh from Yemen to Damascus. Many facades have inscriptions, such as “Kamkam’s Curse” in tomb 39, where three gods were invoked five times over against any who interfered with it. In its eerie emptiness, you hope the curse has already worked its course.


A display at the King Abdul Aziz Museum in Riyadh. Amar Grover for The National

You can also clamber up to some of the facades’ hillocks and bluffs where piles of stones suggest sporadic Roman occupation by small garrisons in watchtowers. The views across the site are terrific. We ended our visit walking through a sheer-sided cleft to climb a hill and watch the sand pinken as the sun dipped behind a bank of stark hills. Few of us doubted Madain Saleh was the trip’s highlight.

Finally, we made for Saad’s hometown of Jeddah. It’s a city long used to visitors, especially traders and pilgrims, and it is rightly considered Saudi’s most liberal locale. What many conservative Riyadhites regard as decadent here is commonplace through most of the Middle East. At a popular corniche restaurant, there were glamorous, unaccompanied women, with niqabs relegated to headscarves, who smoked shisha and chatted together contentedly.

Ultimately, of course, our group’s female travellers were glad to cast off their abayas – but not even Jeddah is so permissive. It may not be the easiest of destinations for those of a western mindset, but the tour had cut a fascinating course through its highlights. More than most countries, we were compelled to see it on its own terms. Throughout, Saad frequently alluded to a changing Saudi Arabia. How, we often wondered. “Well, you’re here now,” he began.

travel@thenational.ae

Islamic Banking and Profit Fairness

Gulf Islamic banks have interest in Malaysia as Gulf Islamic banks seek new growth areas to diversify sources of earnings as their domestic markets mature. One of them from Bahrain, Al Baraka has already said it is planning to spend $30-50 million to buy another bank in Indonesia as it seeks to expand its global footprint.

Malaysian authorities are courting more foreign investment for the domestic Islamic banking industry to create bigger players and raise the country’s international profile.

The Southeast Asian economy has made its mark as a major Islamic banking hub in Asia but is seen as lacking in global clout, especially in the Middle East.


Islamic Banking and Profit Fairness

21/01/2010

By Lahem al Nasser

Islamic finance is a moral financial model based on divine principles, the most important of which is justice. There are many Quranic verses and Hadiths that deal with this, such as: "We sent aforetime our messengers with Clear Signs and sent down with them the Book and the Balance (of Right and Wrong), that men may stand forth in justice," [Surat al Hadid; Verse 25]. There is also: "And the Firmament has He raised high, and He has set up the Balance (of Justice)" [Surat al Rahman; Verse 7]. God Almighty also said, "Allah commands justice," [Surat al Nahl; Verse 90]. In a Hadith Qudsi the Prophet [pbuh] narrated the word of God, saying "My servants, I have forbidden injustice for myself and I have made injustice forbidden to you. Do not be unjust to one another." Renowned Islamic scholar al-Izz Ibn Abdul-Salam said that Verse 25 of Surat al Hadid represents the essence of Islam.

It is therefore just that profits should not be inflated to the point that this would invalidate the satisfaction [of the customer]. This is the crux of the matter in Islam, and can be seen in the Quranic verse: "O ye who believe! Squander not your wealth among yourselves in vanity, except it be a trade by mutual consent" [Surat al Nisa; Verse 29] and this is regardless of whether the inflated profit [made by the seller] is known to the buyer such as in the event of purchasing from a monopoly, or whether this increase [on the original price] is not known to the buyer, if the seller conceals the original price of the product.

There are several Hadith that prohibit sellers making large profits on the original price of items or services. In the Sahih Muslim collection of Hadith, it was reported that the Prophet [pbuh] said, "No one hoards but the sinner." Muslim scholars explained the term "hoard" in this instance to mean the hoarding of a commodity that people need in order to sell it later at a higher price. This is something that is forbidden in Islam as it restricts the necessities available to the public. In addition to this, Prophet Mohammed [pbuh] also said, "Any Muslim who transgresses against another Muslim and is unjust then he is the sinner." In another Hadith, the Prophet [pbuh] is quoted as saying: "Injustice of a buyer is riba [usury]."

Religious scholars had different opinions with regards to the amount of profit that is permissible to make. Some of them define this precisely, while others judge this according to local customs [and other factors], which is more reasonable. Therefore Islamic finance should operate in a just manner with regards to profits, and avoid outrageous [profit] inflation, particularly with regards to long-term financing, where the rate of profit is calculated by looking at the total amount of money borrowed, and the duration that this money is borrowed for, without taking into account the amount [of this loan] that has already been repaid.

There can be no doubt that profits are inflated in the financial sector, however such dealings are considered illegal under western laws as western banks differentiate between interest and usury. However this is a distinction that is not acknowledged under the provision of Islamic Sharia law. While this does bring to light the extent of the injustice in how profits are calculated in general, what about Islamic Sharia law that is based upon divine justice?

Unfortunately the Islamic banking system which is supposed to be based on just and ethical principles that themselves are based on a divine system that prevents injustice, has transgressed even the limits of the savage capitalist banking system in terms of the profits that it makes on its operations. By doing so, this causes Islamic financial customers, who are acting with a religious and moral motive [in using Islamic financial institutes] to shoulder a heavy burden, as if they are paying a tax on their [religious] commitment. Although juristic schools have managed to put forward reasons for this, I do not believe that such justifications will last for a number of reasons, such as many [Islamic financial] clients recognize the danger that this method of calculating profit represents to the Islamic financial industry as a whole and so they are demanding justice in how such profits are calculated and for this process to conform to principles of Islamic Sharia that prohibit such profit inflation.

Many scholars today sense the danger that that method of calculating profit represents to the Islamic financial industry as a whole, and that as a result of this the Islamic banking industry appears to be a greedy financial industry that is taking advantage of people's needs in an ugly way, contradicting the Islamic Sharia principles that call for the implementation of justice and the prevention of harm. It is an Islamic Sharia principle that one "should neither be harmed nor do harm [to others]" and that [mutual] satisfaction be the focus of business operations, and this is something that will not be achieved when customers are in dire need or ignorant of the manner in which profit is calculated.

The last reason [for this] and perhaps the most important rationale to putting an end to this phenomenon and restoring matters back to normal with regards to the way in which the profits of the Islamic financial industry are calculated is the intervention of regulatory bodies to provide mechanisms for calculating Islamic finance profits, lending rates, etc. This is something that I expect to happen, especially in Saudi Arabia where the mortgage law is expected to come into effect soon. This mortgage law will be consistent with the provision of Islamic Sharia law, and will deal with one of society's most important needs, the provision of housing. Therefore I do not think that the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency [SAMA] will pass this [inflated] method of calculating profits onto the banking sector without first imposing certain restrictions and specifications, because this lies at the heart of its regulatory operations.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Muhammad Cartoonist Defiant After Attack

By Henryk M. Broder

Four years ago, Kurt Westergaard triggered a bitter clash of cultures with his cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad. On New Year's Day, a young Muslim from Somalia tried to kill him with a knife and an ax. Despite having to live under constant protection, the Danish cartoonist refuses to give up.

He supports himself with a cane as he stands in the hallway, staring at the demolished bathroom door. A sheet of particleboard has been nailed to the door to hold it together, but the indentations from the ax are still visible in the frame, where some of the wood was chipped off. In a few days, workers will install a steel door and an alarm system, and a pavilion will be built in the garden for the police officers assigned to protect him. Kurt Westergaard's house has to be turned into a fortress.

Last Thursday was the first time Westergaard was back in his row house in the Danish city of Aarhus since the New Year's Day attack, when a young man from Somalia broke into the house. Westergaard saw the man in the hallway, fled into the bathroom, locked the door and pressed his panic button, while the man tried to break down the door with an ax. The police quickly arrived on the scene, and it took only two shots to incapacitate the intruder.


AFP

The publication of the cartoons in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in September 2005 caused uproar in the Muslim world. The protests claimed 150 lives.


Westergaard has returned to his house to pick up a few things he needs, so that he can continue working in the secret location where he is currently being housed. Although the names Kurt and Birgitte Westergaard are still printed on the doorbell nameplate outside, Westergaard now feels like a stranger in his own home.

His wife is cooking lunch in the kitchen: baked fish with black bread and tartar sauce. The table in the living room is set for eight: three police officers, two workmen, the Westergaards and their visitor from Germany. Whenever the doorbell rings, one of the officers from Danish state security gets up to see who it is. The Westergaards plan to return to the house full-time once the renovations are complete and things have settled down. "I refuse to hide," says Westergaard. "And it wouldn't do any good," says his wife. "Denmark is too small for that. Anyone can find anyone else here."

The Muslim World in Uproar

Westergaard was one of 12 cartoonists who published drawings of the Prophet Muhammad in the newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September 2005. A few months later, the Muslim world, inflamed by Islamists from Denmark, was in an uproar. Ambassadors in Copenhagen submitted official complaints to the Danish government, an organization of Islamic countries called for a boycott of Danish products, Libya closed its embassy, activists in Gaza City stormed the grounds of the European Union office there, and Arab League foreign ministers demanded punishment for the cartoonists. Tens of thousands of women took to the streets in the Yemeni capital San'a, the Danish Embassy in Lebanon was set on fire, Iran severed trade relations, and there were widespread protests throughout the Muslim world, in Tehran, Pakistan, Malaysia, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Nigeria. The protests claimed 150 lives, including six people who died in a suicide bombing attack on the Danish Embassy in Pakistan.

The Islamic world felt insulted and provoked by the Danish cartoons. Westergaard, an atheist, had turned in what was probably the most provocative drawing, with his Muhammad wearing a turban that contained a bomb with a fuse attached to it. He was also the only one of the cartoonists who appeared in public and defended his right to freedom of expression.

He has received dozens of threatening phone calls since then. In 2008, three people were arrested and charged with plotting to kill Westergaard. But everything changed on Jan. 1, when a threat turned into a question of survival. At this point, shouldn't Westergaard be asking himself whether this symbol, this cartoon, was worth having to now share his life with three police officers assigned to protect him and his wife around the clock?

Westergaard is 74. He comes from a town in North Jutland County in northern Denmark, where his father owned a small shop. He grew up among devout Christians and, like everyone else, attended Sunday school, where he learned about the existence of God and Satan. "But God," says Westergaard, "is far away and the devil is nearby. Both are tyrants that frighten people."

'Sent on Vacation'

After finishing high school, Westergaard wanted to study art, but his parents were opposed to the idea. Instead, he ended up working as a teacher of German, English and Art Education, first at an elementary school and, after gathering 10 years of experience, at a special school for the disabled. At 50, he decided to try his luck as a cartoonist. His first cartoons appeared in a left-leaning liberal newspaper called Demokraten, which soon went out of business. He then took a job with Jyllands-Posten, where he has worked as a cartoonist for the last 25 years, producing a cartoon almost every day, usually about a current event. Throughout the years, even after the publication of the Muhammad cartoons, Westergaard had an office in the newspaper's editorial department.

Two months ago, however, Westergaard was "sent on vacation," as he says. It is unclear whether the paper was more concerned about his health or its own security. But now, says Westergaard, he doesn't want to stay at home anymore, preferring to return to his desk at Jyllands-Posten.

Jörn Mikkelsen, the editor-in-chief of Jyllands-Posten, has been working for the paper since 1994. He started out as a correspondent in Bonn, joined the senior editorial team in 2002 and has been editor-in-chief since 2008.

As Mikkelsen recalls, at some point in December 2005 the Associated Press published a four-line report from the city of Srinagar in Kashmir, where merchants in the local bazaar had staged a protest against cartoons in a Danish newspaper after Friday prayers. "We laughed about it in the editorial department, but later, as I was going home, I started having a queasy feeling. I asked myself: How did they find out about this? Who reads Jyllands-Posten in Kashmir?"

'We Have Not Regretted It'

Before the cartoons were published, the editors had a long and very serious discussion about the matter, says Mikkelsen, but no one anticipated such dramatic consequences. The incident occurred more than four years ago, and yet it seems that the matter will never be brought to an end.

"Nevertheless, we have not regretted it, because the dispute is too important. It would never even have started if the cartoons hadn't been published. We didn't hatch any terrorist plans, and we didn't attack anyone with an axe. All we did was to do our job as a media outlet. Others exploited the printing (of the cartoons) for their own ends."

Mikkelsen pauses, and then says: "On the other hand, many people lost their lives at the time."

The newspaper has reprinted the cartoons on occasion. The last time it did so was a little over a year ago, after the murder plot against Westergaard had been uncovered and the suicide bombing had been committed against the Danish Embassy in Islamabad.

"We've all become smarter," says Mikkelsen. "There is a new, heightened security situation that we cannot ignore." In an interview in his own paper, he explained the new policy to his readers, saying that Denmark is now on the terrorists' list of hot spots and that extremists in Pakistan are watching the country carefully. "It isn't just about Jyllands-Posten anymore, it's about the entire Danish nation. As a responsible newspaper, we cannot ignore this."

We have seen enough of the cartoons, says Mikkelsen, and it is time to begin a debate over Islamism and a new totalitarianism. "As a newspaper, we have now reached our limits. We want to keep the debate going, but we cannot constantly return to its point or origin."

Westergaard, for his part, feels abandoned. Since the recent attack, his anger has returned, he says, and he talks about his disappointment with the Danish intellectuals who have taken sides against him. Neither the Danish Association of Visual Artists nor the Danish PEN Center has supported him, says Westergaard, who notes that the "intellectual class" spends its time "drinking coffee and cultivating its cultural relativism."

On the other hand, he says, he has received hundreds of e-mails from "normal people." One of them even offered him a house on the Faroe Islands, noting that it would be a safe place to hide.

"It is simply absurd that you have to fear for your life in your own house and your own country, because, as a cartoonist, you have an opinion that others don't like." He says that he has also poked fun at Christianity, and once drew a cartoon of Jesus stepping down from the cross in an Armani suit. "People were upset about that, too, but it was all over after a week."

Fundamentalists Have a Long Memory

Westergaard says that he sleeps well, doesn't have bad dreams and doesn't need to take any pills. Although he now feels like a stranger in his own house, he still wants to return home. He tries to laugh about things that actually make him angry. He believes in a future, even though he cannot shake the past. He has decided to drive to the Jyllands-Posten editorial offices every day again, go to the gym every other day and sit in a café whenever he pleases. The police officers will always be with him, "for as long as I live," he says. Westergaard tries to keep his spirits up, even though he has few good reasons to be in a good mood.

Was the whole thing worth it?

He smiles. "I don't think about that. Even the Danish prime minister is guarded around the clock." He calls it a kind of Stockholm syndrome, but with positive aspects.

Then he tells the story of Danish illustrator Hans Bendix, who made fun of the Nazis in the 1930s, until the Danish Foreign Ministry asked him to stop provoking the Germans. Bendix obeyed, but that didn't prevent the Germans from occupying Denmark. He survived the occupation and became an illustrator again after the war.

Westergaard's life will never return to the way it was before Sept. 30, 2005. Fundamentalists have a long memory.

In the evening, he has his bodyguards drive him to Skanderborg to see his gallery owner, Erik Guldager, who once worked for BASF in Denmark and opened an art gallery a few years ago.

After having dinner at Guldager's house, Westergaard gets to work. He signs watercolors and prints that Guldager sends to Westergaard collectors around the world, even in Saudi Arabia. The best-selling item is the cartoon of Muhammad with the bomb in his turban, with a signed print now going for upwards of €500 ($715). The printing of 1,000 copies is already exhausted, with the exception of a few copies Guldager has bought back.

A collector recently paid a six-figure dollar amount for the original. It is kept in a bank vault in Copenhagen.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


New Zealand employers expecting to hire in 2010


The latest Manpower Employment Outlook Survey shows that New Zealand employers are looking at increasing staff numbers again in 2010. The optimism spreads across all sectors and shows that New Zealand’s economy is on the path to continuous growth. To learn more about what employers expect 2010 to bring, click here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Malaysia plans to establish an "iconic" centre to house all its Islamic financial institutions.

Solid principles enable Islamic banking to weather global crisis

Kuala Lumpur plans to establish an "iconic" centre to house all its Islamic financial institutions.

By Jumana Al Tamimi, Associate Editor, Gulf News


  • Abdul Razzaq says Malaysia's distinguished classification in Islamic finance is among the factors that bring it closer to the Arab region in general and the Gulf countries in particular.
  • Image Credit: Ravindranath/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: The Islamic banking system has managed to "weather" the global international financial crisis due to its well-regulated foundation, Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammad Najeeb Bin Abdul Razzaq said.

In an exclusive interview with Gulf News during his visit to the UAE on Sunday, the prime minister of the biggest Islamic finance centre in the world also revealed that Kuala Lumpur plans to establish an "iconic" centre to house all its Islamic financial institutions.

"Islamic finance has by and large been able to weather the global economic crisis because it is based on strong fundamentals, and [because] Islamic finance didn't depart from its fundamental principles," Abdul Razzaq replied to a question on the impact of the international financial crisis on Islamic finance structures.

Islamic finance was unlike "conventional" banking, which has many "new financial products that were not based on fundamentals but operated on different premises", he said.

Last year, Malaysia "managed to attain double-digit growth, and this has been the case for some time… the latest figures show that more than 60 per cent of sukuks were issued in Malaysia," Abdul Razzaq said during the interview conducted on the sidelines of the Future Energy Summit held in Abu Dhabi.

The Malaysian premier, accompanied by a high-level delegation including the ministers of foreign affairs and trade, also held talks with the UAE's leadership, including His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and General Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

Leader

Malaysia is considered the world's leader in Islamic finance and is still "well-positioned" to continue playing this role, Abdul Razzaq said.

The Asian country's plans for financial liberalisation included "the issuance of two licences for two mega-Islamic banks in Malaysia, with a capital of more than $1 billion each. We received very encouraging interest to participate in the new Islamic banks that we have announced."

Moreover, Kuala Lumpur is currently working with its central bank on having an "iconic physical centre that will house our Islamic institutions that deal with Islamic finance," he said.

Malaysia's distinguished classification in Islamic fin-ance is among the factors that bring it closer to the Arab region in general and the Gulf countries in particular, the Abdul Razzaq said. Other factors include "strong emotional and spiritual" relationships, bountiful opportunities on both sides, halal food production and real estate development.

Accordingly, it is just "a kind of opportunity for us to build upon" strong bilateral relations, Abdul Razzaq said. "Ever since Islam reached the shores of our part of the world, we have enjoyed this strong emotional and spiritual [bond] with this part of the world, and that [bond has] remained strong until today. And because of this natural affinity, and natural identification with this part of the world, trade flows naturally," he said.

Abdul Razzaq's visit to Abu Dhabi was the second since he became prime minister in April 2009. It aims at boosting bilateral relations in many fields, including economic.

In 2008, the UAE was Malaysia's 17th largest trading partner, 15th largest export destination, 20th largest source of imports and the largest trading partner in the Middle East, according to Malaysian press reports.

Trade between the UAE and Malaysia reached more than Dh12.9 billion between January and October 2009.

Fact file: Strong numbers

Dh12.9b - trade between UAE and Malaysia

$2b - capital of two Islamic banks in Malaysia

TOP TEN SHARIAH SCHOLARS IN THE MIDDLE EAST



It is very interesting to learn about shariah scholars who are playing key Shariah advisory roles in this part of the world.

Notably, the presence of Dr Mohammad Daud Bakar, formerly Deputy rector of the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

The below entry is very informative:-

Top Shariah scholars in GCC: Funds@Work


By Habhajan Singh
Local Islamic finance expert Dr Mohamed Daud Bakar and Pakistan retired Supreme Court justice Sheikh Muhammad Taqi Al Usmani feature as two prominent Shariah scholars from beyond the Middle East region who play key Shariah advisory roles in the region.

Malaysia's Dr Mohamed Daud sits on 22 boards in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) while Muhammad Taqi has eight board positions, according to a recent study of Shariah scholars as at end-2008 in Bahrain, Dubai, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

The top 10 scholars, with 15 or more Shariah board positions, share 253 positions leading to slightly above 25 positions per scholar, concluded the study by research based strategy consultant Funds@Work AG. The analysis covered 131 companies from Bahrain, Dubai, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi with 498 Shariah board positions.

It noted that 121 scholars from 19 different countries (Bahrain, Dubai, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE/Abu Dhabi, Malaysia, Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Jordan, Tunisia, Lebanon, Turkey, South Africa, Indonesia, and the UK) were identified based on legal documents and other information highlighting their involvement in Shariah boards of various service and product providers as well as industry bodies.

The selection process left 94 scholars on 467 board positions and it leads to an estimated number of five board positions per scholar. Disregarding all scholars with less then three actual board positions, the study found that this leaves 400 positions for 38 scholars, leading to 10.5 expected board positions per scholar. Looking at the top 20 scholars (six or more board positions) leaves 339 board positions, equaling 17 expected board positions per scholar.

The Top 10 scholars (15 or more positions) share 253 positions leading to 25.3 positions per scholar, it concluded. On distribution, the study said the numbers indicate that about 54 (68%) of all Shariah board positions throughout the GCC are shared by only 11 (21%) of the active scholars, if board positions of the top 10 (Top 20) are summed up.

Shaikh Nizam Mohammed Saleh Yaquby from Bahrain, Shaikh Dr Abdul Satar Abdul Karim Abu Ghuddah (Saudi Arabia) and Dr Mohammed Eid Elgari (Saudi Arabia) alone make up 50% of the positions of the Top 10, or 26%, of the total amount of board memberships in the GCC, it noted.
The other names that crop up are Dr Abdulaziz Khalifa Al-qassar from Kuwait, Sheikh Abdulla Sulaiman Al Manea from Saudi Arabia and Sheikh Dr Hussein Hamid Hassan from Dubai.

The study, entitled "Shariah Scholars in the GCC — A Network Analytic Perspective" was meant to shed light on the Shariah landscape and give insights into Shariah scholars' engagements in institutions in the GCC and beyond, the outfit said. It analysed existing documents to get insights into Shariah boards and their members as well as their links to institutions across the region.

By mapping existing relationships, it hoped to get a "solid overview of their involvement", it added. The research team noted that as corporate governance related topics will most likely play a more dominant role in the Shariah market in the future, especially in the GCC, it would like to highlight the structural situation in the current market in order to give industry participants unique insights into the existing web of relationships.

"Although we only focus on snapshots of information we are convinced that the enclosed information can be of help in getting a solid idea of the Shariah landscape in the GCC and beyond and help in formulating futuregGovernance standards to assist the industry to thrive to the next level of development," the study concluded.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Hadiah Sastera Perdana Malaysia ke 18 - Jerebu Dalam Blog Mak Andeh

Pada hari ini diadakan penyampaian Hadiah Sastera Perdana Malaysia ke 18, di Hotel Legend Kuala Lumpur.

Pemenang yang karya mereka diterbitkan pada 2004, 2005, 2006 dan 2007 dalam bentuk buku, karya eceran dalam akhbar, majalah, jurnal dan antologi serta skrip drama yang dipentaskan akan menerima hadiah masing-masing daripada Timbalan Perdana Menteri, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

Menurut Ku Seman dalam Utusan hari ini, HSPM adalah satu-satunya anugerah berprestij bertaraf nasional bagi bidang kesusasteraan negara ini. HSPM menjadi pengukur turun dan naik mutu pengkaryaan dalam kesusasteraan, khususnya sastera Melayu.

Dari segi pandangan umum, HSPM tidak sehebat Juara Lagu, Akademi Fantasia, Anugerah Skrin dsbnya yang meletakkan para artis seumpama bintang-bintang berkelipan dengan menawarkan hadiah-hadiah hebat.

Bukan sahaja tiada siaran langsung, malah berita dalam akhbar pun sekadar berita kaki.

Begitupun, buat karyawan, pengiktirafan seperti HSPM, walau sekadar dua tahun sekali, sudah cukup memberi sesuatu yang bermakna. Sastera adalah sebahagian dari tamadun yang perlu diteruskan. Para pejuang sastera merupakan kesinambungan warisan untuk generasi akan datang menilai kehidupan masa kini.

Tahniah dari saya buat semua pemenang malam ini, nama-nama hebat dunia sastera yang menjadikan saya amat kerdil. Alhamdulillah, saya mewakilkan anak sulung, Saifullah dan ibu untuk menerima sijil dari TPM.

Karya saya yang terpilih ialah cerpen , 'Jerebu dalam Blog Mak Andeh' yang tersiar dalam Berita Minggu 14 Mei 2006.

Dibawah adalah sebahagian dari cerpen tersebut. Cerpen ini juga terdapat dalam antologi, 'Dotkomania'.

Jerebu dalam Blog Mak Andeh


(Ahad)

Dalam banyak percakapan atau perbualan atau dialog biasa dengan mereka yang biasa, kekadang ada perkara yang mungkin terkeluar dari norma. Sememangnya kebiasaanya, manusia terlalu banyak mengambil tidak endah dengan banyak perkara. Kesibukan, prioriti berlainan dan kekalutan mengejar impian menjadikan banyak perkara sekadar catatan nota kaki.
Seperti dalam keadaan berjerebu yang begitu teruk, saya terperangkap di hujung minggu. Tidak dapat bermain golf seperti biasa. Isteri, Rohaya dan kakak ipar yang bergelar ibu tunggal, mengambil kesempatan untuk pergi ke majlis reunion kelas sekolah berasrama penuh mereka.
Begitu gembira keduanya untuk bertemu kawan-kawan sekelas tahun 75-80 setelah 25 tahun meninggalkan sekolah. Old girls network yang semuanya sudah menjadi makcik-makcik, kalau tidak bertaraf datin-datin.
Meninggalkan anak-anak dibawah jagaan saya. Lima anak perempuan dan empat anak lelaki di sebuah rumah teres empat bilik. Paling tua dalam tingkatan lima dan paling muda dalam darjah satu. Biarkan saja mereka dengan aktiviti masing-masing.
Ada menonton TV, ada bermain dengan Gameboy, playstation, membaca novel terbaru Harry Potter, membaca novel cinta Melayu, mendengar muzik, bermain catur, ada yang asyik menghantar sms dan ada yang sibuk melayar Internet.
"Pak Ngah tak ada blog?" Pertanyaan itu memecah kebekuan bila saya menjenguk ke arah skrin PC. Suara Daniel yang berusia 12 tahun itu sudah pecah. Sudah akil baligh rupanya budak tembam dan sihat itu.
Saya hanya tersenyum sambil menggeleng. Ramai kawan-kawan yang sebaya, empat puluhan begini turut menyusur arus blog. Selalu juga sekiranya kebosanan di pejabat, saya melayari blog mereka yang mempunyai pelbagai variasi. Dari humor, politik, merapu ke taraf jurnal profesional.
"Tak happening lah Pak Ngah...mak kita pun ada blog...!"
Kata-kata itu menyambar imaginasi. Kak Fidah ada blog sendiri? Sejak bila dia menjadi Internet-savvy?
Saya memandang ke arah skrin. Terpampang dalam warna-warna ceria.
"Blog Mak Andeh"

(Isnin)
Banyak perkara yang bermain di fikiran sepanjang mesyuarat mingguan korporat. Bukan sekadar urusan kerja yang semakin bertimbun. Tetapi juga beberapa perkara peribadi yang menyentuh emosi. Sedikit keliru. Macam hari yang terus berjerebu dan dalam paras indeks yang masih meningkat.
Terutama sebaik membaca blog Mak Andeh sebelum mesyuarat. Sejak lama saya memang kurang menyenangi Kak Fidah. Sejak dulu, dia tidak ubah seorang queen control. Mentang-mentang bertaraf profesor madya dengan ijazah berjela, dia menganggap bekas suaminya, abang Fuad lebih rendah statusnya.
Karektor dan cara dia melayan abang Fuad memang menyerlahkan sikap Kak Fidah, walau di depan adik-beradik dan keluarga yang lain. Begitupun sempat juga mempunyai lima anak dalam perang dingin yang berlarutan.
Abang Fuad memang hanya pegawai biasa bahagian pentadbiran di sebuah GLC. Abang Fuad baik orangnya, cuma dia tidak punya rezeki untuk mempunyai kedudukan lebih baik walau seorang yang kuat bekerja. Mungkin kerana dia bukan kaki bodek dan kaki ampu. Lurus dan sentiasa mengutamakan etika dalam menjalankan tugas.
Persepsi mengenai Kak Fidah selama ini bukan satu keanehan. Tetapi membaca catatan blog Mak Andeh memberikan perspektif baru mengenai kak Fidah, bukan sahaja sebagai ibu tunggal, tetapi kakak ipar. Dia meluahkan segalanya dan cukup menarik untuk mengikuti blog Mak Andeh.
Mungkin perceraiannya dengan abang Fuad mengubah sikap dan minda Kak Fidah. Atau selama ini kami mempunyai persepsi yang salah mengenai Kak Fidah.
Sempat saya membaca catatan Kak Fidah mengenai suasana sukar yang dilalui sebaik memilih untuk mencari haluan sendiri. Dengan status profesor madya dan jawatan dalam beberapa pertubuhan sukarela, tentunya perceraian akan memberikan impak yang negatif. Walau dia bukan seorang artis atau ahli politik, mulut orang tidak boleh ditutup dari memperkatakan segala yang berdasarkan kabar angin, spekulasi dan gosip liar.
Apalagi kesan pada anak-anaknya yang lima orang. Bukan mudah setelah berkongsi kehidupan, perasaan, impian, zuriat dan turun naik diatas nama perkahwinan.
Tanpa tidak disedari saya mula menilai semula persepsi selama ini dan cuba memamahi apa yang sebenarnya berlaku. Kini melihat Kak Fidah sebagai ibu tunggal yang terpaksa mengharung tohmahan. Saya cuba juga melupakan persepsi streotaip sebelum ini. Realitinya, seperti mana ribuan ibu tunggal lain, kak Fidah tidak terasing dalam masyarakat. Suka atau tidak, sudah menjadi sebahagian dari pembangunan semasa.

(Rabu)
Jerebu sudah banyak berkurang. Saya berjumpa abang Fuad di kelab golf. Kami memang rapat sejak menjadi bisan. Tetapi entah mengapa saya terasa kejanggalan kali ini. Mungkin terlalu banyak membaca Blog Mak Andeh dan sudah terpengaruh dengan catatan seorang ibu tunggal.
Abang Fuad kini tinggal seorang diri dengan menyewa bilik dengan budak-budak bujang. Katanya mahu berjimat untuk simpanan hari tua dan pendidikan anak-anak. Pakai Kancil sahaja.
Seperti biasa, perbualan biasa mengenai anak-anak dan kerja. Sehingga saya tersebut mengenai blog Mak Andeh.
"Jadi kau ada ikut juga blog Mak Andeh?" tanya abang Fuad sambil ketawa. Saya pula terkejut dengan pertanyaan itu. Sekadar mengangguk.
Masing-masing diam dan perbualan mati di situ. Mungkin dia tidak mahu menyelam lebih dalam pada sesuatu yang sensitif dan cuba dielakkan. Saya sebenarnya mahu saja meneruskan topik Mak Andeh. Ada beberapa perkara yang mahu saya bertanya lebih lanjut. Terutama mengenai sebab sebenar yang menyebabkan perceraian secara mendadak.
Talak tiga sekaligus.
"Abang Fuad ikut juga ke blog Mak Andeh?" Saya kembali kepada topik setelah abang Fuad habis bercerita mengenai persktruktran semula GLC. Dia terkejut.
"Ada juga...untuk tahu perkembangan anak-anak!"
"Blog Mak Andeh dah masuk senarai teratas blog paling banyak hits. Tak sangka kak Fidah ada bakat menulis dan kini punya ramai peminat dan pengikut setia!"
Abang Fuad menghembus rokok. Saya mengambil sebatang lagi rokok. Kami memang banyak merokok walaupun tahu pelbagai kesan merokok. Sudah cuba untuk berhenti tetapi masih belum berhasil. Mungkin bulan ramadhan nanti, seperti mana resolusi setiap ramadhan untuk terus berhenti merokok sekadar resolusi tahunan.
"Dia bebas untuk mencatat apa saja terutama kehidupan sebagai ibu tunggal. Apa yang berlalu, biarkan berlalu, dia tidak juga menyentuh sejarah lama!"
"Tetapi membaca blog Mak Andeh banyak menyedarkan saya perkara tentang persepsi dan emosi. Saya juga banyak mengambil mudah banyak perkara dalam perkahwinan. Mengambil mudah mengenai peranan isteri...!"

"Khamis malam Jumaat"
Teringat aruah mak pernah berkata pada satu hari yang seorang lelaki mesti mengawal keluarganya dan bertindak sebagai pemimpin. Pada zaman itu, 70han-80han, ianya bermakna mengikut arahan mak bapak selagi berada dinaungan mereka..
Anak-anak saya terbalik pula, mula menunjukkan petanda yang ibubapa hidup untuk menrealisasikan apa saja impian mereka, dari barang mainan hingga universiti. Bagaimana dengan apa yang kita mahukan sebagai ibubapa? Ok. 1990 memang dekad kami sebagai ibu bapa, tetapi zaman telah berlalu.
Siapakah sebenarnya yang menjadi bos dalam keluarga waktu ini, di zaman awal 2000?

(Ikuti selanjutnya dalam kumpulan cerpen saya... 'Dotkomania')