Vaccination #1

Alhamdulillah, I received my first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19 last week at the Kassam Stadium here in Oxford.

The whole process was very smooth. I joined the (short) queue 5 minutes before my 12.45pm slot. At the registration counter, I was asked to confirm my full name and date of birth and to show them my booking reference. The jab itself was painless. All in all, I think it took me less than half an hour to go through the whole process. Well done to the authorities for setting up such an efficient service.

According to one of the stewards there, they’re giving 2,500 jabs per day at the Kassam Stadium (1,000 first-timers and 1,500 returnees). I suppose that number varies day by day, but still, very impressive!

Side-effect wise, all I had was a bit of soreness in the arm which didn’t really inconvenience me.

I thought I’d write a bit more about vaccinations in general, but I’ll have to leave that for a later article because my son a.k.a M3 has already asked me a million times already to play with him. He’s opened an ‘Everything Shop’ and I’m supposed to be his first customer!

In the meantime, take care, stay safe, and get vaccinated y’all!

Blend 49

Trying out the beautifully-packaged Harrods Heritage Blend 49 coffee.

In celebration of our 150th anniversary, the Heritage Blend 49 Coffee has been specially blended by experts, using only the finest quality Arabica beans. As purveyors of fine coffee since our beginnings in 1849, this omni-grand fresh roasted coffee uses medium roasted beans from Brazil, Indonesia, Ethiopia and Colombia for a rich and aromatic finish. Perfectly complemented with an elegant green and gold tin featuring our Terracotta palace, the Blend 49 will make an ideal gift or souvenir for any coffee enthusiast.

My verdict? It tastes just like any other brand of coffee.

Oh well, at least I can re-use the nice tin!

Stepping Back From The Brink

We need to take a step back from the brink, my friend.

I worry that we are in a situation where everyone’s just feeding their own egos while the world continues to burn around us.

Medical professionals are busy making sarcastic remarks about how dumb people are to refuse vaccines. Vaccine skeptics are fuming at how dumb people are to believe in the ‘plan-demic’. Meanwhile, everyone is angry at some random politician or celebrity for not following the latest version of our SOP.

How did it come to this?

To a certain extent, social media is responsible for the rapid escalation of conflict in society. Social media is optimised for engagement, not truth. What this means is if the algorithm thinks you are even remotely interested in vaccine conspiracy theories, it tries to give you similar (but often more extreme) content in the hope that you will keep watching/tweeting/scrolling.

But we cannot simply lay all the blame on social media. We need to look at ourselves and think: how much are we responsible for this crisis? Sure, it can feel extremely rewarding to bash each other on social media, but at the end of the day, no one wins (see my previous post Adab Perbahasan). It almost reminds me of monkeys flinging poo at each other. Lots of action, terrible noise, everyone’s having a good time…but boy, what a stink!

I look with horror and sadness at what has become of my beloved home country Malaysia. If anything, this pandemic has really underlined the stark divisions between those who ‘have’ and those who ‘have not’.

If you’re lucky enough to be able to work from home, and your job is secure, your kids are well-fed and happy, then be thankful for the blessing. Bersyukurlah

But don’t forget that there are many other people who rely on their meagre daily earnings in order to scrape a living. They are often invisible to the authorities because they don’t have much power or influence. They don’t have many followers on Instagram, they don’t appear on national TV. And yet, they have families too, kids who are forced to go to bed hungry because their parents could not go back to work. These people deserve just as much kindness and compassion as anyone else.

If you’re looking for an avenue to help, one place where I can personally guarantee it will be useful is to donate to the IMAM Response & Relief Team (IMARET). Full disclosure, IMARET is led by one of my closest friends Dr Ahmad Munawwar Helmi, but that is precisely why I am 100% confident in their ability to make use of your donations. I’ve seen them do it time and time again with little regard for their own comfort and wellbeing.

So let’s take a step back from the brink. Stop arguing with each other all the time. Open your eyes and look for opportunities to help the poor, the downtrodden, the less fortunate.

In short: be kind.

DPhil Diaries #2

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

English weather is…English weather.

Not only do rough winds shake the darling buds of May, they also make it bloody difficult to cycle uphill towards the John Radcliffe Hospital! These days, I find myself going to the hospital more often because I’m desperately trying to finish scanning my research participants before the end of June 2021.

Anyone who has done a PhD will know that at some point during your journey, you just have to put your head down and work all out to finish your data collection. I still have about 15 participants I need to scan; it is not impossible, but it will require a bit of luck in terms of how many people say yes when invited to join the research project.

Eid Mubarak!

Alhamdulillah, today marks the end of Ramadhan and the first day of Syawal. As a kid, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t look forward to the end of the fasting month. But as I approach the end of my fourth decade here on this earth, increasingly I feel a sense of sadness whenever Ramadhan ends. Will I live to see another Ramadhan? Allahu a’lam, only God knows what the future holds.

Eid celebrations here in the UK are muted, obviously, and I myself will be cycling to the hospital again today for another MRI. Thankfully, the situation has improved enough to allow two households to meet outdoors, so if the weather permits inshaAllah, I will be visiting a friend’s house later today for a ‘Hari Raya‘ open house in his garden.

The Real Tragedy of Palestine

Meanwhile…

My heart goes out to the people of Palestine who are facing yet another wave of oppression by the Israeli government. I find the reporting in most new outlets to be laughable, bordering on being ridiculous. To treat Israel and Palestine as two equal forces fighting against one another is absurd; the former has advanced weaponry and is backed by the world’s superpowers while the latter barely has enough to make ends meet.

I often ask myself: why do the Palestinians have to suffer so much? Why does the modern world, with all its dreams of democracy, capitalism, gay rights etc. tolerate this nightmare?

That brings me to the real tragedy here: the betrayal of Palestine by the rest of the Muslim world. We Muslims are quick to condemn Israel, but loathe to criticise our own governments for being so compliant in the process.

Why is it that Gaza has to suffer when it literally has a border with Egypt, a supposedly Muslim country? Why are Arab countries normalising diplomatic relationships with Israel despite its continued oppression of the Palestinians?

These are some of the difficult questions we must ask ourselves.

How can we expect to hold Israel accountable when many Muslim countries (Malaysia included) don’t even have accountable governments?

Sure, we can boast about having the world’s tallest building next to the world’s largest shopping mall, but what use is that when we can’t even open the Rafah crossing to help the Palestinians? There is a very good reason why in the Western world, when someone refers to another person as ‘behaving like an Arab prince’, there is nothing honourable whatsoever in that term.

To make it absolutely clear here, I am not calling for more violence against anyone. Israelis have just as much right to live peacefully as Palestinians. You can be Jewish, Muslim, Christian, atheist…it doesn’t even matter, everyone has a right to live peacefully.

But for the longest of times, we have asked much from the Palestinians while closing one eye to numerous Israeli transgressions. How much longer are we willing to let this happen?

Ramadhan Reflections

The month of Ramadhan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. For many people, it is synonymous with fasting from dawn to dusk. Without a doubt, that is a major part of this blessed month. But for me personallyand this is especially so in the last few yearsRamadhan has also been a time for prayer, for contemplation, and most importantly, for peace.

Last year, my family and I spent Ramadhan in a lockdown in Malaysia. I wrote a couple of blog posts about it, one describing my nightly ‘tadarus‘ sessions with my MCKK batchmates, and another describing some key takeaway points I wished to take from the blessed month.

This year, once again my family and I are spending Ramadhan together in an unfamiliar setting. Partly this is because of the pandemic and its associated restrictions, although in the United Kingdom at least, the situation seems to be improving alhamdulillah. But the setting is also unfamiliar because of the lengthening days as we move further into spring. At present, we start fasting at around 4am and break our fast around 8.30pm. This is longer than a typical day of fasting in Malaysia, where people normally would fast from around 5.30am to 7.30pm.

Nevertheless I am very grateful for the experience.

I’ve learnt not to take my time in this world for granted. A few days ago I shared this quote with my kids:

Yesterday is history

Tomorrow is a mystery

But today is a gift

That is why it is called the present

I didn’t recall it at the time, but apparently that quote was in Kung Fu Panda 2!

Anyway, you should’ve seen the looks on my kids’ faces when they heard it. A multi-step journey from initial bewilderment (what is Dad talking about now?), to the moment of understanding, before finally breaking into smiles at the ingenuity of the words.

Is the quote corny though? Sure. Naive? Maybe. But that’s what I love about kids. They’re not cynical about the world. They’re curious and excited to learn new things. I wish more people would learn to be like this again.

Stepping Away From Social Media

At the beginning of Ramadhan I decided to take a break from Facebook by deactivating my account temporarily. Sure, social media (not just Facebook) can be useful, but increasingly I just find it to be a cacophony of bruised egos. I don’t want to be overzealous about it or anything, but after the initial withdrawal period I must admit that it’s been really nice not to have to bother with social media at all. John Gruber over at Daring Fireball posted something about Twitter yesterday that hit the nail right on the head:

Twitter is a machine for directing self-righteous anger, and it fires all day, every day, whether the targets are deserving or not.

What is true for Twitter, is also very true for Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, <insert your favourite social media platform here>.

I know I’ll be back on Facebook soon because I don’t want to lose touch with my friends completely. But my brief experiment away from it has taught me to value it even less than I did before. If only there was a better way to see everyone’s family pictures this Hari Raya!

That’s all folks. I hope you too will learn something meaningful during this blessed month of Ramadhan. Until then, take care…