Treading the Path of the Heifer’s Gaze, this Ramadhan

“Will they not then earnestly seek to understand the Quran, or are there locks upon their hearts?”

Surah Muhammad, 47:24

“It is ironic indeed that the Quran that places so much emphasis on pondering and serious study of its contents in order to gain any real benefit, is also perhaps the only book that is read without any serious thought or attention to its message or substance. Ordinarily, when studying a book, most people would first prepare themselves mentally. In the case of the Quran they usually close their minds the moment they open it up to read”

Introduction, “Pondering over the Quran”, Amin Ahsan Islahi

So yet another Ramadhan approaches, and I echo the thanks of many Muslims that we are alive to greet another of the blessed month. The zeal with which many greet this time of the Islamic calendar year is often great, but undoubtedly for many this does not quite last. Once work and family pressures pile, it is all to easy to slip back into the normal routine, albeit with different meal times.

I am not here to offer a formula to avoid the aforementioned. One only needs to peruse one’s Facebook and subscribed Youtube channels to access countless pieces of advice by the Masyaikhs and friends (usually reposts of the Masyaikhs) alike, much of which are of great use if followed. I can almost hear the countless covers of the Quran being opened (um, just dust it off first, ok?) and pages turned, so many eager to finally finish a full reading by month end. My personal efforts throughout my life have been rather mixed, more often than not significantly short of initial targets. Being a realist, then why not set lower targets, I thought to myself. Why not indeed.

A few days ago, I had updated my Facebook status, which reads “Salam all, hope you all have a wonderful and reflective month of Ramadhan – Rediscover your purpose. Realign your compass. Refresh your target of the ultimate destination. May your journey be blessed and fruitful. Ramadhan Mubarak”. Reflect, rediscover, realign, refresh – not too shabby as goals. Now how could I achieve all that while making it achievable? The answer that came to me is to look in the direction of Bovines. Really.

The link between the month of Ramadhan and the Quran is unmistakable. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was visited by the angel Jibreel on the 17th night of Ramadhan, upon which he received the first ever Revelation in the form of the first five verses of Surah Al-Alaq (The Clot 96:1-5). However, the Quran we have today was not arranged in chronological order;  the Prophet (peace be upon him) arranged the verses as they were revealed through divine guidance. The closest I have come to comprehending the order was covered by my earlier post here.

In that post, it was the approach of the main text that was discussed, Amin Ahsan Islahi’s “Tadabbur-e-Quran” (Pondering over the Quran), that in order to understand the nazm of ‘coherence’ of the Quran, the author had attempted to address the longest Surah in the Quran first and foremost, as it represents the most complex structure of all surahs. This is of course Surah Al-Baqarah (The Heifer, thus my bovine referral), the second surah in the Quran which contains 286 ayat. As today is the third day of Ramadhan, those of you who target to complete the full recitation of the Quran would most probably have completed this surah already, and have moved on to others. My target this year is to read and appreciate the overall meaning of this surah, inshaaAllah.

For those who are interested, I will be giving a talk entitled “Treading the Path of the Heifer’s Gaze: The first Five Ayat of Surah Al-Baqarah” in two week’s time at 3-4pm on 3rd July at UNIEC Inspire, Level 9, UNITAR Kelana Jaya Campus.

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THE ACCIDENTAL EDUCATOR: The Making of an Educational Transformer

I had not planned to be an educator. Sure, Mak had been a teacher all her life, and Bapak’s first job, albeit for 2 weeks, was as a teacher too. One who educates, me? The architect way back in 1997 only had his job and his betrothed as his world, with nary even a fluttering thought of a didactic persuasion.

Handling 13 concurrently running on-the-ground projects was no walk in the park. The then-heady early to mid-nineties had caused a proliferation of projects, spawning offshoots faster than a rabbit on the blue pill. Doing a project meeting almost every other day, and starting design work only after 6.30pm when the phone calls died down finally took a toll on this normally rather resilient self. A request to the then-bro-in-law cum boss resulted in acquiesence to a simple proposal: 2 half days a week off with a prorated pay cut, so that I could teach. Mindset switch / constructive distraction needed, I argued – yet I will retain the same workload. Brain needed to function via external stimuli.

I had heard of an opening for lecturing at LimKokWing School of Architecture. After all, Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, the greats – they all taught, so why not me? Not that I considered myself anywhere near the icons of the built environment – it just sounded like a sexy thing to do, intellectually. Heck, I could finally dust off the reams of notes of Colin St. John Wilson, dive back into the vernacular leanings of Aalto and Scharing, even throw in some Heidegger to boot! Sounds like a fun frolic of intellectual … err, exercise.

Joining a group of 6 lecturers teaching Architectural Theory to a class of over 300 students was excrutiatingly daunting, till one observed that there was a cunning system at play. A subject was picked and expanded by a selected SME, and one-by-one the other lecturers gave their 5 cents, creating the rather substantialised chain of opinions on the subject for the group of sensory-enthused learners. Design studio proved more of a challenge, as personalised tutorials for project development was the order of the day, but up the to challenge was I. It was like… a calling.

The ’97 financial crisis put paid to my architectural ambitions as projects stuttered and stalled. Having educational neurons tingled, I dived headlong into becoming a full-time contract lecturer (with 32-hour teaching load as a norm), taking on teaching Infini-D 3D software and Web Design and HTML Programming to Electronic Design and Multimedia (EDM) pioneer batch at LimKokWing. There was even time to teach 3D to Product Design students, as well as Web Design in the Business School, where the latter resulted in my most current claim-to-fame: having taught and tutored Maya Karin on web design using the now-defunct Claris HomePage application, though only for about 3 weeks as a temporary lecturer – but hey, who’s complaining!

It was with a fellow lecturer, the effervescent David Chan, (and later to be joined by the cool-headed Chung Tack Soon) that I co-founded and nurtured a dot com through highs (RM5 mil investment from New Zealand) and lows (the dot com bubble burst the company after 4 years). Taking refuge as a Design lecturer for Alpha students at MultiMedia University (MMU) in Cyberjaya, I had also embarked on starting a PhD; that was, until Petronas’ fledgling management and IT consulting company beckoned me with none other than eLearning, a project which combined my Internet technology background (derived during my dot com days) with education. They paid three times too as much so I was off in a jiffy!

Four years in the electronic education space was followed by a short stint with a start-up venture capitalist, with my most tangible contribution being setting up Tun’s bakery (and production kitchen) in Langkawi with an ex-colleague. It was not the skills in procurement of pastry and bread-making equipment that landed my next position in the national strategic investment company, but rather (or so I would like to think) the rather quirky journey of educator and educational instituion establisher that led my to actualising the Malaysian Directors Academy, or MINDA within the GLC Transformation Programme. Instructional Design knowledge and the various setting up of business garnered during the e1000 and iPerintis days greatly assisted the journey of MINDA’s conception, together with my minuscule yet able team.

What followed, whilst still serving in Khazanah, was a barrage of other educational expeditions: while MINDA was targeted to Enhance Board Effectiveness (and thus teaching mainly rather aged gentlemen, with the occasional presence of the fairer gender board member, which is just about as downstream as you can get, save for the talqin-readers), setting up the Trust School Programme went further upstream pioneering true Public-Private Partnership in enhancing educational outcomes for adopted schools, whilst giving some rather bare assistance to the two founding young ‘uns who started “Teach for Malaysia”. A spattering of other education-related projects included a feasibility study for the Ministry of Finance on the setting-up of an ASEAN Business School (I had recommended maximising current resources, concurred by the ebullient Dr. Nung), exploring potentials of MMU and UNITEN, both being investments by Khazanah-related GLCs, as well as contributing to the setting up of a Business-Approach turned Institute (Fahmy, you were part of this exercise, unbeknownst to both of us at the time, albeit on opposite sides).

Fifteen years after my first educational foray, a Malaysian Governmental Private Equity firm beckoned. The objective was to look at a potential PPP in Teacher’s Training. After not quite taking flight, the focus shifted to managing current investments and acquiring additional higher education institutions, which paved my way to UNITAR. Slightly after the middle of next month, it would have been three years for me at the Leading Innovative Social Science University.

Looking back, the colourful meandering path that had been taken was almost a cumulative education preparatory journey in itself. The Rearchitecting Journey of UNITAR has been ongoing for the past 3 years, although by no means complete. Mayhap this little piece gives you a glimpse of the journey of this Accidental Educator.

(This post had appeared earlier on the author’s Facebook Notes, though rather substantially edited and added. A little piece of trivia – this post, minus this last bracketed comment, counts exactly 1000 words.)

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