Saturday, 27 February 2010

It's not just about competing...

This weekend, Sheffield will yet again be attracting students from all over the UK and Ireland for two of its largest annual event; the Sheffield Malaysian Games and Nasheed Extravaganza 2010 (NEXT 2010).

For the past 5 years, I've always looked forward to this weekend. Not just because I get to meet up with friends from all over the country, but also because of the fond memories I treasured from one of the event, the nasheed competition, better known as NEXT.

Looking at all the hype that NEXT has attracted this year, I can't help but remind myself how much this event has grown in stature over the years. What started as a very low profile event back in 2005, has now become one of the largest Malaysian event in the UK, attracting renown nasheed artists as guest performers namely Azhari Nowseeheart, Hamza Robertson, Akbar and this year, InTeam.

I still remembered the clear objective of this event; to spread the message of Islam via entertainment, as well as raising funds for charity purposes. For those who know me well, I always find joy in singing and entertaining, although admittedly my voice isn't really the sweetest in the world and could even possibly be a nuisance to the ears of some people. However, I jumped at the opportunity to play my part in NEXT, as I know it is my opportunity to be part of the da'wah work that has been initiated.

My nasheed team back in 2005, when NEXT first started. We came home second, not bad for a debut =)

I didn't take part in NEXT 2006 as I was part of the organizing committee. But I made my 'return' in NEXT 2007, and alhamdulillah, my group was the first runner up.

NEXT 2008 was one of my favourite event, not only because we won the first place, but also because we took everyone by surprise with one very special appearance.

My last appearance, in NEXT 2009. This will forever be one of my most memorable experience, as I remembered vividly that I only just had my chemotherapy a week before the event. I felt tired and slightly weak, but that will never prevent me from playing a part. And alhamdulillah, we were announced as the winner yet again, for the second year running.

Music can be a very powerful tool of da'wah, especially nowadays where entertainment is very much deep-rooted in the lives of people. As you might notice from most of my performances in NEXT, we hardly mesmerized people with our voices, but our intention has always been clear; we want to entertain people whilst at the same time spreading as much message about the Deen as possible in our performances.

And I have always told myself, had I been in Sheffield for this year's NEXT 2010, I will definitely compete again if that allows me the opportunity to spread the message of my Deen.

I remembered that one particular night when I returned home having just finished practising for NEXT 2009. I was so drained out from the after effects of my most recent chemotherapy, and a small part of me started asking; is it worth wasting my energy to compete again in the nasheed event? That was when I reminded myself,

If I am to compete for fame, then yes, it is a waste of my energy.

If I am to compete for the sake of winning, then yes, it is a waste of my energy.

If I am to compete because I just love singing in front of a large audience, then yes, it is a waste of my energy.

But those are not my intention of competing. My wish is to do my part in da'wah. Nothing else but only that. So it is worth spending every bit of my energy for this cause.

كُنتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ

"You are the best of peoples ever raised up for mankind; you enjoin Al-Ma`ruf (all that Islam has ordained) and forbid Al-Munkar (all that Islam has forbidden), and you believe in Allah..." [Ali-'Imran:110]

All the best for NEXT 2010. May Allah reward each and everyone of you for your effort.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Because death is 'blind'...

How many times have you come across these situations:

A dad leading the janazah prayer (funeral prayer) of his own dearest son; or

An elderly Imam washing the body of a young man who has passed away; or

A disease-stricken patient with merely months to live as predicted by his doctor, but ending up paying his last respect by the side of the grave of that doctor who gave him the news about his disease.

Each of these situations teaches me one simple, yet important message. Death does not recognize age, and it doesn't have to warn you before it strikes you.

That the call of death doesn't necessarily have to abide by the age-factor. Being young doesn't make you more likely to die later than someone twice your age.

That the call of death doesn't necessarily have to abide by the 'but he doesn't suffer from any disease' justification. A person recently diagnosed with a terminal cancer might end up living longer than a perfectly fit, healthy young man.

That if Allah says "Be it,", then death will come without any of us being able to delay it by even a split second.


About 3 weeks ago, when I made the decision to return to Malaysia as a result of the latest circumstance in my condition, close friends and colleagues came from all over the UK to bid their farewell. To say their goodbye, for none of us are sure when will we meet again.

And one of my good friend really did say his last goodbye.

Infaz Fassi, a colleague of mine back in our time in the medical school in Sheffield University between 2004-2009, has recently passed away having been involved in a car accident in his hometown in Sri Lanka a few days ago.

The news certainly came as a surprise to me, especially having just met him the day before I left for Malaysia recently. The late Infaz came to my house during my last night in Sheffield with a few other friends, and we had a good chat, reminding ourselves about our memories of being medical students. He was, during then, a junior doctor working in Sheffield hospital.

I will certainly pray that Allah brings peace to his soul, and reward him with Jannah. His death, serves as a true reminder firstly to myself, and to all of us. Death really is 'blind' in its action. His death, reminded me of the saying of a friend of mine,

"Mas, walaupun awak mungkin sakit, tapi ajal tu kita tak tahu. Siapa tahu akak ni walaupun sihat, tapi mungkin ajal akak datang dulu sebelum awak..." [Mas, you might be ill, but we can never tell when will death comes to us. Who knows, I might be fit and well compared to you, but my time might come before yours...]

It's true what they say; visiting the ill or paying a visit to a burial ceremony is not just about fulfilling the rights of others on you. Rather it has a more crucial message embedded in it. It reminds us about death. It reminds us about what have we prepared in this world to give us a chance of Jannah in the Hereafter? It reminds us that death can come to any of us without a warning. Maybe now, maybe tomorrow, or the next week. Who knows.

So never delay to fulfill our obligatory prayers when we're able to.

Or spending our wealth for the work of His Deen.

Or repenting for the sins we've committed.

Because we should fear about our state in the hereafter should Allah takes away our soul without us accomplishing what we should have done as His servant. Because when the time comes, not even the most dramatic of pleading or begging can buy us time to perform that very last prayer, or that very last repentance.

9. O you who believe! Let not your properties or your children divert you from the remembrance of Allah. And whosoever does that, then they are the losers.

10. And spend of that with which We have provided you before death comes to one of you, and he says: "My Lord! If only You would give me respite for a little while, then I should give Sadaqah from my wealth, and be among the righteous.

11. And Allah grants respite to none when his appointed time comes. And Allah is All-Aware of what you do.

[Al Munafiqun:9-11]

And Allah grants respite to none when his appointed time comes...

A clear warning from Allah. No respite, no delaying when the time has come. May Allah make us from those who listens and give heed to his sayings in the holy Qur'an. Amiin.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

It's a family's battle

Just with any other chronic disease, I have my good and bad days. During my good days, I'll feel energetic, the itchiness will not be as bad and I look perfectly normal in the eyes of others.

However, when things aren't too good, it doesn't matter how much rest I have, I'll still feel lethargic, my neck aches, and my itchiness flares up.

The frustrating thing is that I can't dictate my good and bad days. There is certainly no clear pattern to it. I can't safely say that if I eat the wrong food, my itchiness will flare up more, or that I will have a good day if I sleep well the night before.

My family are certainly trying to adapt to my circumstances. Plans laid out for the day may have to be cancelled or postponed if I don't feel up to it. We'd understandably not go out as often as in the past and spend more time at home. This is when having an understanding family is pivotal, where each of them acknowledges the unpredictable nature of the disease and thus compromises on a lot of things.

One of our family trip during my good day

The lovely thing about having a supportive family is that you know each and everyone of them wants to play a part in helping.

Mom is certainly making big adjustments to her daily cookings, paying extra attention to how much salt and sugar she uses, opting for olive oils most of the time, and cutting off on foods that are 'cancer-feeding'. Diet certainly has its own part in preventing or causing a cancer, so it certainly does not do harm to be more particular with what we eat especially nowadays, where additives and preservatives are found in so many of the foods and drinks we consume.

Dad and my siblings are certainly training themselves into becoming excellent masseur and masseuse with me being their regular customer. Body massages help to slightly relieve my itchiness and neck pain, as well as relaxing any tense muscles. I am not sure whether they enjoy having to do it on a daily basis, sometimes more than once within a day, but they certainly never complained.

My medical case has been reviewed by the clinicians in HUKM and they have stated their opinion on my condition. And they believe that there is still one treatment possible which could cure the condition, but one that poses a lot of significant risks along with it, and one that even they admit only carries a very, very low percentage of success.

We therefore feel that our main focus at the present moment is certainly on alternative treatments, with hospital treatment possibly being an adjuvant therapy to help relieve my symptoms.

The battle will keep on going, insya Allah. Pray for us.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Looking Beyond the Mirror

In life, it is almost impossible to remain positive if you don't believe in the presence of hikmah (wisdom) in every occurrence. That everything that happens in life must have its own lesson, even though we sometimes fail to figure them out.

Even Allah's decision to create the world and human beings prompted question marks from His Angels. A world we see today, where bloodshed takes place on a daily basis, innocent people killed mercilessly, the poor becomes poorer whilst the rich scoops all the treasure available, to list a few. A world where evil seems to prevail over justice.

Not that the Angels are questioning their Creator's actions, rather are they interested to learn the hikmah (wisdom) behind His plannings. In the end, Allah reminded His Angels that sometimes there are things that even they can't comprehend, but only Him, the Ruler of the universe.

Allah says,

"...Did I not tell you that I know those truths about the Earth and the Heavens which are hidden from you? I know what you disclose and what you hide." [al-Baqarah:33]

Although our ability is limited in realizing the wisdom in everything that happens in our life, I believe it does not do harm to try and figure them out if they can keep us positive and optimistic in life. How many people out there, afflicted with so many trials and tribulations in their life, who are happier than other people with a generally more straight forward path in their life. Only because they know that there must be a reason why Allah has put them in such tests.

They know that in life, you can't just stop at the image that you see in the mirror in front of you. You have to look through it, beyond it, then only will you be content with whatever comes your way.

The mirror of life

My left hand is getting weaker and the muscles are starting to waste. The pain in my back isn't getting any better and it keeps me awake at night. Only Allah knows how uncomfortable I become when the itchiness flares up. But at least, I have possibly learnt a few good lessons from my test.

1. I need to get up more often for my Tahajjud and Quranic recitations. Never is my belief in the therapy of Tahajjud on curing a disease been any stronger than it is now.

2. I feel more humble and relying of Allah's assistance in my du'a. When I pray to Allah that He brings cure to me, I can feel my du'a coming deep from my heart, and not merely utterances of my lips. I am believing more strongly to His promises stated in the Holy Quran,

"And if My servants ask you, O Prophet. concerning Me, tell them that I am quite near to them. I hear and answer the prayer of the suppliant, when he calls to Me. So let them respond to My call and believe in Me. Convey this to them, O Prophet; perhaps they may be guided aright." [al-Baqarah:186]

3. My return to Malaysia means that I am finally spending deserved time with my family. Of the 5 siblings in the family, I am certainly the one with the least time with my family. Ever since I finished high school, I've been mostly away from my family due to my A-Level studies in KYUEM in Lembah Beringin, followed by my journey to the UK for my medical degree. Now, I get to see the face of my mom and her cookings every day. How am I sorely missing these moments.

So in the end, Allah is indeed the best in His plannings. You lose some, but you also gain some. And to everyone out there who sometimes feel that life is harsh on them, think again. Tell yourself,

"Thank you Allah, that you are putting me in such test, so that I can become a better servant of Yours."

Bersangka baiklah dengan Allah.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Never Give In

It has been almost a week now since I returned to Malaysia. Adjusting into the hot weather of Malaysia seemed to have been slightly more difficult than what I've anticipated. I took almost 5 days just to get rid of the exhaustion and jet lag from my flight journey, and some of the things that I've planned for the first week had to be readjusted as I needed more time to rest.

Symptoms wise, I am quite troubled by the itchiness caused by the disease. It seemed to have got worse since I first experienced it about 2 weeks ago back in the UK. I couldn't help myself but scratch a lot, consequently creating multiple scratch marks all over my body, in particular my legs and hands. The anti-itchiness tablets provided by my doctor back in the UK only partially does its trick in easing the itchiness, and I am also quite reluctant to take it during the day as it makes me feel very sleepy due to its side-effects. Every now and again, my mom also took the initiative to apply some virgin coconut oil to my skin just to keep it moist and it does help a bit.

The numbness and weakness of my left hand has gradually worsen, but alhamdulillah I am still able to drive the car without too much hassle or do all my usual house chores. It is caused by the presence of cancer cells within the back of my neck, which also gives a nagging ache, one that I noticed often flares up during the day.

It is quite unpleasant having to live my days carrying such symptoms, but I am thankful to Allah that at least I am not bed-bound by it, still very much able to live as normal a life as anyone else, except that I have to learn to not push myself too much. Yes, it's true that I wish I can live pain free, but will I then not portray myself as an ungrateful servant of Him? I keep on reminding myself, just before I start to whine about my difficulties, that I am still blessed with sight and good hearing, among others. Whereas some people have to live most their life without eyes to see, ears to hear or legs to walk. So when I start to get upset that some of my symptoms are giving me troubles in my life, I am grateful for the other good things that I have.

Treatment wise, I am currently trying various alternative treatments suggested by a lot of people, be it my close friends as well as those who have dropped their comments on my blog. I take every suggestions on board, obviously they are quite a lot, but I will certainly try as much as possible within my capacity. I feel blessed that a lot of people care to take the hassle to offer their help and provide assistance to me, some of them having not seen me at all previously. This must be one of the rahmah (mercy) that has been endowed by our Creator, a sign of His Greatness. May Allah reward all of you for what you have done, and please do remember me in your prayers.

I shall be visiting Darus Syifa' in Bangi tomorrow morning with the hope that I can get to see Dato' Haron Din, insya Allah. I've been told by friends about the sheer number of people that will want to see him within that Tuesday morning, thus the need to turn up very early in the morning (as early as 3am) to get myself a ticket for an appointment to see him. Thank you to a dearest friend of mine, one I knew back in Sheffield, who had kindly offered me to stay in a hotel in Bangi tonight at no cost at all, so that I can turn up early at Darus Syifa tomorrow. My family and I truly appreciate your kindness, and we shall certainly remember you in our dua's.

Please do keep your support and prayers coming, you'll be surprised how much I take your support as a source of strength. The strength that I'll certainly need to keep me battling in this seemingly testing path of mine.

Bandar Baru Bangi,
08 February 2010.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

To the people I love

Alhamdulillah, by the will of Allah, I’ve safely arrived in Malaysia on the 1st of February 2010 at 630pm. As I exited the arrival hall, I was warmly received by my family, one I’ve been longing to see after such a while. It’s a feeling of joy and sheer relief to finally be reacquainted with my mom and my family members after what has transpired recently. But deep in my heart, I could not hid the fact that I’m already sorely missing ‘something’ across the continent. Reminding myself of the people who have taught me the true meaning of friendship, the people whom support and prayers had touched me a lot, the people who had brought tears to my eyes.

The people I called my ‘big family’.

Saying goodbye to my big family I

Saying goodbye to my big family II

Ever since I made the decision to return to Malaysia for good, my remaining days in UK were spent entertaining the visits made by the people whom I had been privileged to come to know in my life. A late decision it was, as I only told the people around me less than a week before my date of departure. But that certainly did not prevent these lovely people from sacrificing their time and money just to show their unwavering support. The concern they had shown, has taught me an important lesson; nothing in this world is more priceless than showing your love to the people you care in whatever means possible.

As I sat alone in the plane heading back to Kuala Lumpur, I could not help but cry. People who knew me well would certainly testify that I am not the most sensitive of a person and that I don’t openly show my emotions to others. I could even recall the few moments in my life in the UK when I cried; one of those included the time when I had to break my diagnosis back in December 2008 to my mom over the phone. To hear my mom crying was harder to me than hearing the diagnosis from the doctor itself. I have always managed to remain strong throughout my battle with the disease, but nothing shatters my heart more than to see or hear my mom cried over my news.

I remembered when my doctor told me that they could no longer suggest a curable option to my disease, I wasn’t too worried with how bleak my future is possibly looking now. Rather, I was more concerned about thinking on how should I break this latest news to my parents. The first day I heard the news from my doctor, I spent hours sitting by myself motionless, thinking how my family would react. And today, I can only thank Allah that they are taking it strongly, as optimistic as how i’m taking it myself.

I always tell myself, don’t waste my tears whining for the bad things that afflict me in life. Don’t cry for the trials and tribulations that my Creator has put me in, for I am merely a human being that often fails to comprehend the wisdom behind each of His plannings. I remind myself that no matter how difficult my life might be, there will always be other people out there in this world with worse circumstances, yet they remain patient over their predicament. So don’t cry, Afzal.

But I could not tell myself to stop crying when I witnessed the sacrifices that the people around me were willing to make just for my sake. To travel from far just for a brief encounter with yours truly, to donate their money when they themselves struggle financially, to treat me so dearly as if I am one of their blood-related family member when I am not. O Allah, forgive me for my tears but it touches my heart so profoundly when I see the true kindness of your creation.

One of the most emotional moment in my life, seeing so many people in the masjid to show their support

I may be able to pay back my loan of gold, but I will forever remain indebted to the kindness that all of you have shown to me. Jazakumullahu khayran katheera.

As of today, I am safely in my home in Sri Petaling, taking some time off recuperating from what was a hectic and tiring one week. I am generally well in myself, apart from feeling slightly tired and itching quite a lot (the itchiness is due to the cancer, it is one of the common symptoms in Hodgkin’s lymphoma). My left hand also feels numb and weaker compared to my right, as the nerves supplying to that area has been affected by the cancerous cells.

For everyone who has been dropping their comments in my blog, rest assured that I read each and every one of them. So does my mom. We take strength from all your kind words, advise and well wishes. I truly appreciate every support and prayers that have been shown to me, even though there are so many people out there whom I do not know personally. Having read all your comments and prayers, I will always tell myself that I can not afford to raise the white flag just yet, the battle is not over. I must not disappoint the people who have prayed for me all these while.

I know I will fall again and again, but I will always try to get up, no matter how hard it will be.

“...Don't despair of Allah's mercy, for it is the unbelievers alone who despair of His mercy.”

Afzal, never ever lose hope with Allah’s Mercy!

p/s: A very touching video indeed. Terima kasih adik Ruzai.