Afzal sending me off at the Sheffield bus station in May 2009. He was too tired to send me off to London.
One blogger was puzzled as to how Afzal's writing mirrored someone who received his education in Islamic Religious(IR) Schools and how he was able to quote verses from the Qur'an and Hadith in his writings. I will try to enlighten everyone as to how he turned out the way he did despite not going to IR schools. The last school he attended was La Salle Secondary School, Kota Kinabalu.
Afzal grew up in a very close-knit family. I am close with my parents and 4 siblings and I made sure my children are close to their grand-parents, uncles and aunts and cousins (on both sides – mine and my husband's). We visit each other often, not just during Eid celebrations. We get together for birthdays, to celebrate someone getting straight As in their exams, a new baby in the family, someone getting a new car and for any small excuse we can cook up. We even get together just because it's been two weeks since we last saw each other!
I am also very lucky because my father (a retired teacher), reads the Qur'an well. When he was young, living in Ulu Gali, Raub, Pahang, in a remote village, he liked to boast as the one who read the Qur'an the best and loudest. He used this ability to teach all his grandchildren (well, at least when we visit him or he visits us, that is). Even when we were already living in Kota Kinabalu, I would “import” my parents, especially during school holidays, so that my children could benefit from his prowess in Qur'an reading. He was always willing to teach my children to read the Qur'an. And Afzal, turned out to be his best student because he was always eager to learn.
Actually my father is a very strict teacher, even to his children (that's why my sisters and I were taught to read the Qur'an by an ustazah – a beautiful ustazah, both physically and in her mannerisms), but somehow, he's gentle with his grandchildren.
My father would also always insist that we perform our obligatory solat together, especially for Maghrib, Isya' and Subuh. At the end of these prayers, he would recite the same dua's and zikirs ( I learned Ayat Qursi from listening to him reciting it!) Learning from my father was interesting for my children because, he is also a great Scout. He would come to KK armed with tents and fishing rods. He would pitch tents in our front yard and convinced my children to sleep in them at night, pretending they are having a Scout's Camp out! (but many times my boys would escape in the middle of the night and jumped into their own comfy beds!). He would take them fishing in the Padas river (where years later, we found out, had crocodiles in it!). He would build tree houses behind our house, where the children hung out on hot Sunday afternoons and impressive little“bungalows” for their pet rabbits....at the end of these activities, he would coerce them into performing the obligatory solat and then read the Quran. Inevitably, during each prayer session, my three boys would be asked to recite the azan and Afzal never declined and did it many times. That was how Afzal was introduced to the teachings of Islam and the Quran.
But I think, he learned the most when he studied in Kolej Matrikulasi Yayasan Saad (KMYS, which then changed its name to KYUEM) in 2002. While in KMYS, he attended many talks, seminars, classes related to Islam and met many people who were preaching the words of Allah through the Qur'an and Hadith. Afzal also loved to visit book stores, especially Minerva in Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, which sold many books on Islam. He has quite an impressive collection that now graces my book shelves in Seri Petaling. Afzal also loved going to the mosque especially for Maghrib/Isya' and Subuh prayers. Whenever he came home during holidays, he would always be asked to lead prayers in our home. Even my father would ask him to be imam....simply because he has a beautiful voice and he is also able to recite long verses from the Qur'an during the prayer. I remember my father saying “Abah pun tak pernah baca ayat-ayat panjang ni, tapi Afzal boleh hafal” (“Even I am not able to read these long Quranic versus, but Afzal recites them by heart”).
Whilst studying at KYUEM, since my family was in KK, Afzal sometimes spent his holidays in KL and stayed in my brother's house in Putrajaya. He would frequent most if not all the mosques and suraus in Putrajaya. Since he did not have a car, he rode on my brother's bicycle to get to these mosques and suraus! Afzal learnt the most about Islam and the Qur'an while studying in Sheffield. That was the time when he was greatly invloved in giving back to other fellow students, whatever knowledge and experience he had acquired, through the various talks and sharing sessions he attended.
I remember during one of those talks we had together with regards to his high dose chemo and the time when he had to stay in hospital the longest, he said “masa kat hospital kali ni, saya paling banyak tengok bende2 tak berfaedah kat TV Ma, sebab tak ada bende lain nak buat” (“this time around, while in hospital, I saw the most unbeneficial shows on TV Ma, because there was not much else to do”). He was very concerned about using his time. He would make sure he spent his free time watching or reading or doing something useful (to him, bonding with family and friends is something useful!). When he came home in February 2010, I used to pester him to update his blog and he would answer back “penat Ma nak update blog ni sebab saya kena buat research, tak boleh tulis sembarangan, kena ada bahan yang akan bagi faedah pada pembaca..” (“updating blogs is tiring Ma because I need to do research to make sure what I write will benefit my readers..”). That is why his blogs are full of verses from the Qur'an and Hadith...he looked them up and thanks to the wonders of internet, he did not have to rely only on hard copies!
I suppose, who he turned out to be in the end, was more from his own doing. At the height of his growing up (ie. from the year 2002, at the age of 17, when he left home to study in KYUEM and then proceeded to UK), he charted his own path in life. Even without the close guidance of his parents, he was wise enough to choose the right path. For that I am eternally grateful to all his friends and teachers, who became his close companions and whom Allah had fated to be the ones to help “take care“ of him....Al-Fatihah....mama Afzal.
Afzal is good with children. He was contemplating specializing in paediatrics. Here he is holding cousin, Mohamad Adam Mikhail.