Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Afzal...Charting His Own Path In Life

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.

Saturday, 12 March 2011



1990 was a significant year in my family’s history. 26th June 1990 marked the day my husband and I moved our family to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. My husband got a job in Kota Kinabalu that we felt would promise us better future. Though I was skeptical at first, fearing the worst since there were a lot of unknowns in the world of Borneo and the fact that it was only accessible via air travel, I decided to do the right thing and support my husband.

We uprooted our family - Andi, then 8 , Jaffri 7, Afzal 6 and Aiysha 11 months (Atiqah was born in KK, in 1994) and moved to Kota Kinabalu, which became our home until today. Looking back, I felt that was the best decision we made for the family. Sabah, generally and Kota Kinabalu specifically lacked the hustle, developments and varieties offered by our previous home, KL (in 1990 that is – come to KK now and it’s so alive!). But nevertheless, it provided something more important- peace and the ideal surroundings to bring up a young family like ours.

The original 4 that got uprooted to KK-Andi, Jaffri, Afzal & Aiysha.

We got to send all our children to school ourselves and pick them up later. We knew who their teachers, friends and friends’ families were. KK boasted of only 2 big shopping complexes then, and one of them only opened in July 1990. Thus, we knew where and with whom our children hung out. If we did not find out on our own, our friends or neighbours would inevitably relay the news to us.....These are familiar conversations we heard all the time “I saw Andi in Centre Point yesterday, with so and so”.... “what was Jaffri doing in Karamunsing last week at 8pm?”....”Afzal went bowling with my son last weekend”. And of course many times our children hang out with us (some children would be embarrassed to be found going around with their parents – not cool!).

Bringing up children is a challenge to be reckoned with. Doing it away from the hustle and bustle of the city is indeed very helpful.

I admit it was not easy trying to juggle between attending to my work and having to manage my children’s school time-table. It was especially challenging because my husband’s work involved a lot of out-station stints. But indeed Allah’s plans are beautiful and only He knows what is best. Those trying times of having to ferry my children to and from school or other places gave me the opportunity to lecture them on values and challenges in life. After listening to my lectures for the whole of their “school-going-days”, I’m sure some must have stuck in their head and remained till today. In a way, they grew up with my words guiding them.

There were times when my husband and I wondered if the decision to bring our children to Sabah was right, because by doing so we have deprived them of so many opportunities and choices that were easily available in KL. Every year we only got to bring back our family for Eid celebration (those days airfare per person was about RM800, so to bring everyone back would cost me - RM800 x 7 = RM5,600). But luckily, the Government pays for one trip every 2 years and since my husband was also a Government servant, we both enjoyed that privilege, so we all get to go back every year.

Each time we were in KL, my children would go wild with excitement over the simplest of development. They would marvel at ordinary things like sky-scrapers, double-decker buses, fast food outlets and chain stores. That made me felt so guilty and sad. To make up for the deprivation, each time I go to KL for work, I often brought home stuffs considered weird by some....McDonald burgers (before McD opened in KK) A & W waffles (things my children loves to eat), longan (longan in KK cost RM8 –RM12 a kg!), pajamas bought from Reject shop (they used to be dirt cheap but nice!) and the list goes on....

The close age-gap made them the best of friends.


Afzal loved food. From small, he had a sweet tooth too. He refused to bring plain water to school, so I had to make sure I’m well stocked with cordials. His favourite is orange juice (well, cordial juice). Papa would never fail to bring home Sunkist orange cordial every time he had work in KL (It’s only RM9.90 in KL, but cost RM14 in KK). He would put them in his brief case (5 bottles fits nicely in the brief case!) and hand carry it. When I ran out of cordials, I would make “air sirap”(home made, red-coloured cordial). I remember, when we came back from the U.S back in 1987, and Afzal was about 2 years old then, he did not like this red coloured cordial drink. He called it “yucky water”. He was so used to milk and orange juice in the U.S, so he could not accept a red coloured juice! I used to have a lot of problem when I brought him to weddings where they served nothing but “air sirap”. But surprisingly, he loved nasi minyak and curry or “rendang” eventhough they were spicy. Since he did not like “air sirap”, he would only drink water when we reached home.

Just as he loved food, he also loved reading. He reads all the time (well, when he was not playing football that is! That’s another great love of his). He liked to read while having his food even – a habit I tried to stop, but failed. Everytime he ate, he would grab whatever reading material available, be it books, newspapers, magazines, even flyers or cereal boxes!

Because I had 3 growing, school-going boys, I get very concerned if they did not get enough to eat at school. The solution – packed food everyday for school for everyone. When my children were in primary school, I pack them heavy food like nasi lemak, fried noodles and nuggets. But as they grew up and while in secondary school, they preferred lighter and less messy food, so I opted for sandwiches or other finger food like curry puffs and "pau". They all brought packed food to school from home everyday until they were in form five (I must say I’m so proud of them because they did not feel embarrassed eating packed food even in high school!).

I remember one day Afzal came back from school (he was in standard 4 or 5, I think), and complained that he only got to eat about 2 spoonfuls of his nasi lemak because his friends ate the rest. He then asked if i could pack him a few extra nasi lemak the next time I made them so he could give to his friends (actually I suggested he ate away from the crowd in the canteen so no one would bother him, but he said it was no use because his friends knew he always brought interesting food to school, so they stalked him!). I did just that and he came home bringing a list of orders from his friends, for more nasi lemak, instead!

Well, since I had to wake up early to prepare the nasi lemak anyway, so, why not prepare more.

Partners in crime, and always looking out for each other.


As a working mother, I was always on the lookout for quick ways to prepare good tasting and if possible, healthy foods for my children. As a precaution, I made sure that there was always bread, mayonnaise and sandwich fillings like cheese, tuna, eggs and sardines in the house. With these ingredients I could easily whip up sandwiches which were a hit with my children....or so I thought. Little did I know that Afzal did not like mayonnaise and I put them in all my tuna and egg sandwiches! He never let on about it because he did not have the heart to do so. He just took the sandwiches to school everytime I prepared them. His two brothers knew but never spilled the beans either. I only found out about it during out family chats years later, when he was already studying in Sheffield. When I asked him why he did not tell me, he said “..kesian mama dah susah2 prepare”("I pity mama already took the trouble to prepare them"). And when I asked him what he ate in school then? His answer was “..saya makan keropok je!”("I just ate some chips").

Being busy working mothers are no excuse to not attend to our children’s needs be it at school or at home. If there’s a will, there’s always a way.

Two pairs of brothers winning a bowling tournament in 2000 - Mas Jaffri/Mas Afzal Masarudin & Shahreen/Shahfie Tahir.

Afzal and Jaffri at the Inter-School Parliamentary Debate with teachers cum trainers Cikgu Wan Suriyani and Cikgu Lily Kua in 2000.

Afzal received the "Tokoh Pelajar" (Best Student) award of SM La Salle, KK in 2001-here with Andi and teacher Juliana.

.........to be continued