Monday, January 28, 2013

Muhammads Everywhere

Nobody told me, before I was to fly off to the UK, that I would be entering a land of Muhammads*. Which was, I guess , a pleasant(?) surprise for me.

For the last 20 years of my life, I’ve been addressed as Mikhail. Or Mike. Or Michael. Or Mickey. Or Mikey. Or Mike Callum. Or Kappa Mikey. Or even (for a brief period of time in Standard 1), as Mata Kail**.

But never as Muhammad.

So when my tutor read out the name on the attendance list:

I was obliged to reply:
“Which one?”

There were, after all, two Muhammads in my PBL group: Muhammad Ishack, from Mauritius; and myself, Muhammad Mikhail.

In my Anatomy group, it was even trickier: there were 6 Muhammads (in a group of about 13).

So it did strike me at first as impersonal to be called Muhammad. There was even a tinge of insult there: a small part of me felt that, as a Muslim, I was being subtly categorized as 'just another Muhammad'.

But then again, should I really be offended?

Humor me, for just a moment, and allow me to talk about Muhammad.

No, not the Muhammad writing this post but about the Muhammad born over 1400 years ago as the rahmatul lil alamin (blessing to all worlds).

By any standards, this guy was preettty cool.

And hey, don't just take my word for it. Take the words of Michael H. Hart (incidentally, a non-Muslim) who, in his 1978 book "The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History", ranked Muhammad as no. 1. 

Hart described the Prophet as "supremely successful" in both the religious and secular realms.

And the description makes sense; after all Muhammad was a man who was a successful businessman, a hugely influential social reformer, a fearless warrior, a visionary statesman, a spiritual guide.

But there is a danger here...the phenomenal successes of the man who somehow change the spiritual, political, economic and social landscape of the world may mask the actual man behind this whole event.

So allow me to talk about the man.

Muhammad was born into a noble bloodline, but he was not well-to-do. In fact he was born to a single mother (his father had died a few months prior to his birth). At his death, Muhammad (in terms of material wealth) died a poor man.

Muhammad did not partake in the immoral acts of his community before the Revelation was bestowed upon him at age 40. In fact, even before this he was known as "Al-Amin" - "The Trustworthy" (which you gotta admit is a way better nickname than "Mata Kail").

Muhammad did not (as some have the impression) spend all his time preaching from a stage set up in a mosque somewhere. In fact he lived very much a normal life, he was even known to walk through the markets of his town regularly.

The fact of the matter is, despite all his great successes, Muhammad the man was (consistently!) a caring father, a romantic lover, an awesome teacher, and a great neighbour.

And yet be so humble to continuously remind the people around him that he is not divine.
He is only a man, like you and I.
He eats, he drinks, he marries, and he dies.

For all this, Muhammad bin Abdullah has won my admiration, my respect, and InsyaAllah my sincere love.

Peace be upon you, the blessing to all worlds.

I am truly honored to have you as my namesake.

*in 2010 "Mohammed has become the most popular name for newborn boys in Britain." - Daily Mail.
**the Malay word for fishing hook.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


They were familiar, but somehow different;
People I love, but haven't met for a little too long.

Those four people, as they sat among an enormous pile of luggage at Terminal 1 of Manchester Airport, represented a life I kept mostly out of my mind for the past three months.

In that amount of time, everything has changed.

I have become the typical medical student; my schedule packed.
Food is on-the-go (and not-so-healthy).
I have become accustomed to the cold; 10 Celcius qualifying as quite warm.
New weather, new food and new things to learn.
New country, new friends and new commitments.

Goodbye to home cooked meals, hello to Arab-sized portions of foreign food.
Goodbye to flip flops, hello to winter boots.
Goodbye to my old life.

Hello to a new one.

It has been pretty easy to bury my head into this life so much so that it is only sometimes I look up and remember: "I'm in Manchester"

Until I called out to those four people in Terminal 1 of Manchester Airport, and suddenly my two lives are one again. Because those four people...they are my family.

Mama and Papa greeted me with the customary hug. It's been the longest time yet that I've been away from the only two people I've truly known my whole life.
Adik acted cool, but I knew she missed me as much as I missed her.
And Danny was the same ball of hyperactivity that he has always been.

Not too long after that we were heading to the centre of Manchester.

During the journey l inadvertently found myself in the position of tourguide.
It's, a foreigner in this country, suddenly showing my family around MY city.

My new home.

This is the parking lot I hurriedly pass through on blustery weekdays, late to class, with barely a glance around.
Mama exclaims at how beautiful it is, Adik takes pictures, and Danny runs around.

This is my room, the bastion of my new life. Neat as I can keep it, suddenly host to the (many) bags my family brought along with them.

This is the bus I take to the City Centre. A route I have travelled often enough. Today my hyperactive bro sits beside me.

This is the path I take on the way to the Curry Mile. Usually I go with an empty stomach, today I bring along 5: mine and my family's.

That was my life again for three weeks...

Three weeks of Papa's lame jokes, Mama's lovely cooking, Adik and Danny's voices.

In the past few weeks I lived in 3 separate hotels in 2 different cities, a lakeside cabin, and even a canal boat. I should be travel-sick by now. But somehow, I'm not.

Because here's the thing: I feel more at home than I've ever been in the past few months.

Here's the reason, then, why I buried my head into my "new life" in Manchester...
It was a self-defense mechanism. I wanted to keep myself from being homesick, from missing my old life too much.

But this is not my real life. I am my parent's son, my siblings' big bro. That's who I am. My family...they are my real home. My life.

I guess it took my family to travel halfway across the world to meet me here for the message to truly hit, well, home.

As I write this, I have already left my family at Terminal 1 of Manchester Airport. The time I welcomed them to my city just three weeks before seems like a lifetime away now.

Mama cries, just as she did at KLIA 3 months ago. But they have their lives to get back to.

And so do I.

But suddenly I can't imagine living that life again; hall to class, class to hall.
Nobody to greet me as I step as I return to a home which is not truly a home; life alone.

My family, my true home has left.

Goodbye guys...