Andy Iskandar – he leaves us
but in our heart, we shall remember
Inna lillahi wainna ilayhi rajiun (From God we came and to Him is our return).
My deepest and heartfelt condolences to the mother of the late Andy Iskandar Ajes, 42, who passed away today (Wednesday 24 June 2020). May Allah bless his soul and place him in Jannah (Paradise). Ameen Ya Rabbal Alamin.
Andy Iskandar Ajes, Singapore National Leader of SSEAYP 2018.
I came to know Andy when he was 18 years old when he was a student at Temasek Junior College. He was my son’s TJC school-mate and my son, one day, did take him to my home to take lunch with us.
A few years ago, after many years of taking in the participating youths (PYs) for the homestay stint of the Ship for South-east Asian and Japanese Youth Programme (SSEAYP), we met up with Andy who was a PY in SSEAYP. Then, last year (2019), on behalf of SSEAYP International Singapore, I wrote the book, “The Ship that Spreads Friendship”, and I interviewed Andy for a chapter (Chapter 6) titled “Reaping SSEAYP Benefits”.
In late November of last year (2019), my wife and I met Andy during the Farewell Ceremony onboard Nippon Maru and chit-chatted with him. That was the last time my wife saw Andy, but I had the opportunity to see him for the last time – in early March this year at the Changi General Hospital where he was hospitalised for gastric cancer stage 4. I did take a photo of him at the hospital bed, but I am too sad to place any photos of him during his ailment. I shall place only the happy photos of him in this message to remember him and of his friendship.
The section on Andy in Chapter 6 of “The Ship that Spreads Friendship” goes:
“SSEAYP gave me the opportunity to challenge
myself to develop further.” – Andy Iskandar
Mr Andy Iskandar Ajes is the Singapore National Leader (SNL) of last year (2018). In mentioning the leadership role he shouldered as the leader of the Singapore contingent, Andy said: “It was all hard work but rewarding.” A PY of 2005 and a representative at the On-Board Ship Conference (OBSC) in 2014, he has much to say about his leadership experiences.
Andy returned in July from a two-day Facilitators’ meeting in Tokyo and facilitated this year’s (2019’s) Singapore PYs. He said: “SSEAYP gave me the opportunity to challenge myself to develop further. First of all, I committed myself to be more patient. Working with, and preparing and managing a group of 28 youths of different personalities in last year’s Singapore contingent for a period of about six months, gave me the opportunities to stretch my patience.”
He added: “Furthermore, moulding a big number of individuals into people with one attitude to represent Singapore is not easy but to overcome the differences and obstacles, I believe, is the most important leadership skill. Leading with humility, genuine consideration and mutual respect overcome intimidation, objections and fear.”
Working with his fellow National Leaders from the other participating countries and the administrative staff of SSEAYP as well as the representatives of other countries gave Andy the opportunity to practise and improve his leadership and diplomacy skills.
When asked what advice he would give to future national leaders, Andy said: “I would advise them to use the opportunity they have in SSEAYP to not just lead the Singapore contingent but facilitate the youths’ development and learning opportunities.”
He added: “Numerous learning moments and opportunities will be presented to them in the course of the preparation for the SSEAYP activities, not to mention during the actual programme itself. They need to do their best to take advantage of these moments and extract as much educational value for them to take on leadership roles effectively.”
SSEAYP participants develop leadership abilities by interacting with youths from ASEAN and Japan, organising activities, visiting educational institutions, and, the most popular of all, staying with the country’s host families for three days.
I received news of the passing of Andy this afternoon at 1:15 pm through a WhatsApp message from a long-time associate of SSEAYP and a close friend of mine, Mr Imhar Said.
But due to Covid-19 precautionary and preventive limits on attendance at funerals, many of his SSEAYP and personal friends as well as my son and me, had to miss attending Andy’s funeral and the jenazah prayer at the mosque.
I understand from my son that Andy was single as he had pledged to take care of his single mother who is wheel-chair bound. I salute his good intention and I pray that his mother would take the passing of her son with reda (willingness) as her son is returning to where every one of us will return one day.
We pray for the well-being of his soul, and say: Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun, a Qur’anic phrase which means “Verily we belong to God, and verily to Him do we return.” (Qur’an, 2:156)
(Some of the condolences received are shown below.)
23 June 2020
Among the many condolence messages received for the obituary of Mr Andy Iskandar are the following:
“Indeed, sad that we lost a promising young man too soon but fond memories of him will be cherished for a long, long time. May his soul rest in peace.” (Ms Jenny Koh, Adviser, SSEAYP International Singapore.)
“We lost a friend and a brother of SSEAYP fraternity. May the Almighty bless his soul and place him in Paradise among the pious people. Aamin.” (Mr Yacob Hussain, President, SSEAYP International Singapore.)
“We will miss you, Andy! Rest in peace.” (Ms Quake Garrido, Past PY from the Philippines.)
From Ms Latifah Abdul Majid and Ms Zoe Hameed.
From Ms Fatimah Bee and Ms Kasmah Latiff.
From Ms Zainab Bee, Ms Jamaliah and Mr Razali Jan.
Experiencing a unique Ramadan and Aidilfitri
The Meritorious Post-Ramadan Fasting
Aidilfitri (Celebration of the Ramadan accomplishments) was held on 1 Syawal, the Islamic year being 1441, which coincides this year on 24 May. The mood of Hari Raya will go on for more than a week, usually in the past, with some Muslims on the move to visit relatives and friends and others, in taking turns, staying at home to receive guests for siraturrahim (bonding of ties).
In my Parts 1 and 2 articles on the theme of experiencing a unique Ramadan and Aidilfitri, many of my non-Muslim friends have wished me and Muslims in general “Selamat Hari Raya” in Malay or “Eid Mubarak” in Arabic, both closely meaning “Have a happy day of celebration”. The greetings of those that had a universal thrust were made into “cards” accompanied by their photos requested from them. Here are three more:
It is only good to share with non-Muslims the knowledge that after Ramadan, some Muslims still fast, this time it is not an obligatory one but voluntary (sunnah). Yes, some Muslims, including me, are now fasting – for an extra six days only. This final part, Part 3, tells more about the voluntary fasts.
On the very day of Aidilfitri on 1 Syawal fasting is not allowed. But from 2 Syawal many Muslims fast for six days consecutively with the dos and don’ts of fasting being observed exactly like that of Ramadan (see Part 1 of the article) except that there is no tarawih prayer which is for Ramadan only.
The 6-day fasting as well as any other fasting done throughout the remaining 11 months after Ramadan is not obligatory (not must do) but sunnah (meritorious if done, but no blemish if not carried out).
Muslims do the sunnah fasting as well as the sunnah prayers as carried out by Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him.
Merits of voluntary fasting
Mr Hafidz Abdullah is among the many Muslims who are carrying out the 6-day fast in Syawal and other sunnah (voluntary) fasts. A wealth consultant by profession, he is teaching prayer classes at the Muslim Converts’ Association of Singapore, popularly known as Darul Arqam Singapore.
I asked Mr Hafidz the following questions on post-Ramadan fasting:
Q: Since when have you been doing the six-day fast in the month of Syawal?
I have been doing it since my teenage years when I was a polytechnic student.
Q: Why do you do the six-day fast?
Islam encourages Muslims to perform voluntary (sunnah) acts of worship to gain extra spiritual merits. The 6-day fast in the month of Syawal after Ramadan is one of the acts of worship.
Q: Apart from the Ramadan obligatory fast and the 6-day fast in Syawal, are there any other fast in the other months of the year?
Fasting has numerous benefits, spiritually and physically, thus it extends over the whole year, not confined to a period once a year only.
Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him, has encouraged us to do another extra fast throughout the year, such as the fast on first 9 days of the month of Zulhijjah, the 13th, 14th, and 15th of every month and on Mondays and Thursdays every week.
Q: What are the medical benefits of fasting?
From the medical perspective, fasting has numerous physical benefits that are given in Islamic books and Islamic online sources as well as sources from the medical profession.
In recent times, even non-Muslims are becoming aware of the benefits of fasting. One example is the intermittent way, known as16:8 fasting, the details of which can be read through this link: ( https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327398
So, the Monday and Thursday fasting of each week is a form of intermittent fasting.
Q: As we are still in the Hari Raya mood, and to conclude this interview on sunnah fasting, what would you like to say to Muslims?
My wife, Mimi Sayadi, and I would like to wish Eid-ul-Fitr Mubarak to our Muslim friends in Singapore and abroad. We humbly seek your forgiveness for our shortcomings and mistakes. Let’s keep the spirit of friendship alive!
Another person interviewed for doing her 6-day fast is Ms Nur Zahrah Yuko, 18, who is a third-year polytechnic student. Her father is Malay, Mr Yacob Hussain, and mother, Mdm Keiko Soeda, Japanese. Mdm Keiko is a convert to Islam.
“First of all, I must say that fasting is an act between Allah and the person who is fasting. It is spiritual, and the gain is spiritual, too,” said Zahrah (standing second from left in the above photo) when asked what she thinks of fasting as an act of divine worship.
She added: “There are many sayings of the Prophet which mention that voluntary (sunnah) fasting in Islam is encouraged, not only the 6-day fast in Syawal but also the fasting on Mondays and Thursdays in other months of the year.”
When asked if she knows the benefits of voluntarily fasting, Zahrah replied: “They reap numerous benefits. Muslim scholars explain the benefits. One explanation mentions that voluntary fasting serves as a back-up in case our obligatory fast during Ramadan is unknowingly spoilt. Also, Allah rewards us for doing extra fasting as it makes us more disciplined, like no lying, no gossiping, and no wasting time.”
Does Zahrah find it difficult to do the 6-day fasting since one has just completed a whole month of fasting? “No,” she replied. “Since I have just completed a month of fast, therefore doing another six days fasting is not that difficult.”
About her Islamic practices, the polytechnic student said that she practises them as best as she could to be a good person. “Talking about fasting alone, after learning much about the numerous benefits of fasting, my family and I tried our best in doing the extras, like extra fasting and extra prayers, to please Allah. Only Allah knows best about us and what we do. We are not the judge of ourselves. Allah decides,” she said humbly.
Zahrah wishes: “Eid Mubarak to all Muslims”.
Islam, a religion of faith and deeds
Islam is a way of life that comprises faith and deeds, thus anything that is considered to be harmful to the body, mind, soul, or society is prohibited (haram). On that ground, Muslims have to be responsible human beings and so anything that causes danger and harm to human lives which are uncontrollable by individuals requires the advice and guidance of the authorities and medical professionals to curb the threats as soon as possible.
With the Covid-19 pandemic becoming a serious threat to human lives, Muslims, together with the other non-Muslim Singaporeans, have been abiding by the precautionary and preventive measures of the circuit breaker by spending their time at home.
Muslims were not able to go to the mosques in Ramadan for their obligatory prayers and the special Ramadan prayer called tarawih – but all these are carried out at home as the 70 mosques in Singapore are all closed. They are not able to go for their silaturrahim (strengthening of ties) visits to their relatives and friends during this festive period of Aidilfitri but many used modern technology to contact, even see their relatives and friends on the screen to talk and wish them “Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri”.
Yes, things are different this year, but the spirit of Ramadan and Aidilfitri looms high. Indeed, it has been a unique Ramadan and Aidilfitri.
Wishing all Muslims, my heartiest Eid Mubarak!
27 May 2020
(From SPH Website, published: APR 25, 2020, 5:00 AM SGT )
Fighting Covid-19 in the spirit of Ramadan
Shaik Kadir For The Straits Times
Opportunities for spiritual development and charitable acts can still flourish at home
Yesterday was the first day of the Ramadan, and Muslims are fasting.
Ramadan has always been a busy month, one which offers Muslims the opportunities to further enhance their spiritual development and for charitable acts. However, many of the traditional Ramadan activities cannot be carried out this year because, under the circuit breaker, gatherings in places of worship are not permitted as precautionary and preventive measures to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
What were the scenes in mosques before the Covid-19 outbreak?
(See the rest of the article in The Straits Times Website.)
A largely empty street in Geylang Serai on Thursday. Many of the traditional Ramadan activities cannot be carried out this year because, under the circuit breaker, gatherings in places of worship are not permitted as precautionary and preventive measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2020, with the headline ‘Fighting Covid-19 in the spirit of Ramadan’. A photo of the print edition is as shown below:
It is hoped that the spiritual development and charitable acts gained from home will further flourish after Ramadan.
2 May 2020
Ramadan Mubarak (Have a blessed Ramadan)
“Eat of that which is lawful and good,”
A non-Muslim friend of mine asked me this question: “If a Muslim man is visiting a non-Muslim friend for Chinese New Year, and the friend’s mother told him that she had cooked halal food for him, would he eat it? Also, I would like to say that in the olden days when my friends came to my house they would eat no-pork food cooked by my mother but they don’t now. Why?”
The response is as follows:
Muslims, by their religion, Islam, have been instructed by God in the Qur’an to eat halal (lawful) food. (In the Qur’an, it is God who speaks. He speaks directly to Muslims, to people for instructions and reflections and to mankind in general.)
For beef, mutton and chicken, the animal needs to be slaughtered in the Islamic way by a Muslim after saying a doa (short prayer or supplication). For example, for chicken, the slaughterer would, in his heart, say: “I slaughter all these chicken for food in the name of Allah” which needs to be uttered once only even if he has to slaughter 50 chicken one after another.
In Singapore, for instance, there are many food stalls or restaurants owned by non-Muslims, with all the cooks being non-Muslims, but the food is halal – it is certified by the Muslim Religious Council of Singapore (Muis).
The main halal requirements stipulate that (1) all meat and cooking oil used preparing food must conform to halal rules with the meat, such as beef, mutton and chicken, bought from halal sources; (2) all cooking utensils, cutlery, forks and spoons, and crockery must be newly bought and never to be used for cooking or serving non-halal food; (3) at least one Muslim must be employed as restaurant staff, and (4) that none of the non-Muslims in the kitchen or restaurant should drink alcohol or bring non-halal food to eat in the premises.
Muis’ halal logo has to be displayed prominently and the halal certificate must be displayed inside to show the certification validity.
Now, let us look at another situation of halal food prepared by a non-Muslim.
I have a friend in Singapore whose wife is Japanese. My friend met her after she has converted to Islam upon “discovering” it when she was studying for her masters at the National University of Singapore. They have three children now. (I have featured the family in my book, “The ship that spreads friendship”, published in 2019.)
The family often visited the lady’s parents in Japan, staying at their home for several days. During that time, her Japanese parents would cook for them halal food.
The parents had bought pots and pans especially to use for the cooking during their visits. So, the family shows no was-was (doubt) about the knowledge of halal food preparation and handling as their daughter had instructed her parents about halal matters.
In the second part of the question, let me take an example of a Muslim visitor to the home of a non-Muslim family, and the lady of the house informed him that the food she had cooked was halal and insisted on him to eat together with them.
The Muslim guy, at this moment, would be in a quandary and quickly throw some questions to himself regarding the situation. Perhaps the questions might run as follows:
• Okay, she might know that Muslims don’t eat pork but does she know that any product of pork, like lard, is also haram (not halal)?
• Does she know that other meat, if it is in the dishes, must be halal too?
• Are the pots and pans she used to cook the halal food totally new or have they been used to cook non-halal food before?
• My friend’s mother says the food is halaI so, I think, I would eat otherwise she would feel bad. I don’t want to hurt her feeling, so, I hope, God would forgive me if anything does not conform to halal requirements.
Some Muslims of the 1960s might be a bit more accommodating than those Muslims today because of intellectual development and knowledge of Islam now because of Islamic knowledge and awareness. With knowledge, superstitions and blind beliefs like seeking divine help from dead saints or holy men are dying off in Singapore.
The tudung (headscarf) is a visible example of Islamic awareness. In those days, Muslim women didn’t wear the scarf; at most, some elderly ladies might have the selendang (long scarf) wound round their necks. Today, most Muslim ladies wear the tudung and cover their bodies properly following Islam’s advice to be modest, while those who do not wear the tudung, most do wear modestly with long sleeve blouses and long pants.
Before, Muslims learned about Islam from parents or from kampung elderly people, but today religious teachers are mostly university graduates so the knowledge imparted is more Qur’an-based and in-depth. There is also religious education conducted in mosques by Muis-approved religious teachers. In other words, Muslims today understand the logic and implication of Islam and they try their best to become good Muslims.
To be pure and clean at all times in both the physical (outward) and non-physical (inward) sense is part of the Islamic Deen (the believers’ way of life as practised by all God’s prophets, including Prophet Abraham, Prophet Moses and Prophet Jesus or Jesus Christ, Peace Be Upon Them All.) (Jesus Christ is also Islam’s Prophet.)
Muslims take halal food in obedience to God’s command. Instructing all people to be mindful of what they eat, God says:
• “O mankind! Eat of that which is halal (lawful) and good and follow not the ways of the devil.” (2:168)
• “O you who believe! Eat of the good things that We (God) have provided for you (on earth).” (2:172)
• “Lawful to you are all things good and pure…” (5:5)
Apart from the prohibition of pork, alcohol and drugs, the Qur’an also provides a list of other things that people should avoid eating. An example of these prohibitions is given in Chapter 5, verse 4 (numbered below for easy reference). God instructs: (O you who believe!) Forbidden to you for food are:
(1) dead meat
(3) the flesh of swine
(4) that on which has been invoked the name of other than God
(5) that which has been killed by strangling
(6) or by a violent blow
(7) or by a headlong fall
(8) or by being gored to death
(9) that which has been partly eaten by a wild animal, unless you can slaughter it (invoking God’s name) before it dies
(10) that which is sacrificed on stone (altars)
(11) (forbidden) also is the division (of meat) by raffling with arrows (gambling): that is impiety.”
The principles of halal and haram thus focus on the development and purification of the body and soul together.
Thus, if the Muslim guest is able to sense that the food cooked by his non-Muslim host is totally halal in every sense of the word, he or she should certainly eat the food.
Still, just like even twins are not alike in every facet of their physical and intellectual characteristics, different people think differently. In matters of halal food, some might give leeway for certain unavoidable reasons (with God being the Judge over this), while some might be very strict.
Thus, in Singapore, it is good for non-Muslim Singaporeans to know about halal food as well as other Islamic practices for all of us to live together in harmony.
29 April 2020