Umrah – The Other Pilgrimage to Mecca

Everyone would know that the Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia performed by Muslims globally during a specific time of the year (in the Islamic month of Zulhijjah to be exact) but not everyone would know what the Umrah is. For the benefit of our non-Muslim readers in particular, the Umrah is the lesser known pilgrimage to Mecca that may be performed at anytime of the year. While it is a religious duty for every able-bodied and financially capable Muslim to perform the Hajj at least once in his or her lifetime, the Umrah is not obligatory but highly encouraged. The Umrah includes some of the rituals of the Hajj but there are fewer of them so it tends to be less demanding. In addition to performing the rituals, Muslims also take the opportunity to visit sites of Islamic historical significance including those in Madinah, the city where the early Muslim community (Ummah in Arabic) developed under the leadership of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Unto Him).

There’s so much more to the Umrah and Hajj but we leave you to search more on the subject should you be inclined. For now, here are some photographs taken by friends of Al-Musafir who were there recently performing the Umrah.

This Cafe Has It Going On

LoveOn Cafe is just about the strangest name we’ve come across of any cafe. It is also likely the only Halal cafe in Australia, for now at least. Whilst the coffees in cafes around Australia are perfectly fine to drink but the food almost always is not Halal. Here’s a place where you can actually have coffee and eat the food too. Tasty, generous portions of typical cafe fare (some not so typical like the Banglar Promise – capati & dhal curry) and even better coffee. Reasonably priced too. Can’t ask for more.

By the time we finished our meal, we didn’t get to try the baked goods because we were so full. Fig and dark chocolate muffins, orange and chocolate slices, and mango and passion fruit cupcakes among others. Next time then.

We got a chance to chat with owner and passionate barista Rashed Kabir who told us that his vision was to not only dish out great coffee and food but make it accessible to everyone including Muslims who would normally not be able to enjoy cafe food. Looks like he has succeeded and we thank him for that.

Address: 39 Gladstone Road, Mile End 5031, South Australia
Phone: +61 8 8234 5395
Hours: 7am – 5:00pm daily except Tuesday

The Long and Short of Travel Preparation

Our Connecting Musafirs conversation series taps into eminent Malaysian corporate and community figure Dato’ Seri Nazir Ariff’s broad travel experience for ultimate preparation advice before a trip.

Credit his training in accountancy, or the fact that he has served multiple organisations and bodies over the years, but when it comes to travel, eminent corporate figure Dato’ Seri Nazir Ariff is one meticulous, thorough planner.

Admitting to being extremely particular about his preferences and creature comforts, Dato’ Seri turns to his vast library of travel books and his two trusted checklists before embarking on a journey, be it for work or leisure.

“I have a big collection of books on eating places, best spots to visit of pretty much every destination I’ve spent some time in or had interest to learn more about. I turn to them, as well as the Internet, to make sure I know where I’m going and what I’m doing,” Dato’ Seri explained.

Sweat the small stuff, yes!
A firm believer in making reservations at restaurants before his trips, Dato’ Seri also consults his checklists to ensure he remembers exactly every minutiae for the duration of the trip.

“There’s nothing like forgetting your favourite razor or toothbrush and arriving at your destination, having to settle for substitutes. It could make or break your trip!” he avidly declared.

Dato’ Seri Nazir Ariff, President of Football Association of Penang (FAP) flanked by Lawrence Loh, Vice President of FAP (right) and an ardent fan

Dato’ Seri Nazir Ariff, President of Football Association of Penang (FAP) flanked by Lawrence Loh, Vice President of FAP (right) and an ardent fan.

There is no doubt that it is this exact approach of passion, care and precision that has led to his active involvement in many different interests, across both commerce and community. His present leadership as the Chairman and Executive Director of Aspen Group of companies sits alongside an illustrious list of positions, past and present in various corporate bodies and voluntary organisations, including Football Association of Penang (FAP), Penang City Council (MPPP), Kuala Lumpur Tin Market, Ivory Properties Group Berhad, Texchem Group, Datuk Keramat Holdings Berhad, Kuala Lumpur Commodities Exchange, Penang Heritage Trust, to name but a few.

And to add to the list, Dato’ Seri confessed to also donning an apron and cooking up a storm when he finds the rare window of spare time at home.

His specialty? “Italian! I enjoy making different pastas, much to the enjoyment of my children,” he smiled, adding that he enjoys sourcing for fresh local produce such as cheeses and olives at farmers’ markets when he travels.

Keep the Faith
Even when his working travel schedule takes him to far and foreign lands, Dato’ Seri makes it a point to observe solat. He relies on his smartphone compass to estimate prayer directions where markings are not available.

“I strongly believe that God is forgiving and if you’re praying where you believe you should be, God accepts. God is forgiving,” he expressed with sincerity, adding that he believes the practice of religion should be easy, open and welcoming.

Next up (at time of our conversation) for Dato’ Seri: London, Lisbon and Barcelona. And yes, he had completed his research before departure, right down to the detail of pictures of his hotel rooms and what to expect in those cities.

And while Dato’ Seri finds himself retracing his journeys back to his favourite destinations where he is familiar, such as Barcelona, there is no room for error with the amount of preparation and homework to become disorientated anywhere.

Have you got your checklist written yet, fellow Musafirs? I know I’ll be getting mine down and tucked away in a safe place!

Happy Eid Al-Adha 2013!

kaabah

We wish everyone a blessed and very happy Eid Al-Adha. The Eid marks the end of Hajj which emphasises making personal sacrifices in the service of Allah (God). May we continue our resolve to becoming better in everything we do and making the world a better place for everyone, insha’Allah (God willing). As always, be safe and enjoy!

Rising Asia: At Work and Play

In the third installment of our Connecting Musafirs conversation series, we talk to Jaafar Rihan who is General Manager, Capital Markets and Head of Islamic Investments at the Employees Provident Fund, an agency under the Ministry of Finance Malaysia and one of Malaysia’s largest institutional investors with more than USD150 billion under management.

Jaafar at the Chao Phraya RIver in Bangkok earlier this year

Jaafar at the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok earlier this year.

Jaafar Rihan is well aware of the opportunities within the Asian region, both economic, as well as personal. As a senior investment officer at the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), he is directly responsible for exploring viable investment opportunities in markets outside Malaysia.

His work requires him to travel frequently around Asia as well as further-flung markets, which have afforded him some remarkable investment prospects as well as cultural insights and experiences.

Recently, in Bangkok for an investor roadshow, he was taken over by the central role the Chao Phraya River played in serving the nation and providing livelihood for the people.

“I was amazed at the weight of Thai history and culture along the river. It is the heart of trade and transportation for many Thais, even till today,” says Jaafar.

Jaafar finds there are always plenty of things to learn from other Asian countries, which could benefit Malaysia and fellow Malaysians in general, providing a different perspective to our existing customs.

“For example, all Thais practise the same gesture, the wai, which is generally a show of respect. It is one of the many marks of a uniform identity, something which could be attributed to the single school education and their social behaviour,” he explains.

Jaafar tends to rely on Google for travel preparations, particularly around weather conditions and information on what to pack. He does find that one of the challenges as a Muslim traveller remains finding good places to eat easily.

“When in doubt, I just stick to seafood,” he adds.

While Jaafar looks forward to new tools to navigate around this challenge, he isn’t letting it slow him down on the experiences and learnings from travel. He will be spending more time in and out of the region this year in his capacity at the EPF before taking a personal trip to Australia with his family at the end of the year.

Penang Street Food @ Dickens Street, Penang

Penang, Malaysia is synonymous with great food. There is one problem though, most of it is non-Halal. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any but it is hard to come by unless you go for traditionally Halal fare like Mamak (Indian-Malay) or Malay food. Other types of food like Penang street food are non-Halal unless cooked by a Muslim which sometimes doesn’t come out quite right i.e. it is not always authentic.

Enter Bee Hwa Cafe, a kopitiam (Malaysian coffee shop or cafe) which serves Penang street food that’s Halal! It’s so authentic that we’re told by our non-Muslim friends that it’s the real deal when compared to the non-Halal alternatives. When eating there, you’re also comforted by the fact that you’re right across from the Penang police headquarters. Arguably the safest kopitiam in Penang, you’ll often eat amongst uniformed and undercover cops – you can tell because they usually carry a compact sling bag which presumably conceals a fire arm and sometimes eat with their uniformed colleagues. The day we were there, a local television show was doing a piece on Bee Hwa Cafe. Good to know we’re not the only ones who think this place is fantastic.

Back to the food. It’s awesome! They have a variety of stir fried dishes like Char Koay Teow (stir-fried ricecake strips), Char Pui (stir-fried rice) and Char Mee (stir-fried noodles). If soupy is what you’re after, try the Hokkien Mee (prawn noodles), Curry Mee (curry noodles) and Koay Teow T’ng (ricecake strips in a chicken broth). Be sure to specify the amount of heat you prefer in your food because it is turned up all the way to at least an 8 by default. Wash it down with your typical kopitiam drinks like teh tarik (literal translation is ‘tea pull’, hot local tea with condensed milk and frothed by transferring the tea from one pot to another repeatedly), teh oh (hot plain local tea), kopi (hot local coffee with condensed milk), kopi oh (hot plain local coffee), Milo (hot Milo with condensed milk), Milo oh (hot plain Milo), bali (hot barley) and some exotics like teh oh swee kam (hot plain local tea with lime), teh oh ‘c’ kosong (hot local tea with evaporated milk and without sugar) and derivatives thereof. Note that adding the word peng after each makes it an iced drink, for example, teh oh peng is an iced plain local tea. Finally, order the roti bakar (toasted bread with butter and kaya, a sweet coconut jam) for dessert even though this is usually a breakfast item.

Enjoy!

Address: Lebuh Dickens (a.k.a. Dickens Street), 10050 Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia (directly across the street from the entrance to the Penang police headquarters)
Phone: We don’t know whether there is one – just go there!
Hours: 7am – 5:00pm Monday to Saturday / closed on Sunday

Travel is Personal Business

Houssam Abiad

We continue our Connecting Musafirs conversation series with Houssam Abiad, a multi-talented and inspiring business traveller who hails from Adelaide, South Australia.

To Houssam Abiad, the lines usually drawn between work and leisure are all but indistinct.

“You have to enjoy what you do,” he articulates.       

The young South Australian certainly thrives from wearing many different hats – as an Adelaide City Councillor, focused on preserving and growing the business and economic development in one of the fastest growing cities in Australia; as a multi-awarded serial entrepreneur with at least three established businesses in the information & telecommunications technology and food & beverage industries; and as a strong advocate for community engagement and multiculturalism.

While his trips often start out work-related, Houssam draws enjoyment and wisdom from personal experiences while in a new place. His travels have taken him across the globe, to the Gulf region including the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon as well as the United States, and that does not include the places he has been to for dedicated holidays.

“To me, travel is as much about the people as it is the place.  Who and where you connect with, such as discovering a street by accident, that perhaps only the locals knew about. My travel memories are created around exactly these places and people,” shares Houssam.

The value of connecting with the local community cannot be underestimated.

Houssam revealed that where possible, he prefers spontaneity to meticulous planning and preparation when it comes to seeking these travel experiences. While he would see online search as his first point of reference for essential information such as where to go to observe Muslim prayer times or for shisha, there have been occasions where online searches have offered inaccurate information.

“I would certainly see the value of being able to connect with the local community, although that is naturally a time-consuming process,” he says.

Houssam added that he definitely see the potential advantage of an app or a service which would allow musafirs (travellers) like himself to quickly connect with the local community.

As he continues to make his mark around the world and on behalf of the city he calls home, Adelaide, there is no doubting Houssam will inspire and inculcate in young musafirs everywhere the same passion and integrity to serve for the greater good. And to enjoy themselves while doing it.