Monthly Archives: May 2015

Of Niqabs and Hijabs

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Can you spot the Muslim woman or women? I lied. She’s not here. None of these women are Muslims.

I wanted to prove a point. For the record, the Niqab is not exclusive to the Arab world. I am not going to speculate why Khloe Kardashian wore the attire. But Armenians, for example, have a history of wearing the Niqab and Hijab too. So when I read that Khloe  Kardashian caused a hullaballoo  with her Niqab selfie faux pas  in an Arab country, I was quite taken aback.

The womenfolk of almost every society, at one time or another, wore coverings and headgear of some kind. In fact, the Hijab is still worn by non-Muslim women in various societies around the world today. Eastern European women and their counterparts in the Mediterranean – whether they are Muslims, Jews or Christians – have a history of wearing veils, hijabs, and scarfs. This explains why the ex-Italian Minister of the Interior, Roberto Maroni, had strongly refused to sign on a decree banning the Hijab. “If the Virgin Mary appears wearing a veil on all her pictures, how can you ask me to sign on a Hijab ban law?” he has been cited as saying.

Even in places like India you’ll find some Hindu women wearing the veil. The pieces might be more elaborated than others, of course, but it’s still a head gear or a face cover.

You think they wore it so that the wind won’t mess their hair and makeup? For them, it’s about modesty and piety.  I haven’t even started about the Catholic nuns but I think everyone is getting the idea now.

In the 19th century, many Europeans who migrated to America, such as the Polish community, wore Hijabs. The Hijab is also part of Orthodox Christian Culture, especially among Eastern European women. I believe there is a mention about headscarf in Corinthians.

Anyway this piece isn’t meant to be long, and I don’t have to go into details. There are enough books in the library that talks about these things.  Of course, some of you might find history boring. But I say it helps in understanding tradition, culture and other people’s values. And this can help with other things like better people relations, diplomacy or social interaction.

By the way, I am not taking a pro or against Hijab or Niqab stand. I am just saying.


What’s in a name?



Did I ever tell you the story about Isabella? This story of mine was first published in an Egyptian magazine years ago. It was entitled, “What’s in a name?” It’s pretty long but I’ll give you the short version of it here.

I woke at 7 a.m. to a loud banging sound coming from my front apartment door. I opened the door to find a girl about eleven or twelve smiling at me. She pointed to a wicker basket on the floor and said, “Isabella.”

What do you think I thought it was? I kept waving my hands and told her to go away. I thought she was trying to sell me a baby. She grinned and kept repeating herself, “Isabella.”And I kept telling her to go away. 

The girl shrugged and gave me that “suit yourself” look before going upstairs to the next apartment.

Later, at work, I told a few people what happened that morning. Everyone laughed at me. I soon found out why.

You see, “Isabella” or “Zabella” as the Egyptians pronounced it, is the Arabic and Greek word for trash. The girl had come to check if I had any trash to throw. She was an independent garbage collector.

Days later she appeared again. This time, I didn’t shoo her away. In fact, I followed her outside to see her father waiting on a horse cart.

Baking a cheese cake in a time of terror

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at

In 2007, a Palestinian stowaway breached Malaysian airport security and hid inside a Singapore Airlines jetliner’s front wheel well.  When the plane landed in Singapore, he fell, complaining the freezing temperature was too much to bear.

Given the distance between Singapore and Malaysia, aviation authorities said it was possible for the man to survive. But if the plane had flown higher, his fate would have been different. Breathing would have been impossible.

The director at the Department of Civil Aviation Malaysia was quoted as saying that, “You’ve got to be a superhero to try such a thing!”

I would not call the stowaway a superhero. But I would consider him creative. In fact, the idea was diabolical. This was surely a thinking person although he miscalculated the temperature. But what if he had worn thicker clothing? Imagine what could have happened if he had a different agenda.

This is not the first time someone had violated Singapore’s borders. The newspaper also reported about an old Singaporean individual who was caught smuggling Indonesians into the island. He had brought them on a sampan. According to the report, he had been doing this business for about six years. The only reason he was finally caught was because a friend had betrayed him to the authorities.

For six years, this old man’s activity was undetected. He outsmarted the coast guard and radar. Now what if the situation had taken a more extraordinary campaign? What if, on one occasion during that period, the sampan had arrived carrying foreign commandos or able-bodied terrorists with explosives?  There have been other instances of infiltration, but I trust you get the picture.

At Singapore airport, you will notice armed guards patrolling with automatic weapons. Their job is to give the illusion of security. The Singapore airport, like any other airport, is a contained area with immense people traffic. I don’t have to spell it out.  Let us assume a group of terrorists with automatic rifles and grenades decided to make an appearance. No doubt, the counter strikers would be able to neutralize the problem. But the fire fight would have already caused pandemonium and severe damage in more ways than one.

We had an incident once when several Pakistanis hijacked a Singapore Airlines aircraft. The four men were eventually killed by commandos. The Singapore government boasted to the media that its special forces took down the hijackers in a matter of seconds. Of course they did, considering those men only had kitchen knives they found in the cabin crew’s kitchen and molotov cocktails. Had the situation been reversed – these amateur hijackers replaced by a group of professionals like  Hizbollah –  chances are, the Singapore pride would not have had a chance.

Nevertheless, it showed one thing: In spite of how security conscious everyone tries to be, incidences of terrorism can still happen. In this instance, the demands of the hijackers had nothing to do with Singapore. The hijackers had issues with their own country’s politics. Their demands included the release of some prisoners in a Pakistani prison. It was one of those isolated cases that affected Singapore indirectly. You could say it was a one off thing. The danger, however, will come from those bent on destroying Singapore. If they do, it would not be just a single event.

Lest we forget, an individual named Mas Selamat detained by the internal security at a prison supposedly guarded by Gurkhas managed to escape. He  crossed the waters into Malaysia. He was only caught some time later with the help of the Malaysian authorities. The point is,  this person managed to swim across the causeway undetected. Now imagine if a group of frogmen carrying explosives decided to swim from Malaysia into Singapore the same way.

If you take the train, you will also find regular announcements asking commuters to be on the lookout for suspicious looking person or article. While random checks are made on bags at train stations, a creative terrorist knows he does not need to get on board the train to inflict damage. He could leave the package anywhere, even at any of the external pillars supporting the tracks, which can cause derailment.

Singapore has also been active in conducting emergency preparedness exercises in a bid to combat terrorism and its after effects. Simulated scenarios have also been carried out in public areas.  International police collaboration has increased.  Despite all these steps taken to develop a solid phalanx against a possible threat, the truth is, you cannot stop every terror attack.

During my visit to Turkey, I had the privilege of visiting the ancient city of Troy (at least what’s left of it). I discovered the Trojans had built long, narrow and winding entrances to protect their castle, barred by a series of solid gates. This was to prevent the enemy from destroying the castle entrances with battering rams. Yet, we also know how that ended. A ruse.

The point is, while you can try to find ways and means to fortify your castle, the tedious part is that you will always have to stay on your toes.  You cannot afford to be complacent.

MI5 chief Andrew Parker openly admitted this when he spoke about the threat to Britain. He warned that the authorities “cannot hope to stop” every plot. The other side is always scheming and devising plans to launch complex, ambitious and diabolical plots. They are always finding ways to circumnavigate surveillance and security checks. They look for gaps, cracks and fissures to penetrate. Their eyes are constantly roving, seeking new weak spots.

Sure, you can enhance security and try to minimize the risks or respond and recover from attacks and disasters. But they keep coming, don’t they?

In the meantime, I think I’ll go learn how to make a cheese cake. If I fail to bake the perfect dessert, I’ll try to improve it the next time. At least, I can afford to make that kind of mistake.


Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at

Want to feel like an Emperor or Your Ladyship?

There is apparently a tradition in some malls in Singapore where the sales staff would greet the first few customers for a minute when the doors opened.

A long stretch of staff will flank the entrance path right  to the upper floors.
I never knew about this because I hardly go to the malls in the morning. But one day I needed something urgently. So when the door of this particular mall opened, I was the first to go inside.

I had the shock of my life as I walked down the pathway. Everyone was bowing and smiling at me. It went on even after I got on the escalator and reached the second floor.

So, if you ever want to feel like an Emperor or Your Ladyship, go to Takashimaya in Singapore at exactly 10 a.m.

Bring your GoPro. It’ll be fun.

Beautiful Arab courtyards in Syria

The architecture in Syria is divided into various eras, including ancient, Islamic and Arabic. Here’s some examples of the old but beautiful Arab courtyards that can be found in private homes, hotels and tourist places. Hopefully, they are still intact given the current situation.


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What’s that sound?

I woke up this morning to the sound of a pop. No clue what it was. I looked around and there was nothing out of the ordinary. I thought maybe something fell and broke. Nothing.
I opened and closed drawers, opened and closed my cupboard – I didn’t even notice it. Nothing unusual. Things are always falling out of my cupboard. No big deal.
Then I went to take a shower. Now feeling refreshed, I opened the same cupboard. How could I have missed that earlier when I saw the shiny ribbons falling out of the cupboard? It didn’t occur to me initially what they were. I’ve got lots of stuff on the top deck of the cupboard. And then it hit me!
I looked up. A Party Popper I had kept for two years had exploded. Must be the weather.


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