Tag: religion

A visit to Batu Caves, Malaysia (aka the day I got punched by a monkey)

About a 45 minute train journey from Kuala Lumpur is the town of Batu, home to the Batu Caves. Have to admit I wasn’t even aware of them until Hannah International blogged about them, but they were immediately on our list of things to see whilst in Malaysia.

Train and Metro travel in KL was very straightforward, clean, reliable and cheap – we could probably learn something from them here in the UK! So we bought our tickets, hopped onboard, and headed off to Batu.

There’s no way to miss the site of the caves when you leave the train, because pretty much everyone is going the same way, and you can see them from the train station anyway.

The site comprises of 3 cave temples. We started in the Ramayana Cave, which was only consecrated as recently as November 2001. Passing a 50ft tall statue of Hanuham, inside the cave is very picturesque, with paintings and fairy lights that depict the story of Rama.

A short walk from the Ramayana cave is the main Temple Cave, which is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India. The limestone forming the caves is said to be around 400 million years old, but the main cave (the Temple Cave) has only been a dedicated temple and place of worship since 1890 when a consecrated statue of Sri Murugan Swarmi was erected. The current statue stands at 140ft high, and is the world’s tallest Murugan statue; costing 24 million rupees (approx. £300,000) and being made of 1550 cubic metres of concrete, 250 tonnes of steel bars and 300 litres of gold paint (thanks Wikipedia!)

There’s currently a lot of construction work happening, both in the prayer area outside of the cave, and in the cave itself, so there was a lot of scaffolding and abandoned piles of bricks (it would seem that the Malaysian approach to health and safety is very different to Western cultures!)

There are 272 steps up to the Temple Cave, and we felt every single one! There are macaque monkeys everywhere; climbing the vertical face of the limestone, climbing the stairs, and sitting on pillars almost like statues. They’re very tame and have obviously learnt to scavenge food from tourists over the years. They can be seen picking up empty food wrappers and eating from them, as well as accepting food from visitors.

Inside the first cave are Hindu shrines, and yet more steps leading through to the cathedral cave which has an opening to the sky. Inside is very damp and dank, again with questionable building work going on.

The trouble with 272 steps to the top is…you guessed it…the same amount to come back down. Ouch!

Batu Caves looking down

It was well worth the visit, obviously not from a religious point of view (for us) but the colours and the imagery and the natural caves were incredible.

So, now you’ve got this far, I suppose you want to know about the monkey incident I referred to in the post title? Go on then…

I was taking some pics of the macaque monkeys, which as I mentioned were very tame and seemingly fairly placid. So the husband asked if I wanted to be in a photograph with one of them. I thought it would make a fun pic if I leaned towards it, as if I was blowing it a kiss. Monkey had other ideas – he screeched and lashed out at me, properly boshed me one and scratched my cheek! Luckily for me (!!!) the husband managed to catch the aftermath on his camera. Thanks husband!

Batu Caves monkey punch

Look at the venom on that primates face!

You can read my previous Malaysia trip posts here, here, here, here, here and here.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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When the weather matches your mindset

Grey, miserable with the occasional sunny spell. That’s how I feel, mentally, following the terrorist attack in London on Saturday night.

London skyline

Mindless killing in the name of “Allah” – I don’t think so! Real Muslims are currently fasting for Ramadan, honouring their God and the Koran.

Terrorists are not real Muslims.

And real Muslims are not terrorists.

Scary times. I know that’s what they (the terrorists) want, and I know we (the general public) aren’t supposed to give in – that we should be strong and stoic and refuse to change our behaviour, but I’ll admit, I’m scared. I’m going to London for the Guns n Roses gig next Friday and I’m nervous.

But enough about me. The current time should be for sending thoughts and love to any of the victims, their families and their friends. And to the amazing emergency services who selflessly put themselves on the front line, not knowing who or what they’re dealing with.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Teachings of Islam at Masjid Kapitan Keling in Penang

I had planned this post as a standalone to my other Malaysia trip posts as soon as I left the Kapitan Keling mosque in Penang and, in view of the bombing in Manchester, which has now been claimed by Muslim terrorists, today seems the right time to write it.

I love religious architecture; the grand scale, the intricate detail, the commitment to beauty. As I mentioned in my previous Malaysia post, the temples were one of the things I couldn’t wait to visit on our trip. I’m fascinated with churches, despite being a firm atheist, and will always seek out grand religious buildings whenever we’re on a trip.

Yet I’ve never been in a mosque.

On one of our visits to George Town, capital of Penang Island, we walked past the Kapitan Keling mosque – a stark, white building in the middle of the city, with it’s strong arches, rounded domes, and towering minaret.

Masjid Kapitan Keling outside

We took some pictures from the outside and were spotted by a volunteer in the foyer, who invited me in. I was given a scarf to cover my head (I was already dressed conservatively, with my legs and shoulders covered because of the possibility of visiting religious sites, but people who were dressed in strappy tops and shorts were cordially invited in and given clothes to cover themselves) and the young female volunteer began to tell me about the history of the mosque, and more about the Muslim faith.

I was struck by the simplicity of the inside of the mosque. In contrast to churches, and the Buddhist and Thai temples we had visited earlier in our trip, there were no physical depictions of Allah, no decorations or ostentatious shrines.

My guide explained to me that Allah’s physical appearance was never described anywhere in the Koran and so there are no imaginations of what he looks like anywhere – not just in a mosque but in every day life. Also, it is against the religion of Islam for any person or animal be represented in a mosque, part of which is that it can lead to idolatry, and also that there is no distraction during the praying process. Praying is a direct connection between the individual and Allah.

She explained to me about the pre-prayer washing process, which has to be done in a particular order, and that prayer water is inhaled into the nose and mouth for healing and purity reasons. She explained to me about the call to prayer, and prayer times – I incorrectly thought a prayer time had to be adhered to exactly, but she told me that as long as prayer is taken between the first call to prayer time and before the next call to prayer then that’s acceptable. She pointed out the segregated women’s prayer area, showed me the Koran, and read the Islamic prayer which is said to Allah 5 times each day.

It was incredibly enlightening, calming and interesting.

When I left the mosque she gave me some leaflets to take away and, because I’d been gone for a while, the husband joked that I’d been radicalised which is just the kind of sense of humour we have but not quite so funny in view of recent events.

Leaflets about Islam

When we got back to the hotel I sat and read the leaflets (more inappropriate radicalisation jokes!) which are designed to dispel some of the myths, rumours and negative press that Islam gets across the world.

Two quotes stand out to me:

“Have you ever wondered why a nun can be covered from head to toe and she’s respected for devoting herself to God, but when a Muslim woman covers, she’s viewed as “oppressed”? Or why a Jew can grow a beard and he’s just practising his faith, and when a Muslim does that, he’s an “extremist”?”

And this:

“Would you send your car to a butcher for repair, or a sick child to a florist? Of course not. A butcher is not qualified to repair a car, nor a florist qualified to treat the sick. Likewise, people without Islamic knowledge are not qualified to inform others about Islam. So why is it that people are willing to accept information about Islam from those that do not have the required knowledge?”

I’m not here to preach or change people’s minds, or even to share the content of the leaflets, but the way they approach common misconceptions was definitely an interesting read, and something I believe a lot of people could benefit from reading (EDL and Britain First members, I’m looking at you).

Whenever there’s a terror attack, the level of vitriol towards the Muslim community rises, and it’s so often misplaced – aimed at innocent people who simply believe in a religion and a God who is there for them; in the same way as a Christian or Catholic may believe in religion and God. We don’t turn against Christians when a Christian fundamentalist commits a murderous crime. We don’t see the religions of criminals reported in the news – unless they’re Muslim.

Crimes committed by Muslims in the name of Islam are anything but what they profess to be. They are extremist individuals who have a twisted view of “their” religion and the world at large, and try to justify a thirst for blood and an anger against a perceived threat in the name of a God who would deplore such actions.

Apologies if there are any inaccuracies in my writings about the mosque, but that’s the information as I recall it.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Religion and medicine don’t mix – and nor should they

It was with alarm that I read an article last week regarding a new ruling in the US, which grants medical professionals the right to refuse treatment based on “religious freedom”. Put simply, this means that doctors can refuse to treat a person who is transgender, or a woman who has had an abortion, because of their “beliefs”.

You can read the article here.

religion-and-medicine

(image from Medicine Today)

Quite frankly there is no room for such judgement in medicine. In fact there’s no room for such judgement in life, but bigots will be bigots and some Christians will wheel out the bits of the bible that back up their narrow minded beliefs, whilst ignoring the other bits that may see themselves acting against God’s will (yawn). The latter is a fight too big for anyone to win. But the former is absolutely appalling.

Imagine, perhaps, a woman who has been raped and aborted the resulting pregnancy. Tormented by the attack, potentially tormented by the abortion, and yet a doctor – who should be a trusted and trustworthy individual – can torment her further for a prior circumstantial decision?

Or, how about this, a woman who fell pregnant by mistake, didn’t want a child, and has no guilt about aborting a collection of cells that was unloved and unplanned. It happens, and is nothing to be ashamed of. Why should she be judged and refused healthcare or medical treatment in the future when, actually, she made the right decision in view of the amount of unwanted, mistreated children brought into the world, and the number of kids in children’s homes and care who will probably never be rehomed with a new family.

(sorry, this is turning into a pro-abortion rant which, whilst I feel very very strongly about it, is not the focus of this post. You can read more about my personal views on abortion here – the irony of the post title is not lost on me).

Think of a transgender person, born into the wrong body, living with the wrong identity and genitalia for however many years, hiding themselves for fear of judgement and perhaps being driven to the brink of suicide. Think of that person making the gender transformation and finally feeling free, feeling like the person they actually are, feeling like they can finally live. And then think of a doctor refusing to treat them purely on the grounds of their transition.

Too many people feel they have the right to interfere in decisions that don’t really affect them or their lives. Transgender people and women who’ve undergone abortions are too often ridiculed and vilified by the general public, especially in today’s social media world where everyone thinks they have the right to push their opinion on others. To have that ridicule and vilification reiterated by a medical professional is dangerous. It sends out completely the wrong message to everyone. It instigates a class system; a measure of worthiness to what should be a basic right for everyone in the world.

I see it like this – if you choose medicine as your profession then you deliver that service to everyone who needs it. You don’t get to pick and choose. It should be a vocation, and your priority should be to ensure that people who need medical help receive that medical help; regardless of what they may have done in the past. Because you are a doctor. You’re not God. You don’t get to decide, or judge, or devalue people. You make them better.

Unfortunately I fear this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to healthcare in America. With Donald Trump about to be inaugurated, making him one of the most powerful people in the world (shudder at that thought, and the sheer ridiculousness that it has ever gotten to this point), there is no such thing as a safe future for anything that currently sits in the American constitution. He will lead by emotion and personal belief, regardless of whether it’s right or wrong for the country – the intention to repeal Obamacare is proof of that.

Buckle up Americans. Your future health is at risk, along with who knows what else.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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Signs from…somewhere?

It’s been a month today since my Dad died. Those words…they hurt. Some days I can say them quite matter of factly. Others, not so much.

On the day he died I couldn’t see as far as the end of the week, let alone further forward. A month seemed a lifetime away. But here we are. We’re surviving. Adapting. Doing him proud.

I wanted to share with you a whole host of things that have happened in the wake of Dad’s passing. Weird things. Stuff that, on it’s own, might seem just a coincidence. But, together, it seems much more. I’m not at all religious, I don’t believe in heaven (it would, after all, be so over populated by now!) and I’ve never truly believed that anything really happens after death, although I do struggle with the idea that someone can live a life full of laughter, memories and experiences and then it just ends and becomes nothing. Maybe that’s because I don’t want my own life’s work just to be snuffed out when the time comes, and I don’t want to think that my Dad’s character and zest for life just completely disappeared as he took his last breath.

I wouldn’t say that the things I’m going to tell you about have changed my views. But they’ve certainly made me think slightly differently.

signs-from-somewhere

As you know if you’ve read this blog for a while, my Dad had cancer, diagnosed in May 2014. It was already inoperable by the time it was detected and we’d been told the end was not far away back in August this year. He was starting to deteriorate quite rapidly and was due to go into a Macmillan hospice on the day he died. Early that morning he had a massive stroke and was rushed to hospital. I received a call telling me I needed to get there urgently.

Dad struggled on during that day, much longer than we all expected, right into the night time, sleeping or dosed up on morphine. All the family were there, in a private room with a big window. During the afternoon we heard a dull thud at the window and saw a tiny pretty bird bounce off the glass and land on the flat roof below. Rather than fly away he just sat there, looking at the window. He was like nothing we’d ever seen, certainly not a common bird, with red and orange markings on his head. He sat there for quite a while, before flying at the window again. The next day my Dad’s sister sent us a message saying she’d identified the bird – it was a zebra finch, known as the bird that sings while it sleeps. Weirdly, my Dad’s wife realised she had them as pets when she was a little girl.

When my Nan received a call to get to the hospital, that same morning, she noticed a white feather on the wedding photo she has of my Dad and his wife. When she got in the car to drive over, there was a white feather on the windscreen of the car. The morning after my Dad died, when someone came to visit, we found a white feather on the floor in the lounge. Most of the family have had feathers just appear to them, including three that fell in the garden and caught Dad’s wife’s eye while she was in the lounge with Dad’s Mom and his sister (one feather each), and one that was perfectly placed in her bed when she pulled back the covers one night. Even my Mom, who divorced my Dad many years ago but spent time with him a few weeks before he died, had a white feather appear on her lounge floor when she got back from holiday.

After Dad died, when we left him at the hospital, we went back to his house in the early hours of the morning. His wife originally said she wasn’t going to let anyone know immediately, then changed her mind and sent some texts to friends. A guy my Dad worked with about 20 years ago, who is now a hospital porter, text back immediately to say that he’d been called to take my Dad from the ward to the mortuary, and that he’d looked after him professionally and personally. Of all the people and wards in the hospital, the chances of that are pretty slim. It was a great comfort to us.

On the day we went to register Dad’s death, the registrar turned out to be a lady that Dad’s wife used to work with, who she hadn’t seen in years and didn’t know her whereabouts. The first thing she said was “I remember you, you married (my Dad). Who’s death are you registering?” Her face fell when we told her.

As Dad got more and more poorly, he asked me if I would like one his watches to keep. I kept putting it off, not wanting to face the inevitable, thinking there was plenty of time to have it. A few days before he died he told me to fetch the watch and insisted I have it there and then, which I did. I wore it on the day he died, and for the next few days after that, before noticing it had stopped, at some point, at 10.55. Dad died at 10.40. Maybe just a coincidence, albeit a close one. Then we realised that on my Dad’s wife’s watch it was 10.55 when he died. She’d noticed earlier in the day that her watch was fast, and not altered it.

(to add more significance to the watch story, my Dad had his own Dad’s watch in a draw for many years after he – my Grandad – died, and decided to wear it on his wedding day. It hadn’t been looked at or touched for years, so he took it out in advance of the wedding in order to replace the battery. The watch had stopped at the time he was due to get married, and on the same day (5th). He took that as a sign and didn’t replace the battery, wearing it as it was).

On the day of the funeral, a multitude of things happened.

I wore the watch my Dad had given me, that had stopped. I hadn’t worn it for over a week, and noticed it had crept forward a few minutes, in spite of me not replacing the battery.

Not long after we left home, I was saying hat I thought there would be a lot of donations from people at the funeral (we requested donations instead of flowers). One of the charities we chose to support is the Retiired Greyhound Trust. My Dad won a lot of money on greyhound racing over the years and owned lots of different racing dogs. As I said it, we saw a man walking a greyhound down the road. The husband had never seen a greyhound being walked as a pet before.

We went to my Mom’s house first, and I told her the strange coincidences that had already happened. I was talking about white feathers and how it seemed I was the only person in the family not to have received one. I realised I’d forgotten to put earrings in, so my Mom suggested I see if my little sister had some. As I opened the jewellery box, there was one odd earring – a dangly white feather. A coincidence, or a sign? Either way, it made me cry!

Finally, as I mentioned, my Dad was very into greyhound racing. A lot of his friends from the track were at the funeral, and at the wake in the pub afterwards. They all sat together and had the local race track streaming on their phones, betting and enjoying themselves as my Dad would have wanted (and as he’d have done if he’d been there!) Late afternoon they called me over and said there was a race coming up where they had a good tip, on a dog called “Bonny Lass”. Quite a few of them were betting it, so a few of my family got involved, as did I, betting £25. The form was that if the dog came out of the trap well, it would win. It didn’t, it came out poorly. A couple of the guys actually said “it’s got no chance”. But that dog came from behind, bearing in mind the race was about 30 seconds long, and it weaved through it’s race companions and it only bloody won! Photo finish, but it won! I won £100, the husband won £100, family members and friends won, it was amazing! Not only that, at the end of the race a beautiful full rainbow appeared over the racetrack, and also outside the pub we were in. It was like my Dad sending us all a win, and a big smile to let us know what he’d done.

Am I bonkers for thinking these things mean anything? Maybe! If they were happening to anyone else, would I think they were significant? Perhaps, perhaps not. And I don’t think any of these things mean my Dad exists in a parallel universe or is in heaven or anything like that. But it’s nice to think that somehow, some way, it’s a continuation of the energy he exuded in life letting us know that he’ll always be with us, even though he can’t be.

I miss him so much.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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