The humble journey to The Creator: After all, we are just a tiny bubble in the ocean




The letter confirmed my PhD award from Imperial College
This letter confirmed my PhD award from Imperial College

Alhamdulillah wa syukurillah. Berjaya meletakkan noktah di situ.

Ini adalah karangan 2 muka surat yang saya masukkan juga dalam tesis saya. 4.5 tahun untuk menunggu mendapatkan penganugerahan ini dengan pelbagai cabaran dan pentarbiahan terus dari Allah SWT. Sesungguhnya kejayaan ini semata-mata dari Allah SWT. Atas rahmat Dia juga. Percayalah bahawa, setinggi mana pun tahap kecerdikan, tahap kerajinan, tahap kebaikan kita (e.g. dengan supervisor, dengan examiner, dengan technician lain-lan) untuk mendapatkan anugerah ini, ia tetap perlu datang ‘mercy’ daripadaNya. Perbanyakkan amalan sunat (dhuha, tahajjud dsb) untuk memohon daripadaNya. Andainya kita terlajak dengan dosa, bersegeralah bertaubat atas kesalahan diri. Sekiranya ada rasa kekurangan, muhasabahlah diri, mungkin ada hak kita kepada insan lain yang tertinggal, e.g. hak kepada isteri, hak kepada anak, hak kepada mak ayah, hak kepada keluarga, dan yang terpenting sekali ialah hak kepada ALLAH.


Once I graduated from the University of Sheffield for my BEng and Newcastle University for my MSc, I learnt how chemical engineering knowledge is very valuable to me, and, hence, inspired me to become an academician in my own country, Malaysia. To become a capable academician and researcher, I therefore needed to pursue my PhD, hence, my reason for returning to the UK, this time to Imperial College London. However, this is not what I wanted to share here. This PhD is not only a journey to climb the career ladder as an academician. It is a spiritual journey, the toughest that I have encountered so far in my life. I started my PhD in October 2009. My wife in her third pregnancy had to forget her career the first time we arrived here since she was not allowed unpaid leave to accompany me here. I was a young father with two going to be three kids at the age of 28 when I started my PhD. We left our big family, big home and luxurious car in Malaysia and commenced to hold out for another four years in a little apartment in London. Without any other family members except us, this left me juggling between the household and my PhD work. I had to make sure while doing my PhD that the needs of my wife and children would never be overlooked. Paying a high rent and rationing food were part of the price to pay, but it did not deter me from moving forward.
As time moved on, things went as usual until one day I was infected with scarlet fever or scarlatina, a rare disease today. It was for a month prior to my MPhil to PhD transfer exam. My two sons were also infected and one of them had to be hospitalised for the antibiotic course. Fortunately, I managed to pass my transfer exam. Afterwards, my wife began her PhD in Petroleum Engineering and my family members from Malaysia had a rotating schedule to get to London to look after our children. Unfortunately, I was again infected with a dental related illness, which consumed three weeks of my precious time as I was bedridden. After a month, the third disease attacked me, which was related to arthritis, and about which neither my GP nor I had any idea about until then. I was a healthy person back in Malaysia and again I was prevented from doing my PhD work for a few weeks until finally being cured.
Starting from then, I tried to lead a healthy life and felt much more active and healthy. I was enjoying the third year of my PhD, collecting and analysing data from the experimental works, until one day, disaster struck when our lab caught fire due to a hydrogen explosion. I was demoralised and demotivated from not being able to retrieve anything. I made up my mind to go back to Malaysia, to meet my employer and request for an extension and to do some analytical works there. However, after I got my catalysts out of the affected lab to be brought back together to Malaysia, a further incident happened when a postgraduate student fell from the window of my office while watching the Skyfall 007 red carpet moment outside the Royal Albert Hall; apparently she ruined my catalysts located on my desk. Some of the prepared and spent catalysts were ruined and were not able to be salvaged. I was later interrupted from my PhD for 5 months, and not able to do any further experiments.
One fine day during my period of interruption, my wife found that she was pregnant for the fourth time, which was unplanned. I consulted with my supervisors on the results and the data that I received earlier and decided to start writing my thesis. My wife wanted to deliver the baby in Malaysia and switched her PhD program to Malaysia for reasons of childcare, and we went back there during my writing up period. But finally I manage to finish the thesis despite the struggles.

This journey taught me about patience, love and being benevolent to others. There are things in this world that I cannot control and I seek forgiveness and help from the God Almighty. I have learnt that everything happens for a reason and that this PhD journey is just a sign that we might not get everything that we want, but whatever we do have, are the most precious things that no other people might have. However depressed and unlucky I was throughout my PhD progress, the most important thing is that my wife, my children and my family members and friends were always there to support me and it is my responsibility to care for them the most. There is no point in me venting my anger at them, even though I had arrived at my lowest point in life. I learnt to balance between the work and family matters, and there is nothing more important than a strong family bond.

My wife quoted this and I want to share it here:

“Sometimes all He wanted us to learn was the meaning of endurance and patience.
When we feel like we cannot go on anymore, that is when we have to endure a little bit more. When we thought things could not get any worse that is when we have to be patient with the tides that keep on coming. May this lesson enable us to endure the ever-challenging and testing life of this world. And to be patient and have patience with anything that will be inflicted upon us throughout our life until it finally ends.”

Happy 4th Birthday, dear Nurhan (Post FB by Ummi 27 February 2014)

My dear son Nurhan, 
Ummi is so glad we had the chance to be together and celebrate your 4th birthday today. It was a simple 1-hour evening tea with our neighbours but we had balloons and cake – and when we asked if you enjoyed it, you said ‘Yes, it was cool..’

Ummi knows you were angry at me for being away from you for 3 weeks. I know that because everytime I called Abi on the phone, you don’t want to talk to me for a long time but every night before going to bed you asked Abi when Ummi’s going to come back. You did not talk to me a lot of time but you did think of me all the time…

In the morning Ummi arrived, I woke you up and hugged you, and I asked you, ‘Are you still angry at me Nurhan?’, you answered very softly, your head resting on my shoulder, 

‘No I’m not. I’m not..’

And Ummi realised, you happily counted,’one, two,three,four,five,six!’

Yes, there’s six of us. Just like how it was before. 

My darling Nurhan, 
I am so sorry I have to leave you with Abi and kakak and abang. Yesterday when I asked you if it’s okay that you stay here with Abi and kakak and abang, you kept quite. And when I asked you ‘Do you want to stay here with Abi and kakak and abang, or do you want to follow Ummi?’, you answered, ‘Follow Ummi’. I asked you three times and you gave the same answer three times. 

But Nurhan, Ummi loves you, and Ummi and Abi wants the best possible for you, so that’s why we would like you to stay here in our own big, cosy home where you can play with the toys and books and games anytime you want to, you can go to school with abang and play with your friends and teachers, Abi can bring you to Tutti Frutti, KFC, UTP lake, UTP mosque- and even watch a movie, all here very close to our home. Its fun isn’t it? But I understand Nurhan, no amount of fun can make up with the simple fun you can have with me if I am around you every day…

Yesterday night, you made my heart ache once more…
In the car, after we had our pre-birthday treat, I asked you again if its okay for me to go back to Johor, and come again to Perak, and then Johor…

And you gave me a simple answer yet so deep; 

‘But there’s always five of us’…

Ummi could not say anything heart was crying. 

I have no answer to give to you, an answer simple enough to make you understand that we being apart, is a test from Allah, that Allah made us come to this situation and that we have to move on with our life. Allah loves us, and gives us this test because Allah wants us to be closer to Him by asking for His help everytime we feel sad, everytime we misses each other. Because you know what Nurhan, when we make du’a to Allah, Allah can hear us and He can make us feel better and He will take care of us- you, abang, kakak. Abi, Ummi, Ihsan. Ummi and Abi will not always be there for you, but Allah will. Allah will always protect you, Allah will always comfort you, and Allah will always take care of you. That is my du’a for you, my son Nurhan. And for kakak, abang and Ihsan too. (And for Abi as well). Ummi may have to leave you sometimes, but Allah will never leave you. Ummi loves you, and you love Ummi, but Allah love all of us even more…

As you turn four today, Ummi and Abi only have the best of du’a and prayers for you. We pray that you will be a humble Muslim who loves Allah and Rasulullah, who understands and practices his deen, who takes care of his solah, who has great character and akhlaq, who is clever and successful in this dunya and will be granted Jannah in the hereafter. That is also our du’a to your sister and brothers and our family and friends. 

So Nurhan, even though Ummi will have to leave you again and again, know that Ummi loves you, and it will never end. 

Happy 4th Birthday, son. 


The boy who sells car perfumes, and ME.

I must admit, I have been uninspired for the past couple of days. Its like I’m slowly slipping down, and down and down… despite everything else around me seems fine. I could not think, I don’t have the desire to do things. To move on. Its hard. When I am away from my family (husband and children, and home) – its hard. And when I am with my family,at home, its also hard, because I could not do (much) PhD work. Due to my nature of PhD (experiments and simulation), I have to be in a specific working system. Its sad to realise that until I finish my PhD, I could not stay with my family for a duration longer than a week, else I will start to have anxiety pangs for not being able to focus on my PhD. Its a mental and emotional torture, and at times like this, I just wish I could pull the plug to stop the misery. 

This morning, like the past few days, I woke up with a heavy mind. I sort the kids before going to office (cook meal, sort out things for them to do, etc). I don’t feel anything, cannot think of what to do next but I force myself to drive to work. I am literally a walking zombie. But I do know that I need to fix myself as soon as possible – I need to get away and shake off this misery and get my head straight again, quickly. Before I drive to office, I stop at the fuel station to withdraw some money and to fill in the tank.

Walking out from my car, I saw a boy, and Indian boy, walking from one car to another, trying to sell something. Poor boy, I thought. If he happened to come to me, I was prepared to give him some money. As I withdrew my money at the ATM machine, that’s when I came to one realisation. I have a lot of things. Allah has bestowed upon me a lot of things. I have money in my bank. I have four, adorable, healthy, clever kids at home. I have a wonderful husband. I have a job, I have a house to call home. I have my parents, siblings and family. I have a (brand new) car. It just happen to be that at this point in my life, I am facing a really hard time trying to make things work with my PhD. I could fail my PhD, I might as well quit. Yet, I still have a lot other things. I can still live. Live calmly, not like a zombie. But how many people out there are feeling, walking and living life like a zombie right now? Waking up to nothing, really. I looked around me at the petrol station, there are people with real hardship – people who has nothing to eat, who has to do anything to get by in life. Suddenly it came to my mind that perhaps Allah wanted me to know and experience how it felt to become a helpless person, feeling nothing to look up to, to look forward to. To feel down in despair. And I have to learn, how to get back up again from the misery. again, and again, and again… So then perhaps one day, I could help these people. Perhaps…

After re-fuelling my car, I was already buckled up and ready to start my engine when the Indian boy came and knocked slowly at my car window. I rolled it down and very politely he said that he is selling car perfumes. I asked him, “Adik tak pergi sekolah ke?” And he said, “Cuti sekolah. Jadi tolong emak jual barang”. (Off course, cuti sekolah. My kids when cuti sekolah is happy at home playing games and having fun…huhu). I asked him again, “Adik dah makan?” Dia senyum sedikit sambil geleng kepala. I handed him some money, “Adik ambil duit ni, adik beli makanan okay”. He smiled and thanked me. I rolled up my window again, and drove to office.

I know that right now, the only One that can help me is Allah. Hasbunallahu wa ni’mal wakeel. To help me move on and go on. Not even my husband, my family nor my supervisor, or anyone else for that matter. I need to keep walking, even if sometimes I’m walking like a zombie. May Allah also guide, protects and help that young Indian boy to keep walking.

Keep walking, dear boy who sells car perfumes

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