Saturday, 17 March 2018

Gravitas by Caroline Goyder: a book review

Self-improvement books are a nice way to make one feel good. They energize one while reading. Indeed, we make all sorts of mental promises to implement the many wonderful suggestions contained in the book.

That is the case with virtually all self-improvement books. The difference between a nice and a great self-improvement book is whether one carries through with all those promises and suggestions.

Are the recommendations easily remembered in a catchy way? How practical are they for one’s life? Surely, there is an element of personal motivation involved though much of that hurdle was already crossed when a reader picks up a specific title.

Gravitas by Caroline Goyder had more potential than the author realizes. The entire book is readable. No doubt about that. It was well organized. It revealed insights; it used catchy acronyms.

Still, it just didn’t quite get there. It’s difficult to say why. Perhaps it was an (ostensible) lack of depth which turned me off. It just lacked that ‘gravitas’ associated with a terrific read. Nonetheless, if you have a few hours - say on an intercontinental airplane journey - Gravitas is not a bad way to fumble in and out of sleep.

Imran is an adventurer, blogger, consultant, guide, photographer, speaker, traveler and a banker in his previous life. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at

Monday, 26 February 2018

Of heroes, Marx and my left wing youth!

Reading and writing about Marx is a nostalgic experience for me. As a young man communism held great appeal to me. Perhaps it was the naiveté of idealistic youth or maybe the desire to cut through the complexity of a harsh world by believing in a Marxian utopia brought about by Dialectical Materialism? Whatever the reason, Marxist thought is deeply ingrained in my psyche.

Karl in 1882 (source: Wikipedia)
My fascination with the left wing intellectual tradition was furthered during my college years in the 1980s. In the 1980s, it was considered fashionable for professors to adhere to left wing intellectual ideas. Many spoke of their ‘communist’ ideals as if they were a badge of honor ... and, yes it surely was!

Hence, when I was asked to write a paper on Enlightenment, Kant and Marx for a course titled, ‘The Modern and the Postmodern (Part 1)’ it brought back fond memories of philosophical intellectualizing as a student!

My paper is reproduced below.

Marx: an Outgrowth of Enlightenment Thought

Karl Marx (1818-83) was an Enlightenment figure. Marx reached radically different philosophical conclusions about society and the human condition from those put forward by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) almost a century earlier. Nonetheless, there is little doubt Marx used reason to develop his arguments; arguments which he put forward to encourage the betterment of the world.

Kant, a central figure of the Age of Enlightenment, in his work “What is Enlightenment?” said “Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity."[1] Stated another way and in line with the course syllabus Enlightenment is defined as a “project to make the world more of a home for human beings through the use of reason.”[2]

For Kant, always trying to walk a middle path between evolution and revolution, the use of reason had limits. For example, Kant made a conscious distinction between knowledge which may be gained by reasoning and experience, through the ‘scientific’ realm and knowledge which humans are unable to grasp through experiential / scientific terms (e.g. faith or religious beliefs). Kant referred to the former, i.e. scientific process, etc. as the phenomenal side while the latter, i.e. “a posited object or event as it appears in itself independent of perception by the sensesas the noumenal world.[3]

For Kant, the noumenal world is where faith resides. In other words, faith in the religious scriptures and beliefs cannot be validated through the use of reason. However, that does not necessarily mean God does not exist because religious ideas and structures exist only in the noumenal world, not the phenomenal world. Therefore, the existence of God and / or other supernatural forces cannot be determined via scientific reasoning.

Statue of Marx and Engels in Shanghai, People's Republic of China (Source: Wikipedia)
To be sure, Marx had far less place for religion in his philosophy. Often famously quoted as saying “it [religion] is the opium of the people,” Marx also wrote passages suggesting religion is an illusion and acts as an obstacle to humans’ achieving their true state of happiness.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself.[4]
For Marx improving human society and the human condition lay in economics. Using dialectical reasoning as the basis for his interpretation of contemporary (mainly English) economists, Marx’s economic determinism model postulated that economic forces determine, shape, and define all political, social, cultural, intellectual, and technological aspects of a civilization.[5]

Coupled with Marx’s belief in historical materialism which stated that history was a constant class struggle between those in power (who also owned / controlled the means of economic production) and the oppressed labor force responsible for production, Marx asserted all aspects of society, including religion, culture, law, etc. were determined by economic forces.

Consequently, for Marx (and his later writing partner Engels) to improve human society a revolution was required. A revolution would overthrow the existing order, especially ownership of the means of production, by which the bulk of oppressed humans suffered alienation and, hence, remained unhappy. The Communist Manifesto authored by the Marx-Engels duo in 1848 highlighted these beliefs with a call for revolutionary action across Europe.

Kant and Marx did not share many philosophical similarities. Unlike Kant, Marx did not believe in gradual change. Marx was a revolutionary while Kant called for gradual change. Through the notion of noumenon Kant made space for religion in his philosophy. On the other hand, Marx dismissed religion as one means through which a ruling class maintained society’s status quo.

Despite these differences Marx was undeniably a figure and a product of the Enlightenment. Why? Marx believed that the use of reason, a central notion in the definition of Enlightenment, will improve the world and better the human condition. However, unlike Kant and other philosophers Marx was inspired by English economics, German philosophy, and French radicalism to believe the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from history is that of inherent contradictions in the economic means of production which will ultimately only lead to one place: a communist revolution.

[1] Immanuel Kant on What is Enlightenment. Retrieved on February 8, 2018.
[2] Professor Michael S. Roth, Wesleyan University. The Modern and the Postmodern (I). Week One, Lecture One transcript.
[3] Noumenon, Merriam Webster online dictionary. Retrieved on February 8, 2018.
[4] Karl Marx,  Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right as quoted in Marxism and Religion. Retrieved on February 8, 2018.
[5] Professow Mark Bowles, Economic Determinism and Karl Marx: Definition & History. Chapter 3 , Lesson 32 transcript. Retrieved on February 8, 2018.

Imran is an adventurer, blogger, consultant, guide, photographer, speaker, traveler and a banker in his previous life. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Keeping the peace in Singapore in a 'Post 9/11' world

The world is a complicated place, more so after the events of 9/11. Especially if one happens to be from the Muslim world. Especially, especially if one happens to be from Pakistan.

Singapore's unofficial national mosque, Sultan Mosque. The mosque is located in the city's Kampong Glam district and can accommodate almost 5,000 faithful. (Photo: Wikipedia)
In the post 9/11 era, making sense of Bush’s black and white ultimatum to the world – “either you’re with us or you’re against us” – is no easy task.

To help me unravel these mysteries I recently completed an online course, “Understanding 9/11: Why 9/11 Happened and How Terrorism Affects Our World Today” offered by Duke University.

The course provided me with some insights into the post 9/11 world we now live in. Undoubtedly, like any humanities course, there are biases in the material and its presentation. However, I soaked in the knowledge in order to make better personal judgments about the subject.

To complete the course I submitted submit two papers.

The first assignment – a maximum of 1,000 words – is about radical Islamic fundamentalism I titled ‘The Post 9/11 era and periods in history’ for my blog. Through the document I explained key elements of Al-Qaeeda's philosophy, its origins and the radicalization process to my local police chief.

The second assignment – also a maximum of 1,000 words – is proposing steps to counter possible radical Islamic fundamentalist terrorist atrocities in Singapore. The steps “should NOT [emphasis added] include things like military action, foreign policy, or law enforcement actions designed to degrade the groups or pre-empt individuals plotting or planning a violent attack.”

The paper takes the form of a memo to Singapore’s (fictitious) National Security Adviser. Perhaps the ideas will help us maintain our peaceful Singapore. It is reproduced in its entirety below. 


To:             The National Security Adviser,

From:        Imran Ahmed,
                  Security Analyst.
Subject:    Preventing radicalization of Singapore's Muslim community
Date:         December 19, 2017
Singapore's significant Muslim population, comprising of almost twenty percent of the country's residents, has recently been affected by Al-Qaeeda and ISIS inspired radical fundamentalist Islamic ideologies. Some Singaporean Muslims have started espousing violent ideas and even traveled overseas to pursue 'Jihad.' These activities raise the risk of domestic terrorism in Singapore. To minimize the attraction of radical Islamic terrorism, we must harness the influence of Singapore's religious leaders to propagate the historically tolerant and inclusive message of Islam. Additionally, we must inculcate Singapore's traditional tolerant values into our youth from an early age by running an awareness campaign targeted at young Singaporeans.


Singapore and Southeast Asia's Muslim community have lived peaceably with the region's non-Muslim communities for centuries. Though a climate of multi-religious harmony continues to prevail, isolated segments of the Muslim community have fallen prey to radical Islamic fundamentalist ideas of the sort espoused by Al-Qaeeda and ISIS inspired fringe groups. Building on a global narrative of Islamic nations and Muslim lifestyles being persecuted by Western countries, radical Islamic fundamentalist groups have adapted the ideology to encompass regional Muslim communities in Singapore's immediate neighborhood of Indonesia and Malaysia. In particular, Southeast Asia's Al-Qaeeda offshoot of Jemaah Islamiyah has already mounted spectacular attacks in Muslim majority Indonesia, including in the tourist resort of Bali and Indonesia's capital city of Jakarta.

In Singapore we have avoided outright radical Islamic fundamentalist terrorist attacks to date. However, our law enforcement agencies have foiled several plots to attack targets within Singapore. Indeed, Singapore's close security relationships with the United States, Western nations and Israel make us a 'legitimate' target for radical Islamic fundamentalist groups. Additionally, Singapore's liberal (read un-Islamic in the eyes of extremist groups) environment with casinos and an active nightlife add more legitimacy to Singapore as a target in the eyes of Islamic extremists.

Thought Leadership in Singapore's Islamic Community

Singapore authorities should effectively use the existing framework for leadership within the Islamic community. The community's leadership must ensure the message delivered to Singaporean Muslims is compatible with the requirements of an open and diverse multi-religious society such as Singapore. The message is compatible with mainstream Islam. The message is also in line with existing religious practices of  the majority of Singaporean Muslims and will reinforce notions of citizens' freedom to practice Islam alongside other faith structures and religions found in Singapore.

As Singapore's Malay-Muslim Islamic community typically looks to religious community leaders for guidance on theological and spiritual issues the task is made easier for authorities. Indeed, the structural framework to dispense the message is also very much in place via the existing organization of Singapore's Islamic religious community. Through Singapore's government appointed existing apex Islamic body, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), as well as the formal control of Singapore's mosques and religious education by MUIS, the Singapore authorities may prevent extreme radical Islamic fundamentalist messages from entering mainstream debate.

Singapore must strengthen the mechanisms available to MUIS for controlling the quality and message of weekly Friday sermons delivered by individual mosque imams (or mosque prayer leader) at Friday prayers. Foremost among these tools must be ensuring the theological quality of religious leaders and religious education. Only persons properly qualified and licensed from accredited Islamic institutions should be allowed to dispense religious advice / education from within mosques and pulpits. Proper theological education will minimize the risk of worshipers receiving extremist opinions in the guise of religious knowledge.

Influencing the Grassroots Narrative in Singapore's Islamic Community

Education is key to ensuring a harmonious relationship between Singapore's main religious communities, i.e. Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Firstly, the government may initiate an educational campaign about the legal parameters of Singapore's Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, 1990. Under the wide ranging Act no person is permitted to disrupt Singapore's religious harmony by inciting hatred, ill will or enmity between different religious groups through any medium. Consequently, as a result of greater awareness of Singapore's tough legal stance, individuals who may otherwise be tempted by radical Islamic fundamentalist thought may be deterred by the possible consequences of adopting a radical path. Also, greater awareness of the Act may result in individuals obtaining greater understanding of living in a mixed religious environment. Ultimately, these same individuals may even help authorities by reporting individuals preaching extremist Islamic thought.

Secondly, a targeted campaign aimed at raising awareness of the importance of religious harmony aimed at students enrolled in Singapore's many educational institutions. The campaign may be customized to cater to the varying levels of social maturity demonstrated by different age groups, e.g. a different message for university students and a more elementary message for primary school students.

All students should be communicated a clear educational message about living in a multi-religious society. Establishments such as the Home Ministry's existing Harmony in Diversity Gallery museum should be a key part of the educational message. The Harmony in Diversity Gallery museum showcases Singapore's existing model of integrating the country's various religious communities into one nation. The museum is an important tool in communicating to young Singaporeans the important consequences of maintaining social harmony. Singaporeans must be made aware that losing peace also has serious economic ramifications for a small country dependent on foreign trade and investment. If there is no peace then foreign investors and capital will shy away from Singapore.


Keeping Singapore's significant Muslim population away from ISIS and Al-Qaeeda radical Islamic fundamentalist ideologies should be a key aspect in Singapore's anti-terrorism policy. Two pillars underpinning Singapore's 'pre-emptive' anti-terrorism strategy must be formal control of Islamic religious education and preaching through an enforced licensing system for religious teachers. Through this mechanism deviant Islamic thought and preachers may be kept out of Singapore's mainstream Islamic community. Secondly, an educational campaign targeting schools, colleges and other educational institutions to raise awareness of Singapore's integration model and the importance of religious harmony. These two tools will play an important part in Singapore's anti-terrorism ecosystem by pre-empting the spread of radical Islamic fundamentalist ideas in the country.

Imran is an adventurer, blogger, consultant, guide, photographer, speaker, traveler and a banker in his previous life. At the time of writing, Imran lived in Rashidabad, Pakistan as a volunteer teacher at the SST Public School. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at

Sunday, 26 November 2017

The 'Post 9/11' era and periods in history

World history is conveniently divided into periods. It is likely September 11, 2001 marked the end of the post-war period and the beginning of a new era. The events of 9/11 are a handy reference point for a 'before' and 'after' comparison.

'Before' included a relatively stable economic order buttressed by the Bretton Woods Agreement; a political structure based on clear demarcations between the Communist bloc led by the Soviet Union (remember the USSR?) and the Free World led by the US.

Developing nations joined either the American or Soviet camp. In return for supporting either the capitalist or communist systems these countries were given economic and military aid, a form of clientelism. Ostensibly, the aid delivered by the patron Superpower was meant for development. To be sure, much of the aid did trickle down to the masses, positively affecting the lives of millions. However, a large part of the aid money was recycled back into Western economies. Corrupt politicians pocketed aid money and deposited these funds into bank accounts say in London and Geneva. Once in the international banking system, the money returned to the developed economies.

While the 'Eastern blocWestern bloc' system may not have worked for all, it worked for some. Certainly it worked for those at the top who managed it.

Then came the demise of the USSR. And the evolution of 'Socialism with Chinese characteristics' in Deng Xiaoping's China. The Communist bloc disappeared almost overnight. If that weren't enough, 9/11 happened.

Suddenly, the world was reeling from violence underpinned by a so-called Islamic ideology (even if the ideology is decidedly un-Islamic to most Muslims). One thing led to another and before sane people could blink, the US and its Coalition of the Willing implemented Operation Enduring Freedom and invaded Iraq in 2003.

US soldiers enter a palace in Baghdad, Iraq in 2003 (Source: Wikipedia)
The Iraq invasion precipitated a chain of events which continue in motion until today. Already a tinderbox due to the Palestinian question, the Middle East erupted into a cacophony of wars, revolutions and ever changing political alliances.

Shia Persia – contemporary Iran – viewing itself as a historic regional power adeptly filled political vacuums in Iraq and Syria thereby adding to its already strong foothold in Lebanon via Hezbollah. Simultaneously, Sunni Islam's Al-Qaeeda virus transformed into a more deadly disease called Islamic State (IS). IS, mainly through its involvement in Syria and Iraq, fueled the symbiotic relationship between extreme versions of Sunni and Shia Islam. Ultimately influential state actors were sucked into the conflict.

Saudi Arabia, along with its new best friend the United Arab Emirates (UAE), initiated a military expedition in Yemen with sideshows in Bahrain and Qatar. All three operations avowedly designed to block Shia Iran's expanding influence in the Arab world. Indeed, it now appears a tacit alliance between Saudi Arabia and the Arab world's historic 'Mother of All Enemies' i.e. Zionist Israel, is in the works to counter Iran's regional strength.

Throw in a hot-headed 32 year old ruler – Saudi Arabia's new Crown Prince – and a fiery anti-Western Turkish Islamist politician – President Erdogan – and the ingredients for prolonged instability are truly in place.

An Al-Qaeeda affiliated fighter in the Sahel region of Africa (Source: Wikipedia)
On the bigger global stage, a reprise of the 1970s Cold War is taking place in the form of renewed conflict between the US and Russia (and China). Meanwhile, 'Red' China has transformed itself into an economic and political powerhouse. Indeed, the health of the global economy hinges on Chinese growth rates. If China sneezes the world catches a cold. Buttressed by its new found economic clout, China now employs a more muscular foreign policy in order to project its strength. The South China Sea dispute is evidence of China's new approach.

The world is in a new 'Post 9/11' phase. It is doubtful there were many certainties in the past. Now there are even fewer certainties – simply many questions which only time can answer.

It is in this context that I enrolled for the online course, Understanding 9/11: Why 9/11 Happened and How Terrorism Affects Our World Today offered by Duke University. The course should provide me with information about recent changes. Undoubtedly, like any humanities course, there are biases in the material and its presentation. However, I intend to soak in the knowledge in order to make better personal judgments about the subject (isn't that the purpose of learning?).

To complete the course I am required to submit two papers. The first assignment – a maximum of 1,000 words – is about 'Radical Islamic Fundamentalism.' Through the document I must explain key elements of Al-Qaeeda's philosophy, its origins and the radicalization process to my local police chief.

Below is my paper in its entirety.


To: The Commissioner,
Singapore Police Force,
Republic of Singapore.

From: Imran Ahmed,
Policy Consultant,
Radical Islamic Fundamentalism Expert.

Subject: Origins and key elements of radical Islamic fundamentalism and the radicalization process

Date: November 18, 2017

'Radical Islamic Fundamentalism' has the potential to drive individuals towards violence. One dangerous strand of radical Islamic fundamentalist ideology is provided by Osama Bin Laden's (OBL) Al-Qaeeda and its offshoots such as ISIS and Jemaah Islamia (JI). These fringe Islamic ideologies form a critical part of any individual's radicalization process and must be understood as they potentially pose a threat to Singapore as a plural multicultural society.

Origins of Radical Islamic Fundamentalism

Radical Islamic fundamentalism relies on specific interpretations of historical and contemporary conditions found in the Islamic world. These conditions can be categorized into three broad headings: political and economic decline; 'un-Islamic' religious practices; and Westernization of Muslim societies.

Firstly, radicals believe the political and economic decline of the Islamic world is directly attributed to non-Muslim Western nations, e.g. the destruction of the Ottoman Empire and related Islamic Caliphate. Western colonialism is also blamed for the demise of Islamic nations and dividing the Islamic Ummah into arbitrarily defined nation states.

Secondly, radical Islamists consider contemporary Islamic beliefs and practices to be tainted by centuries of influence from 'un-Islamic' ideas. Consequently, present day Islamic society and religion is believed be fundamentally 'corrupt.'

Lastly, these radicals believe Islamic societies have been 'Westernized' through centuries of contact with 'un-Islamic' Western nations. That is, Islamic societies are diffused with un-Islamic cultural and social practices. In recent years, this belief has been compounded by the forces of globalization.

Al-Qaeeda Ideology: Some Key Elements

Al-Qaeeda believes there is a war taking place between Islam and the West, including the US. It is therefore a religious duty of all Muslims to wage war – a lesser Jihad – against Americans and Westerners in order to protect the Islamic world and avenge its mistreatment by the West. Moreover, any Muslims not participating in this war are deemed un-Islamic and, hence, legitimate targets under OBL's call for jihad. The ideology makes no distinction between civilian and military combatants, all are potential targets in this holy war.

In OBL's 1996 Declaration of Jihad, he built on ideas expounded by an Egyptian Islamist thinker named Sayyid Qutb in a book titled Milestones (1964). In Milestones Qutb wrote, “Our whole environment, people's beliefs and ideas, their habits and art, rules and laws - is Jahiliyyah [an age of barbarity or darkness predating Islam].”

In the Declaration, OBL appeals to economic, social and political grievances within the Muslim world to advance his argument. He states Muslims and Islamic nations have been humiliated by Western nations in many ways, e.g. through war, occupation and plunder.

In 1998, in a bid to gain more credibility, OBL joined forces with several known religious figures and issued a statement under the World Islamic Front banner. In this 1998 call to action, Al-Qaeeda focuses more openly on America. He refers to the US 'occupation' of Holy Lands in Saudi Arabia – a reference to US soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia. Further, the statement speaks of ongoing injustices such as United Nations and US sanctions against Iraq following the 1991 war. In a final bid to convince his audience, Bin Laden attempts to associate the US with Israel, using Israel's general unpopularity within the Islamic world.

Al-Qaeeda's radical Islamic ideology urges violence against American and Western persons and interests. Indeed, the ideology goes further by exhorting Muslims to fulfill their religious duty by undertaking such violence, even against other Muslims who are seen as passive bystanders in this holy war against the US. The 9/11 attacks are the most poignant examples of such violence.

Radicalizing Individuals to Violence

Radicalizing individuals to commit acts of violence is a complex process. There is no predetermined, rigid or formulaic path by which an individual moves from being a non-violent individual to one ready to commit violence in the name of Islam, even if the person is sympathetic to radical Islamic fundamentalist causes.
There are multiple routes towards radicalization and many use forms of social media. Likewise, there appears to be no one type of individual who tends to radicalize.

A review of known radical Islamic terrorists demonstrates diversity across national, ethnic, linguistic, educational and socioeconomic backgrounds. Hence, it is difficult for law enforcers to detect potential terrorists based on a specific racial profile. Nevertheless, evidence indicates that most terrorists tend to be young males.

Some individuals radicalize because they experienced a traumatic event, e.g. death of an acquaintance or family member. Consequently, they may wish to avenge the death and turn to terrorism. Alternately, the individual may identify with a larger group (e.g. Iraqi Sunni Muslims) which he somehow seeks to defend from an 'enemy.'

There are several other known theoretical tracks to radicalization discussed by radicalization expert Clark McCauley. These include thrill seeking by young persons. Another is based on Group Dynamics. Here individuals within a group tend to move towards extremes and ultimately all members of the group are radicalized. Group isolation, where a group is isolated from society and hence strengthens bonds to such an extent where violence becomes acceptable is another possibility. Mass politics is another method. Here if a group is attacked then it may respond in ways – i.e. violence – which otherwise it may otherwise have considered inappropriate.

It is important to state that most sympathizers of radical Islam seem not to take the final step towards violence.


As has been seen by the capture and detention of several Jemaah Islamia (JI) terrorists and radicalized individuals, Al-Qaeeda's extreme radical Islamic fundamentalist ideology has the ability to influence Muslims in Singapore towards extreme violent behavior. (JI is the Al-Qaeeda offshoot active in Southeast Asia.) Radical Islamic fundamentalist ideology espouses violence against open societies such as Singapore and even against Muslims who have integrated into a pluralistic, tolerant society. While there is no single route to radicalization, it is known that the largest group of potential terrorists are young males. Hence, It is important Singapore curbs their ability to seek out and imbibe radical Islamic ideological thought and the individuals / groups which espouse such thought.

Imran is an adventurer, blogger, consultant, guide, photographer, speaker, traveler and a banker in his previous life. At the time of writing, Imran is living in Rashidabad, Pakistan as a volunteer teacher at the SST Public School. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

What am I doing in Tando Allahyar? That's in rural Sindh (Pakistan) in case you didn't know!

Almost one million people live in Tando Allahyar district located in Pakistan's Sindh province. One million is not a small number but the population is spread over many villages and towns across an expanse of almost 1,500 square kilometers. Yes, the district is about twice the size of Singapore and has less than twenty percent of the island republic's population.

Take Rashidabad, my 'hometown' since September. Rashidabad is less than 35 hectares in size – one third the size of Singapore's Gardens by the Bay. By my guesstimation Rashidabad has a resident population of maybe 2,000. However, the town's daytime population probably swells to at least twice its resident population due to visiting students, patients, employees, etc.

For most Singaporeans, the entire country of Pakistan is considered off limits, so what is a Singaporean-Karachite doing in 'ulu' Rashidabad?

Well, yes, I am a Pakistani by birth so no part of Pakistan is alien to me … technically. The reality is more complicated.

Pakistan is an interlinked mosaic of different cultures and linguistic regions. As a Karachite, my DNA is quite different even from urbanite compatriots from Lahore, Peshawar, Hyderabad or Islamabad. Often we speak a different language. Culture, including dress, gender roles, food and religious traditions vary widely.

A Karachite from the twenty million strong City of Lights doesn't see the world like a Sindhi speaking farmer from Quba village, Tando Allahyar district. The Quba resident grew up hearing tales of Watayo Faqir and his beautiful poetry. She is entirely indifferent to Shakespeare's (Sheikh who?) plays and sonnets taught to many Karachites in school.

Karachi, after all, is Pakistan's answer to New York city (no kidding). On the contrary, Tando Allahyar is primarily an agricultural area producing some of the country's finest mangoes. Though it is adjacent to one of Pakistan's oldest and finest agricutural universities.

But I digress. What am I doing in Rashidabad?

I am here to experience Pakistan beyond cities and locales familiar to me. I am here to live life to the fullest; an acknowledgement that leading a full life often requires escaping the hustle and bustle of cities like our own Singapore. It means no riding subway trains, no CNBC financial news or shopping malls. Instead one must stop and smell the roses and enjoy the world's simpler pleasures.

But mostly, I am in Rashidabad to interact with kids and teach them English in the process. I do that at the Sargodhian Spirit Trust Public School (SST), Rashidabad; a boys boarding school established in 2005.

Selfie time with SST students!

As for my time with SST students? I will spare you tales about teaching the next generation of leaders, etc. Instead, let's just say I will try to stop myself from tearing up when I leave Rashidabad next month! It's hard not to get attached to boys with boundless enthusiasm and energy – no matter how disruptive they may be inside the classroom!

In summary, Rashidabad is much more than a dot on the map. Rashidabad is about teaching and learning. Learning is the reason I am in Tando Allahyar. Who knew teaching is simply another word for learning?

Imran is an adventurer, blogger, consultant, guide, photographer, speaker, traveler and a banker in his previous life. At the time of writing, Imran is living in Rashidabad until December 2017 while a volunteer at the SST Public School. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Bormann Testament by Jack Higgins: a book review

After the last few Jack Higgins novels disappointed me, I was apprehensive about starting The Bormann Testament. I kept the faith as the subject, i.e. the Nazi movement in 1960s post-war Germany, interested me.

I am glad. The Bormann Testament was a fast paced, entertaining novel. The plot moved quickly. There were just enough twists to keep me happy but not enough to confuse me. The story fell into place with a good cast of characters. I could even overlook the author's occasional political pontifications about Germany and its Nazi movement!

If one views the book as a work of 'historical fiction' then it reveals the extent of the German Nazi problem in 1962, a good fifteen years after the war ended with Hitler's Nazis defeated. (Arguably, there will always be an extreme right wing segment in German / European society, especially if one looks at recent political events in Europe?) That backdrop provided good context for the story.

Surely, the book is not one of Higgins' best. Nonetheless, it is not a bad way to while away a few hours.

Imran is an adventurer, blogger, consultant, guide, photographer, speaker, traveler and a banker in his previous life. At the time of writing, Imran is living in Rashidabad until December 2017 while a volunteer at the SST Public School. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Karachi as related through short stories

Like any large urban metropolitan area Karachi has a little of everything: wealth, diversity, excitement, danger, humanity, crime and a lot more. Nonetheless, Karachi has no comparison with other cities in Pakistan.

Karachi is more than a mini-Pakistan. It's population contains large numbers of Burmese, (Swahili speaking) Africans, Filipinos, Bangladeshis, Afghans and so many more. It has over one million Christians; a similar number of Hindus and smaller numbers of Sikhs.

Karachi is home for all of these communities. They are not foreign talent on work permits and employment passes.

Mai Kolachi was and is a mother for all Pakistanis. She welcomes one and all with open arms. Unlike Lahore, Peshawar or most other Pakistani cities, Karachi asks no questions.

Karachi embraces. Arrive on Monday and call Karachi home on Tuesday.

However, until a few years ago Karachi had fallen under the spell of an envious Evil Eye. It seemed there was no end to Karachi's problems. Riots, crime, terrorism, kidnapping and all types of evil became synonymous with the erstwhile City of Lights.

It is this period of darkness which is captured in “Karachi: Our Stories in Our Words” edited by Maniza Naqvi. The book is a collection of short stories by ordinary Karachites. The stories are intimate and take you deep within the pain of the city, as felt by its authors. Indeed, after reading some of the stories one is left wondering how Karachi survived and even grew by millions even during this strife torn period.

Karachi’s strength also shines through in these tales. Karachites never gave up on Mai Kolachi's city. Today, Karachi is not only out of intensive care but well on the road to regaining her past glory. Indeed, maybe even a stronger Karachi has emerged following the pain of recent years.

Imran is an adventurer, blogger, consultant, guide, photographer, speaker, traveler and a banker in his previous life. At the time of writing, Imran is living in Rashidabad until December 2017 while a volunteer at the SST Public School. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at