Being professional in ‘ibadah

I’ve heard quite often that the order of good person in Islam is being a Muslim; and then above that a Mu’min; and then the highest, a Muhsin. This is basically inferred from the quite well-known hadits, i.e. the one when Angel Gabriel visited Prophet Muhammad saw; and inquired about the meaning of Islam, Iman, and Ihsan. He hadits is the following, in case you don’t remember.

“Umar r.a. narrated: While we were one day sitting with the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, there appeared before us a man dressed in extremely white clothes and with very black hair. No traces of journeying were visible on him, and none of us knew him.

He sat down close by the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, rested his knee against his thighs, and said, O Muhammad! Inform me about Islam.” Said the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, “Islam is that you should testify that there is no deity save Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger, that you should perform salah (ritual prayer), pay the zakah, fast during Ramadan, and perform Hajj (pilgrimage) to the House (the Ka’bah at Makkah), if you can find a way to it (or find the means for making the journey to it).” Said he (the man), “You have spoken truly.”

We were astonished at his thus questioning him and telling him that he was right, but he went on to say, “Inform me about iman (faith).” He (the Messenger of Allah) answered, “It is that you believe in Allah and His angels and His Books and His Messengers and in the Last Day, and in fate (qadar), both in its good and in its evil aspects.” He said, “You have spoken truly.”

Then he (the man) said, “Inform me about Ihsan.” He (the Messenger of Allah) answered, “It is that you should serve Allah as though you could see Him; for though you cannot see Him yet He sees you.” He said, “Inform me about the Hour.” He (the Messenger of Allah) said, “About that the one questioned knows no more than the questioner.” So he said, “Well, inform me about the signs thereof (i.e. of its coming).” Said he, “They are that the slave-girl will give birth to her mistress, that you will see the barefooted ones, the naked, the destitute, the herdsmen of the sheep (competing with each other) in raising lofty buildings.” Thereupon the man went off.

I waited a while, and then he (the Messenger of Allah) said, “O ‘Umar, do you know who that questioner was?” I replied, “Allah and His Messenger know better.” He said, “That was Jibril. He came to teach you your religion.” (HR Muslim)

Previously, I kind of having trouble in understanding what Ihsan really means. Obviously, as it is the highest rank in Islam, I really want to achieve it. However, in Indonesian language, it is simplistically translated as being good, or doing good works. This translation, obviously, is not really helpful to understand what Ihsan really means. Alhamdulillah, my understanding improved last Sunday.

Last Sunday, I went to London Central Mosque, the biggest Masjid in London. While making wudhu’ (ablution), someone (i.e. a stranger) touched my back and said, roughly, “Brother, you should sit down; we are doing it for Allah; we should do it at the best possible way!” Then I looked at the wet small chair provided. He kind of understood what I thought, and said, “Brother, even though it’s wet, it’s okay; we’re doing it for Allah”. Obviously I don’t want to sit on a wet chair, besides, as far as I know it’s not compulsory to do ablution while sitting; nonetheless, I have no interest to argue with him, and then just moved finding a dry chair ablution facility. Later on, I kind of think what he just said to me. “We are doing it for Allah; we should do it at the best possible way”. Even though it’s very simple, I then found it very profound.

Doing something at the best possible way, in a more familiar word means being professional in doing something. I know what it means and what I takes of being professional in doing my work, in doing paper presentation, writing paper, etc. In doing paper presentation, for example, I understand-and has been practicing it-that every single move or body language should be measured; the intonation, the volume, etc. should be done in a measured way. Yet, the notion of being professional in doing something for Allah, i.e. ‘ibadah, in the sense that I should do at the best possible way, a clearly measured move, etc., has just never crossed my mind before. Suddenly, Alhamdulillah, I understand what Rasulullah saw means by Ihsan. I believe, to be precise, Ihsan should be translated as being professional, or doing something at the best possible way. I am very embarrassed and regretful, that how could when doing presentation, work, paper writing, etc., I can do it in a very very good way; while in ‘ibadah, such as praying, I didn’t regards it as something that should be perfectly done.

Since that day, Alhamdulillah, I think the quality of my sholat or praying has improved. When I stand up for praying, I tell myself, I should be as professional as possible in this sholat; be it in terms of perfect movement, good concentration; clear recitation, etc. Also in doing dzikir, for example, if previously while doing dzikir, quite often I might think about something else, now, Alhamdulillah, I understand that Allah is watching me, thus I want to act as professional or as good as possible in front of Him. Now I understand, what Rasulullah saw said about Ihsan, “It is that you should serve Allah as though you could see Him; for though you cannot see Him yet He sees you.”

Now, I internalized myself, that when I’m doing ‘ibadah, I am facing my Rabb, the Lord of the World, obviously, I should do it a perfect manner. All thanks to Allah swt who showed me the way; and obviously, many thanks to the (unknown) brother that is willing and courageous enough to remind me. Alhamdulillah, may we become a Mushin, someone that is professional in his ‘ibadah.

On discipline

Status

Most of the time, the main issue is not the lack of knowledge; rather it’s the lack of discipline to act on that knowledge. I’ve never think that Indonesia and many other developing countries are underdeveloped due to the lack of knowledge of proper policy; rather, I believe it’s because of the lack of good governance.

It’s as simple as thinking like our own affairs. A successful person is a discipline, ‘goodly governed’ person. We can’t expect someone to be a good artist, farmer, teacher, or merchant, without being discipline to their own. A developed country is the accumulation of a developed individual.

I’ve wronged myself

One of the main differences between Prophet Adam a.s. and Iblis is their reaction after they’ve wronged themselves.

After Allah swt punished Iblis due to their refusal to prostrate to Adam, Iblis’ response was to put the blame on Allah swt, i.e. to claim that it is Allah swt the one that has led them astray.

“(Iblîs) said: “Because You have sent me astray, surely I will sit in wait against them (human beings) on Your Straight Path (16) Then I will come to them from before them and behind them, from their right and from their left, and You will not find most of them as thankful ones (i.e. they will not be dutiful to You)” (QS Al-A’raf 15-16)

In contrast, when Adam a.s. was sent down to Earth as a punishment, the first thing that he did was to admit that he made the mistake and then ask Allah for His forgiveness.

“They said: “Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves. If You forgive us not, and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be of the losers.” (QS Al-A’raf: 23)

We clearly has made a lot of mistakes. Allah swt has put a feeling, i.e. the feeling of guilty, inside ourselves that we may admit those mistakes and then ask for forgiveness and mercy to Allah swt. This is the right way to react on that feeling of guilty; instead of feeling desperate and despair from Allah’s mercy.

After admitting that we’ve wronged ourselves, the next thing that we have to do is to do as much as good deed as possible. Prophet Musa (Moses) a.s., when he fled Egypt after killing someone, he was terrified and felt guilty; but watch what he has to say to Allah swt after helping two ladies taking water from a well:

“So he escaped from there, looking about in a state of fear. He said: “My Lord! Save me from the people who are Zâlimûn (polytheists and wrong-doers)!” (21) And when he went towards (the land of) Madyan (Midian) he said: “It may be that my Lord guides me to the Right Way.” (22) And when he arrived at the water of Madyan (Midian) he found there a group of men watering (their flocks), and besides them he found two women who were keeping back (their flocks). He said: “What is the matter with you?” They said: “We cannot water (our flocks) until the shepherds take (their flocks). And our father is a very old man.” (23) So he watered (their flocks) for them, then he turned back to shade, and said: “My Lord! truly, I am in need of whatever good that You bestow on me!” (QS Al-Qasas: 21-24)

In short, Prophet Musa a.s. said to Allah swt that he is in a need of any good deeds that he can do to compensate the mistake that he did. This is a very inspirational example on how we should react towards mistakes that we made; we should admit to Allah swt that we made the mistake, ask for His forgiveness and mercy, and then actively seek any good deeds opportunity. Indeed, “the good deeds remove the evil deeds (i.e. small sins) (QS 11:114). May we always be on the straight path until we see our Lord in the hereafter.

Something extraordinary needs to be done

I believe we need to constantly ask ourselves; what are the reasons that we are worthy of Allah’s forgiveness and mercy? Most of the time, we don’t even consider success in the hereafter as indicator of our success. We are heedless and occupied with the never-satisfying worldly ambitions.

Living in non-Muslim majority country in the past four years has made me aware of the stark differences between western ideals and what Islam teach us. Islam teach us to obey and submit ourselves before Allah; while western ideals suggest to live a ‘successful’ life and ‘to have fun’. While we’re taught in Islam to have sami’na wa ata’na mentality; western ideals suggest to question religious orders; up to the point questioning the existence of God itself. Islam teaches what matters is what inside our heart; while in western world, what matters is how we look.

My position would just only be to absorb any good values that this society has; while putting a clear boundary between what I can accept and what I can’t. Now, my only concern is just how I can win Allah’s forgiveness and mercy. I don’t think by merely separating myself away from the ‘un-Islamic’ values would be enough. Alhamdulillah, that very often, before starting my study I would ask myself again and again why I am doing this; spending almost 12 hours in campus. Alhamdulillah that it helps me to stay focus on my intention; but obviously this is not enough. Something extraordinary needs to be done.

the big names that we often hear in Islamic history has clearly did something extraordinary. Some accomplished noble achievements; some endured great trials. Time is running out for me, and for all of us; we ought to answer and act upon: how can we win Allah’s forgiveness and mercy?