This shouldn’t be a mysterious book

A frequent reader of this blog might already noticed how often I talk about Qur’an. Probably, I won’t get tired of talking about it. In this post, I just have one simple message: Al-Qur’an shouldn’t be a mysterious book for us.

Not long time ago, or exactly up until February this year, I was like many of us. My take on Al-Qur’an was that Al-Qur’an is a complex book, full with religious law, and unstructured. Alhamdulillah, now I realized, how utterly incorrect that view was. Let me tell you a bit of story.

One day in February this year, I went for Ashar prayer at UCL praying room. It was Friday. As I entered to room, there was no body inside. I put my bag and start cleaning up the praying mats. Then suddenly, there was a man entered the room. He left his shoes scattered in the door. With a bit of hurry pace, he asked me: is it already Ashar? I said, yes, the time just begun. Then he started praying. Looking at him already praying, I went out to take my wudhu’. On my way, I picked his shoes and put it in the rack. Five minutes later, I entered the room. He already left. I did my two raka’at sunnah; and then I realized, my bag was gone! When I was about trying to find him, some brothers came inside and asked me to lead the prayer. By the time the prayer finished, obviously the thief already got his way out.

At that time, I was wondering, o Allah, why did this happen? What’s your plan on this? In my bag there were only lecture notes, computer tablet, but most importantly, also contain my mushaf (book of Al-Qur’an). This mushaf is the mushaf that I used to memorize Qur’an. As its format is a bit unique (i.e. 18 lines), I can’t find a replacement copy of it in London. I was disappointed that my Qur’an memorization process is disturbed.

One day, I went to London Central Mosque. As I desperately need for a new mushaf, I went to the book store; and then I found a life-changing book, i.e. mushaf Al-Qur’an translated by Muhsin Khan, published by Darussalam. I think the translation is really good. Unlike other English translation, this translation uses a very easy or common words; put explanation for most of the ayah based on several tafsir; and also explanatory hadits.

Since then, my relationship with Qur’an changed. I was so addicted to read Qur’an such that I usually read the whole translation of a surah before reading the Arabic text. Since then, Alhamdulillah, I can understand what Al-Qur’an is actually saying. Previously I didn’t fully read translation of a surah. As a result, I had a view that long surah such as An-Nisa, Al-Maidah, Al-An’am, etc. are a dark-terrifying surah which mainly talk about rules and rules. Now I realized that this thought is very wrong. This long surah, as all other surah in Al-Qur’an talk about five main messages, which are repeated over and over again in Al-Qur’an. These five are:

  • There is only one God, Allah swt. Worship him and abandon all of the other Gods.
  • For those who believe and do righteous deeds, they will be rewarded with eternal paradise in the hereafter; while the disbeliever and sinful will eternally be punished in the hell fire.
  • Don’t be like previous nations, such as the people of Noah, ‘Ad, Tsamud, Lot, etc., who are rebellious; so that be destroyed.
  • Don’t be like ahli kitab (people of the book) who were given book but they changed it, hide some parts of it, and create lies about Allah. Then finally,
  • We have some ayah on Islamic laws.

Now I realized, Allah has a very beautiful way of correcting my understanding on Al-Qur’an. To conclude, my advice to all of us, let’s change the way we approach Qur’an. It’s not a mysterious book! Rather, it’s the light. It’s the light from Allah swt which will enlighten our heart and will guide us to be the winner in this life and in the hereafter, insyaallah. Wallahu’alam.

This worldly life summarized in five words

Like many other people, I very often ask myself, what is this life really about? Why are we here? How to be a successful one? And so on. In looking for this answer, I am very grateful that I am in touch with Al-Qur’an, the only book which consists of literal word of God possessed by human being nowadays. In surah (chapter) Al-Hadid ayah (verse) 20, Allah swt summarized this worldly life in five words. The verse read:

“Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children..”

I’ve read this verse many many times before, but I didn’t really catch the meaning and get the sense of it. Only now, thanks to a good Android app called Qamus alAthar, I can get the meaning of five Arabic words that Allah used in that verse. Arabic is such a beautiful, detail, comprehensive, and deep in meaning language; no wonder why Allah swt chose it as the language of the final revelation. In my experience, merely relying on the ‘common’ translation that we read in our Qur’an will result in lost in meaning as well as lack of understanding. In Qur’an, Allah swt repeatedly asked us to think deeply, over and over again on the ayah of the Qur’an. Only through this exercise we will realize how powerful the Qur’an’s message is. Without further ado, here are the words.

First is la’ibun. The root letter for this word is la-‘a-ba; which means: “played/sported/gamed/jested/joked, pastime (in an unserious thing), engage in idle sport without meaning of purpose, slaver/drivel, stupid/fool.” Looking at this meaning, I internalize the word la’ibun as engaging in something that is not meaningful or purposeful. By internalizing it like this, I personally can see the connection between this word and the reality of life that I observe. In academic world, for example, I’ve seen many people engage in research, which can take almost his entire career, in something that is not meaningful or have no meaning. In Economics for example, we usually try to model human behavior in a very complex mathematical model. Many people have spent most of their career in this field; but then suddenly, when the financial crisis come, unfortunately, these people came to an obvious conclusion, that we can’t model human behavior as a mathematical equation. The reason? Simple. Because we’re human; we’re not an apple who will subject to gravity force when it falls from the tree. Sorry for making it too Economics; but many Economists, they spent most of their life working on this mathematical model which then result in the state of Economics field whereby a good economist is not someone who can provide the most wisdom; rather, it’s the one who can produce the most sophisticated mathematical modelling regardless its relevance to the real world. Again, the point is engaging in something that is not meaningful or purposeful. I believe this phenomenon could be found in other branches of science or other life setting.

Second is lahwun. The root letter for this word is la-ha-wa; which means: “Become diverted from it as to forget it, to preoccupy, beguile, distract, sport/play/amusement, divert, diversion, forget, delight/cheer, turn away, what is thrown, unmindful/careless.” My personal take on this word is that this worldly life is something that will distract, divert, and preoccupy us from worshipping Allah. This is entirely true. We are a living witness of how we and many people are heavily occupied with our daily activities and ambition that we forget our obligation to Allah. Even many Muslim do not observe the five daily prayers, which is basically the minimum standard that we should abide to.

Third is zinatun. The root letter for this word is za-ya-na; which means: “To adorn, deck. Adorn, grace, honor. Adorned, ornamented, decorated, decked, beautified. A grace, a beauty, a comely quality, a physical/intellectual adornment, an honor or a credit, and anything that is the pride or glory of a person or a thing. It [states] are three kinds: Mental: such as knowledge/science and good tenants. Bodily: strength, tallness of stature, beauty of aspect. Extrinsic: wealth, rank or station, dignity.” As we can see, this is a very rich word; and amazingly, it describe vividly the life that we are seeing in our environment. We clearly witness how people around us, or even ourselves, are obsessed with adornment or beauty. The cosmetic, fashion, fitness, etc. are a massive industry. Many people are so obsessed with how they look that they even risk their life for plastic surgery, pay USD 500 just for a branded slipper, and so on. Alhamdulillah that Allah guides us that this is not the right way to go. Again, I should mention a caveat here. This does not mean that Islam wants us to look ugly, dirty, and smell. No. Allah mentioned that what we have in this world, such as pearl, gold, silk, fur, etc. are bounty from Allah. Islam teaches us to look good, smell well, clean, etc.; but what Islam strongly forbid us is to be excessive in doing this. I saw a (branded) slipper priced at USD 500 in Singapore Takashimaya mall. Without a doubt, this brand-worshipper behavior is what we shouldn’t be trapped in.

Fourth is tafaakhurun. The root letter is fa-kha-ra; which means: “Self-glorification/magnification, boast, to disdain/scorn, proud/haughty, long/tall/great, excellent quality, baked pottery/clay, earthen vessel.” This is again very commonly found in our life, isn’t it? A good example for this can be found in Qur’an surah Al-Kahfi ayah 32 to 43. Please take a look.

Fifth is takaatsurun. The root letter is ka-tsa-ra; which means: “To surpass in number in quantity, increase, multiply, happen often, copious, richness; to be much, many, numerous, a man whose ancestors are many or whose good deeds are many. A man possessing much good, river in paradise from which other rivers flow, talkative person.” As we can see, this word does not necessarily imply a negative thing, but what make it negative is what follows in the ayah, i.e. takaatsurun fil amwali wal aulaad; which means surpassing each other in terms of wealth and children. Again, this is very true and easy to spot in our life. Regardless whether it is a President or a gardener, human tends to surpass each other in terms of the quantity of their wealth as well as the (quantity and) quality of their children.

We should be really grateful to Allah swt for showing us things that we should be mindful of in this life. Allah swt then continue the ayah with an even more amazing lesson. Take a look to the continuation of the ayah below.

“…like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes [scattered] debris.”

flower-377744_640Allah swt then beautifully give parable for this worldly life. Allah said this worldly life is like a plant which grows due to rain; but then the plant won’t stay beautiful and strong forever. Slowly but surely, unstoppable, the plant will someday turn yellow; and what remains? It just scatters as debris. Subhanallah. This is a very deep lesson for us. No matter how beautiful we are, no matter how smart, strong, wealthy, etc., at some point in time, we’ll just like a plant, we’ll get old and dies. But, unlike plant, our life does not stop here; in fact, the real life has just begun. Prophet Muhammad saw once said, when a human is brought to his grave, three things follow him; but two will go back and one remains. The three things are his family, his property, and his deeds. Family and property will go back, while his deeds will remain with him. This is should be a very strong reminder for us to increase our good deeds before it’s too late.

Allah swt conclude the ayah with the following.

“And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion.”

That’s basically conclude this deep and powerful ayah. This life is nothing but a delusionary enjoyment. It may seems enjoyable, but it’s just a delusion. What is true or real is the life in the hereafter. It will be a constant punishment for the disbeliever and an eternal mercy for the believers. May we are among those winners.

Finally, this verse gives many insight to us. To be a successful person in this life and in the hereafter, we better watch out not to fall into the trap of this five words. In doing so, I think we must not:

  1. Engage in un-meaningful and un-purposeful activities. Let’s always ask ourselves before doing something; is this activity really meaningful and purposeful? If so, what’s the purpose?
  2. Being preoccupied with something such that we are diverted or distracted from worshipping Allah swt. This obviously does not mean we can’t do our work, have a career, and then be in Masjid for the whole day. No, it’s quite the contrary, actually. Islam ask us to spread in the earth, looking for Allah’s bounty; but, there is a key principle here, that is we do it only for Allah’s sake and we are continuously aware of Allah’s presence.
  3. Being obsessed to be adorned, either mentally, physically, and extrinsically.
  4. Being boastful.
  5. Surpassing with each other in terms of wealth and children. There is nothing wrong with being wealthy and have a lot of smart children; again, what is highlighted here is being obsessed with and preoccupied to achieve whether we are in the list of 100 richest people in community.

To conclude, I hope from this moment on, whenever we see a blossoming flower, we would be reminded that this world is just like this flower; like it or not, it will come to an end; and the real life will then begin. Wallau’alam bisshawab.


Few notes on QS Al-Hajj:78

And strive for Allah with the striving due to Him. He has chosen you and has not placed upon you in the religion any difficulty. [It is] the religion of your father, Abraham. Allah named you “Muslims” before [in former scriptures] and in this [revelation] that the Messenger may be a witness over you and you may be witnesses over the people. So establish prayer and give zakah and hold fast to Allah. He is your protector; and excellent is the protector, and excellent is the helper. (QS Al-Hajj : 78)

Ayat tersebut merupakan salah satu ayat paling inspirasional bagi saya. Berikut beberapa inspirasi dari ayat tersebut.

Pertama, “And strive for Allah with the striving due to Him”. Allah swt menyuruh kita untuk berjuang sekuat tenaga, i.e. to exhaust our limit dalam mengabdi kepada-Nya; dan dengan pengabdian yang sepantasnya diberikan pada Allah swt. Ketika kita menyadari bahwa pekerjaan yang kita lakukan ditujukan pada seseorang yang sangat penting, biasanya kita berusaha to be as perfect as possible dalam melaksanakannya. Demikian pula hendaknya dalam ibadah kita pada Allah swt. Meskipun kita tidak dapat melihat Alah swt, kita dapat merasakan dengan jelas karunia Allah swt kepada kita. Kita perlu selalu berusaha untuk mengingatkan diri kita bahwa Allah swt senantiasa melihat kita.

Kedua, “He has chosen you…”. Allah swt melihat ada potensi kebaikan di dalam diri kita sehingga Allah swt memilih kita untuk menjadi seorang Muslim. Hal ini memberikan clue bahwa setiap kita memiliki potensi; yang dengan potensi tersebut kita bisa berjuang di jalan Allah swt dan memberi manfaat banyak bagi umat manusia. Hal ini haruslah membuat kita optimis dan berusaha untuk mencari dan mengembangakan potensi yang telah Allah swt berikan tersebut. Banyak di antara kita yang merasa bahwa diri kita tidak memiliki potensi apa-apa. No! That’s very wrong! Jika kita telah menjadi seorang Muslim, maka artinya ada potensi kebaikan luar biasa yang ada dalam diri kita. It’s our task to explore what that potential is. Ayat ini juga menunjukkan bahwa setiap muslim memiliki peran tersendiri bagi agama Islam ini. Mungkin ada yang bisa berperan melalui bakat entreprenurnya; ada yang berperan melalui ilmunya; ada yang berperan melalui tenaga. Ada yang berperan sebagai seorang petani, seorang ulama, dokter, dan seterusnya. Everybody has their share in this religion.

Ketiga, “…and has not placed upon you in the religion any difficulty”. Ketika kita mengetahui bahwa kita harus berjihad dengan penuh kesungguhan kepada Allah swt, kita tentu merasa mendapat beban yang sangat berat. Kita tentu berpikir, bagaimana mungkin saya dapat beribadah dengan sempurna pada Allah swt di setiap saat? Allah swt mengatakan bahwa Ia tidak membebankan sesuatu yang tidak sangggup kita lakukan dalam agama ini. Rasulullah saw pernah mengatakan, “Agama itu sangat mudah; barang siapa yang membebani dirinya secara berlebihan dalam agamanya, ia tak akan mampu untuk terus-menerus melakukannya. Kamu sekalian hendaknya jangan menjadi ekstrimis, namun selalulah berusaha untuk mencapai kesempurnaan dan terimalah kabar gembira, reward, dari Allah swt. Dapatkanlah kekuatan dari mendirikan shalat pada pagi, petang, dan di akhir malam” (HR Bukhari).

Keempat, “… [It is] the religion of your father, Abraham. Allah named you “Muslims” before [in former scriptures] and in this [revelation]”. Ayat ini menegaskan bahwa kita adalah bagian dari umat Nabi Ibrahim as yang menyembah Allah swt dengan aqidah yang murni. “Mereka tidak disuruh kecuali supaya menyembah Allah dengan memurnikan ketaatan kepada-Nya dalam (menjalankan) agama yang lurus, dan supaya mereka mendirikan shalat dan menunaikan zakat; dan yang demikian itulah agama yang lurus” (QS Al-Bayyinah : 5).

Kelima, “…that the Messenger may be a witness over you and you may be witnesses over the people”. Potongan ayat ini mengingatkan tugas penting kita di dunia, yaitu untuk berda’wah; untuk menyampaikan ajaran Islam. Having lived in London, saya sangat merasa kasihan kepada teman yang belum muslim. Mereka tidak memiliki pegangan. Hidup tanpa memiliki tujuan. Pada sebagian (kecil) waktu mereka memang berbahagia, misalnya saat berkumpul di bar pada jum’at malam, saat menonton sepak bola dan acara entertainment lainnya; but soon enough after that, they’re back to the uncertain and never ending question about the meaning of life. Jika mereka memutuskan untuk adopt certain religion pun, mereka tetap merasa ada yang tidak sempurna. This is not surprising as the guidance can only be found in Qur’an. This is our task.

Keenam, “…So establish prayer and give zakah”. Saya sangat amazed dengan potongan ayat ini. Pertama, betapa tugas yang berat ini, i.e. berjihad dengan sekuat tenaga, berda’wah, dll, dapat ‘diatasi’ dengan dua hal yang ‘sederhana’; yang semestinya sudah biasa kita lakukan, yaitu sholat dan zakat. Kebanyakan kita tentu belum merasa manfaat sepenuhnya dari sholat. My advice to myself and to all of us, mari kita terus memperbanyak ilmu tentang sholat khusyuk dan berusaha untuk mendapatkan kekhusyu’an tersebut. Surely, kita tidak akan pernah mendapat manfaat dari sholat jika sholat kita belum khusyu’. Kedua, potongan ayat ini juga menunjukkan bahwa hubungan sesame manusia dan kesejahteraan sosial merupakan hal penting dalam Islam. Oleh karenanya, kekuatan ekonomi merupakan hal yang mutlak. Bagaimana mungkin kita dapat membayar zakat, sebagaimana yang diperintahkan Allah, jika kita tidak memiliki penghasilan yang cukup?

Ketujuh, “…and hold fast to Allah. He is your protector; and excellent is the protector, and excellent is the helper”. This is very clear, but most of us haven’t practiced it. Di surat Al-Imran, Allah swt telah mengingatkan bahwa jika Allah swt menolong kita, maka tak ada yang dapat mencelakakakan kita; namun jika Allah meninggalkan kita, maka tak akan ada yang dapat menolong kita. So it’s crystal clear that we are very very dependent on Allah; or more precisely, kita tak akan bisa survive tanpa bantuan Allah swt.

This is only one ayat, but there are enormous guidance in it. Semoga kita bisa mempraktekkan hikmah dan petunjuk ini. Wallahua’lam bisshawab.