Monday, December 12, 2011

Everything has an end: a lesson from my little daughter

No doubt that we get carried away with the things in life. So much so that we get delusional that everything will last forever, while the bitter truth is exactly the opposite. Strange it may seem, but my most current reminder about this fact came from my 1 year old daughter.

A couple of years ago I got a dell notebook dedicated for my work. I use it for blogging, light gaming, writing books, and of course writing reports for my professor. It was a workhorse and it served me well over the past 5 years. All my research data, my ideas, my work and writings, and even my entertainment are centered in that notebook.

Last weekend, while I was using it at home with my five year old son, my daughter came and started her peculiar hobby, banging the computer. So far, my wife’s newer notebook was able to withstand the abuse. However, a different fate was in for my old dell. A couple of minutes later, the screen suddenly froze.

After a forced shutdown, the computer wouldn’t boot into windows, and only showed a black screen. Not even the BIOS screen appeared. I tried everything I could to get it to work again. I cleaned all the memory sockets, cleaned the hard disk socket, and tried booting from a USB flash disk, but to no avail. I then concluded that there must be a problem with the motherboard. And when the motherboard is dead, the computer is as good as dead as well. Repairing the motherboard would probably cost double the initial price of the computer. Thank God I was able to retrieve all the data I had by plugging in the hard disk to another notebook.

Although at first I was in shock (mainly because all of my ongoing research data was in that computer), I realize that through my dear daughter, God gave me a much needed reminder about the reality of existence. Everything will end. No matter how precious or important they may be, no matter how careful we are in taking care of them, they will eventually deteriorate and meet their end one day. The house that crumbles bit by bit, the car that goes to the mechanic more often, our memory, our life, and everything in existence is bound by this fate. When we truly understand and are conscious about this, we’d have a better attitude in facing the losses that we experience everyday.

No doubt that everything belongs to God, and everything will be returned to Him

Monday, November 07, 2011

Having mercy with unjust leaders

Looking at the rows of events in Libya reminded me about my own country in 1998, when President Suharto (may God have mercy on his soul) was brought down by people power. The two events may look similar, but there is significant difference between them, as I will mention next.

In the case of Libya, although being guilty for committing many injustices, it still horrified me to see how people had the heart to brutally torture and murder the fallen leader. Not just that, but they even had in themselves the heart to display the corpse in a shopping center freezer. Was it really necessary to humiliate him even in his death?

Contrary to what happened in Libya, when President Suharto stepped down in 1998, the people were able to forgive (although not forget) about it. He didn’t even need to flee from Indonesia and lived a normal life until he died in 2008. That showed that Indonesians have a big heart. To me, holding back and having mercy is much better, albeit much more difficult, than letting all emotions and hatred go loose.

People forget to think deep about leadership and how difficult it is to be in that position. As Baron Acton, a historian and moralist in the 19th century would say, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Although now we can shout and scream about the injustice that our leaders commit, perhaps we won’t be doing too well either if we were in their position.

Leadership is a tribulation. A test for whomever it is given to. And not many succeed with flying colors. Thus, we should keep the balance between condemning and having mercy towards our unjust leaders, and do our best to take the wisdom behind their appointment.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The awesomeness of ourselves

When we think deep about everything in this temporary world, we would almost always be amazed by the processes that they undergo. Whether it is the water cycle, the biosynthesis of compounds in plants, the gene expression process, or whatever there is to observe, are super complex mechanisms that would probably take forever for us to fully understand.

And to tell the truth, we need not look far to be amazed. In fact, by observing our own selves, we can also find all kinds of awesomeness. One example is our heart. The way it beats on, pumping a staggering amount of blood everyday (about 7000 liters or more!!). Or our eyes, the perfect photographic tool, outperforming even the highest tech camera. Our lungs, feet, hands, the brain, our other organs, and how complex the processes that are involved in their use, are all so amazing. In fact, there are still so many things that we cannot answer about them.

And not to forget the small details, such as how we blink our eyes. This small action that we sometimes take for granted keeps our eyes moist and cleans it from all kinds of dirtiness. Imagine if our muscles controlling how to blink lost its ability to function properly (as many people experience). We would always need to put eye drops to moisten it and find a way to hold it up so that it doesn’t close. How magnificent is this one small act!

There is something in common with many of the important physiological processes in our body, which is: “we don’t think about doing them.” Everything is automated at the highest precision. We don’t tell our heart to pump blood. We don’t tell our eyes to blink. We don’t even think about breathing. They just happen without us being aware of them.

Thus, although the above title might suggest in being an arrogant statement, it’s actually the total opposite. Everything inside of us is so awesome, so amazing, yet the truth is, we don’t contribute anything in many of its processes. This fact then begs us to think deeply about ourselves and make us be grateful with whatever we have.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How time flies... Yet how do we use it?

There is no denying that people tend to waste the greatest asset that they have, “time”. Although men dream about time travel, it is most likely nothing but fantasy and there is no way to go back. recently posted news regarding this, reporting that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, thus making time travel impossible, opposite to the sci-fi movies and books which are written about it. Whether this is true or not, there is still room for debate. But nevertheless, for the time being, time is ticking, passing us by, and nobody can give it back to us.

The one second that just passed will never ever be returned. It’s gone, and we have either benefited from it, or wasted it. We ourselves know better about how we spend our time. Furthermore, all of us have our criteria for what is wasteful and what is beneficial. And I think it’s a good idea to reexamine the things that we do and categorize them once again.

In the Qur’an, God talks extensively about time. In fact, as it having a beginning, it will also have an end. And the end of time of this ephemeral world is pictured vividly in the Islamic tradition, where people will be in the state of confusion. So horrifying will the end of time be, the mother will forget about her suckling baby, and the pregnant women will literally drop what they are conceiving. The end of time for those who do not experience this horrific day is the time of death. Through death, we will be separated from our current perception of time, and experience it in a whole new way.

But it’s not enough to only be horrified by what will happen. Rather, we need to get our act straight and be prepared for it. In truth, the norm is, every effort that we do is wasteful, EXCEPT the efforts that we do for good deeds, advising people towards justice, patience, and every other thing that supports these matters, while accompanying them with faith. Only by committing ourselves towards avoiding all that are wasteful will we truly become people who appreciate time. And indeed one day, we will all see the fruits of what we worked for, whether they were truly beneficial for us or not.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Beyond life

Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? What’s the point in life if we’ll eventually die in the end? and all kinds of questions that are considered taboo, might be exactly the same questions that many people are asking as we struggle to find meaning in life. Although I feel confident and comfortable with the answers that I have, there was once a time when I was amazingly distressed by not being able to get satisfactory answers for them.

Not knowing what we’re living for is truly a tragedy. And in the end, for many people, life is merely about following where their desires take them to, without any real sense of deep purpose. And when one follows his desires, there will never be satisfaction. Among the objects in which people try to fulfill their desires with are wealth, power, and social status.

Many people spend their entire lifetime in distraction, trying to gather the all the riches that they can gather. Many people work all their lives to receive recognition from other people, whether they work in a corporate setting, whether they are scientists reaching for the top in the scientific community, politics, or whatever profession they may be engaged in. But all the wealth and achievements gained, what do they really mean in the end?

In the Islamic tradition, we are told to look beyond the illusion of life. That everything that we receive and experience is a test for us. The achievements and the failures in life are only means for us to learn about how to be grateful or patient towards what God has given us. To use what we have or don’t have to serve the One who gave it to us in the first place. Do we give out our money to the poor? Do we use our power to benefit people? Do we learn things to be able to help others? If what we do only corresponds towards fulfilling our desires rather that for doing good deeds for God’s sake, we really need to reconsider what we are doing.

Everything that exists will perish, without exception, including all the efforts IF we only did them for the sake of our desires. We will only know for sure about the true value of our efforts once we visit our graves, when it will be too late to have regret.

Monday, August 29, 2011

All Sons of Adam are exalted

In every society exists a social stratum, whether legally enforced or not. Examples of legally enforced social strata can be found in societies which follow Hinduism, such as India. The kingdoms of ancient Indonesia also adopted this social stratification, up until other religions were introduced, such as Buddhism and Islam, which offered equality opposed to stratification. This social stratification based on Hinduism is called caste.

When people are divided into groups based on their socio-economic conditions, injustice is bound to happen. Whether it’s the old caste system in Hinduism, or the class system in Japan before the Meiji restoration, people at the higher class who have privilege, will most definitely oppress the ones at the bottom part of the strata. Perhaps, it’s in the animalistic human nature to want to dominate over others. Thus, it results in revolutions and revolts by the oppressed group, as it is also in human’s nature to understand truth and justice.

Nobody, no matter how rich or powerful has the license to humiliate or take the lives of those who are less fortunate, opposing colonialism, oppressive slavery, and the likes. In fact, in the Islamic tradition, when one kills a person without any just reason, it is as if he has killed the whole of humanity. Unfortunately, even in this era which is claimed to be the era of “democracy and equality”, we can still find discriminative treatments based on socio-economic backgrounds.

If only we were able to look beyond the sight of the physical eye, we would be able to see the value of every single human being. If only we were able to see with our hearts, be able to perceive the truth beyond what the physical eye sees, we would understand how amazing everyone is with their own uniqueness. Nobody is below anybody else, as opposed to the belief of many. In fact, as the Qur’an would say, “Truly, the children of Adam are exalted!” every single one of us without exception.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Spending in extravagance


21th day or Ramadhan

One of the things we do to find pleasure is to spend money. Of course this is natural, but it sometimes goes out of hand to the point we become extravagant with our spending. For me, this happens most when I am left by my family for a long trip. I usually end up buying things that I don’t really need. At one time it was a new Dell laptop, and then a digital DSLR plus some lenses.

As said previously, spending in extravagance is a way which we think can make us happier in facing the turmoil of daily life. While the truth is, it is more harmful than beneficial. Rather more like a tranquilizer which makes us forget about pain even though the wound is still there.

Extravagance can cause big problem is all societies. This is especially true in the case of credit card use in the US. Credit card debt is a major problem in the US, where the average family today carries $8,000 in credit card debt according to the American Bankers' Association (Dave Ramseys blog). What is this if you don’t call it extravagance?

The truth is, even without being extravagant, many of us are living luxurious lives which can only be dreamt by the kings of the past. To have cool drinks straight from the fridge, while the old kings had to bring ice blocks from the north, to have flowing water with a turn of the knob, while they had to set up there palaces near rivers, and other facilities that we often take for granted.

By being extravagant, we become desensitized to spending our money in the correct way, especially to give in charity. We spend on unnecessary things while people are dying out of hunger in other parts of the world. So evil is the act of extravagance, the Qur’an calls the extravagant the brethren of the devil himself. Thus, we should protect ourselves from falling into extravagance and always be mindful in what we spend.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The exalted station of women


20th day or Ramadhan

In many parts of the world, women in the society are oppressed and don’t have any freedom to do what they feel is important. This condition is mainly due to the incorrect opinion (from both the women and men) that women are inferior in some ways. It was even more severe in some ancient cultures, where the father would bury their baby girls alive out of disgrace and humiliation. This was the practice of the ancient Arabs before Islam came to the Arabian Peninsula.

In truth, there’s nothing inferior about women. Men and women are just “different”. They are designed differently, have different strengths and weaknesses, and thus will inevitably have distinct roles in society. One will not exist without the other. Men and women complete each other and all of this is a mercy from God.

In fact, in the Islamic tradition, in many ways, women are much more exalted than men. When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was asked about whom one should honor after God and His Prophet, he replied, “Your mother.” The questioner asked who comes after that. The Prophet (pbuh) replied, “Your mother.” The question was repeated a third time, and the answer was also the same. At the fourth time, then he (pbuh) then answered, “Your father.” This shows how high the station of women is in reality.

And when we think deep upon it, why wouldn’t women be given a high station? It is through our mothers that we first received God’s mercy in the womb. She carried us for nine months, she was patient with our long hours of crying at night, she educated us in the truest sense, and she nurtured us and was always concerned about us, even after we’ve fully grown up, things that a man (like myself) would probably never be able to do adequately. Thus, isn’t it natural that women are exalted by God?

Noble women are the key to success of a community. Every successful man has behind them an amazing woman in his support. Whether it be his mother, his wife, sister, or grandmother. Even the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had his wife, Khadijah al Kubra (the great) as his number one supporter. Thus we should have high view of women, despite the effort of many who try to degrade them into merely objects of entertainment and pleasure.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Being careful with what we ask for


19th day or Ramadhan

Imagine this scenario. You’re up 10.000 meters above the ground on a jumbo jet Boeing 747. Suddenly, you hear a loud thump from outside. The plane shakes violently and the emergency light goes on. You are told to fasten your seat belt and put on your oxygen mask. The captain then announces a technical problem (which might well be an engine failure) and asks everyone to stay calm. At times like this, I guarantee that even the vilest of people or even the most stubborn atheist will suddenly remember to make (or at least think to make) prayers. The One to whom that prayer is directed to, that is God.

And for me, there is no doubt that the prayer is a very powerful arsenal for those who use it, as I have experienced its power at first hand. There have also been scientific experiments that prove the effect of prayers, which is interesting, although I’m not a big fan of the effort of connecting science and religiosity. For this, you can “Google scholar” the key word “effects of prayer”, where you’ll be able to find more than 200.000 hits. However, to really appreciate the power of prayers, I believe that one needs to experience it at first hand.

Because of its sheer power, prayers can also be dangerous at times. At times, people say their prayers with emotion or in an angry state, which results in difficulty for them. In an angry state, one might make a bad prayer towards their children, wealth, or themselves.

There is also the possibility that we might pray for something that may be bad for us, even though it seems good. For example, one might pray, “O God, please give me that exotic car!” thinking that it’s good for him. While in truth, the same car that he prayed for might give a life full of unease, being afraid that someone might scratch it or damage it. Or even worse, that same car might get him robbed or even killed.

Thus, we should be careful with what we ask for. The best thing to ask for is guidance, mercy, and Him being pleased with us, for that is where true happiness lies, if we but only knew.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Being merciful towards parents


18th day or Ramadhan

One of the tragedies of our times is the lost of respect towards parents. I was lucky to be raised in a time and place where from an early age, we were taught to respect our elders, especially parents. While nowadays, we see children being totally disrespectful towards their parents, and nothing seems to change no matter what the parents do about it.

One of the reasons that immediately popped into my mind is the TV. Let’s face it, TV has taken the responsibility of education at home. The average child in the US watches 4 hours of television per day (, and more than 50 percent of them would prefer the TV than spending time with their parents.

And when we see the cartoons shown on TV, most of them teach disrespect towards parents. In cartoons like the Simpsons, Crayon Shin chan, etc., disrespect towards parents are viewed something comical and funny. While in truth, it can destroy the very foundations of the society i.e. the family.

In the Islamic tradition, respecting the parents is in the highest priorities that God has set for us. Parents are so sacred, that we’re not even allowed to say the slightest expression of disrespect towards them. In fact, we are obliged to always be kind to them, especially when they reach old age.

The words in Qur’an is to lower our wings of humility towards them. And when we see a mother bird protecting its chicks, it risks its own wings in order to keep her chicks safe. That is how we should be to our parents. After all, it is through them that God brought us to this world. They are the largest proof of God’s mercy towards us. They took care of us when we were small, had sleepless nights taking care of us when we were sick, cheered us up when we were down, showered us with love when we needed it the most, and other forms of mercy that we can’t enumerate.

May God forgive all of our sins and our parent’s sins. And may God shower mercy upon our parents as they showered mercy upon us when we were children.

The guest called death


17th day or Ramadhan

The smart human being is fully aware of the coming of death. Why wouldn’t we? After all it’s the only thing that is absolutely certain in life. All of the other things that we will experience are full of uncertainty. The job we will get, how many children we will have, how much money we will make, etc., are all in the list of uncertainties in life.

On the other hand, death is “the real thing”, and as beautifully articulated by Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher, “Life has the name of life, but in reality it is death”. Death is a guest that will come to everyone no matter what. Whether they lock themselves in a high tower, run like hell from it, or whatever effort they do, death will not be deceived. It’s time is fixed, and it can’t be changed. Those who are meant to die will die. And those who are meant to live will live on.

A great hero in the Muslim tradition, Khalid ibn Al Walid, fought in numerous battles during his life. He was one of the bravest warriors who fought side by side the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). It is said that he always longed for death in the battlefield, as God gave glad tidings for those who fight and die for His cause. However, ironically the bravest warrior died on his death bed, despite all his near death encounters in the battlefield.

Thus, we shouldn’t be afraid of death. Rather, we should be more concerned about how we walk towards it, the things that we do while we’re alive. Are we being good human beings that benefit other people, or are we wasting our time with things that are of no benefit for us and others? Surely we should think deeply upon our lives so that we don’t regret it when the guest called “death” comes to us.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Humbleness in our good deeds


16th day or Ramadhan

How often do we get proud after doing a good deed? For me, the answer is probably almost always. With pride, there may be a possibility that one becomes self righteous from their good deeds. And while it may be OK at first, self righteousness can turn into arrogance and lead one to the path of wretchedness.

In the Islamic tradition, whether a good deed is successful or not is seen by whether or not God accepts it. And there are several criteria that one must observe.

The first one is the intention of the good deed, whether it was done for the sake of God, or for other things. For example: whether it was done for money, for other people’s praise, etc. The second criterion is that no injustice was committed in the course of the good deed. And the third one is to have both, hope and fear of the acceptance of God, as this will increase ones effort in the quality of their good deeds. There may be other criteria, but let’s just simplify it up to here.

One noble example is given in the Qur'an when our father Abraham built the Ka’ba with his son Ismail (peace be upon them). After conducting such an amazing service for God, they were not proud and still made sincere effort to pray to God to accept their services.

Thus, after conducting a good deed, we shouldn’t be overly confident and proud with it. On the other hand, we should keep ourselves humble and have balance between hope and fear of God’s acceptance of it. That way, we will be able to avoid self righteousness and in turn improve the quality of our good deeds.

The forgiveness of Yusuf (Joseph) peace be upon him


15th day of Ramadhan 1432 (2011)

One of the most beautiful stories ever told is the story of the Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him). His life’s story is rich of lessons that we can relate to. It shows us the meaning of being grateful, having perseverance and patience, being merciful with others, and being just. In this opportunity, I’d like to focus on being merciful to those who are unjust towards us.

It’s always uncomfortable to have annoying siblings. Although I can’t really relate to it (having only one wonderful sister), I’m guessing that it’s similar to having annoying friends (which I’ve had quite a few). However, in the case of Yusuf (pbuh), he had brothers who were beyond annoying. In fact, they hated Yusuf (pbuh) so much, they had it in them to kill Yusuf. Although they refrained from doing it, they still committed gross injustice by throwing their youngest brother into a well.

From there on, life was a struggle for Yusuf (pbuh). He was found by slave traders who sold him for a low price. He was then framed and accused for adultery, thrown into jail, and had to suffer again for several years. Eventually, by God’s will, he came out of jail and became the number two man of Egypt at that time, only second to the Pharaoh himself.

Several years passed by, and Yusuf eventually met again with his brothers. The same brothers who plotted to kill him and got rid of him. The same brothers who harbored immense hatred towards him. But now, Yusuf (pbuh) has the upper hand. He is the ruler of Egypt, and his brothers are poor people who are begging for food from the severe draught. The perfect scenario to take revenge or recompense for what they did many years ago.

But what did Yusuf do? He forgave all of them. Knowing that everything that happened is by the Will of God, and the true enemy is the devil who sowed seeds of hatred in his brother’s hearts.

Thus, we should reflect on this story and remember about it whenever we get angry with anyone. Of course there are going to be people who may be unjust with us. But it would most definitely not be worse that being thrown into a well and having to live a life full of difficulties as experienced by Yusuf (pbuh).

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The dilemma of homosexuality


14th day of Ramadhan 1432 (2011)

The discussion on same-sex marriage issue has been heating up recently. As controversial as it is, it is real and needs serious attention. The first country to pass the permissibility on same-sex marriage is the Netherlands in 2001. And after that, many countries started following.

Homosexuality itself has been present from ancient times. In fact, it is well described in the sacred texts of all monotheistic traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), which described the story of the Prophet Luth (Lot), peace be upon him, and his people. The people of Luth were homosexuals, and they eventually got punished after still lingering with their severe homosexual acts after receiving endless reminders from the Prophet.

The act of homosexuality itself is a sin and clearly forbidden in all three traditions. And we believe that it being forbidden is nothing else but as a protection from the evil that it can bring. As that is the purpose of sacred law, to protect human beings from the evil they have in themselves which they don’t fully understand.

Homosexuals on the other hand, are human beings that also have the right for respect and dignity. In fact, many of them realize that their tendency is not natural and are struggling to get rid of it. Many of them tried a normal marriage in order to cure the tendency that they had. Some succeeded and some didn’t.

We have to realize that in most of the cases, homosexuals are products of the diseased society that we live in. The act itself is wrong and completely forbidden in all of the monotheistic faiths, but it doesn’t mean that we should reject the people who are inflicted by it from our societies. Several Muslim scholars say that the society should help them in their struggle to get rid or suppress their unnatural tendency, rather than condemning them and belittling them as human beings.

May God protect us and our family from the serious tribulations of the times that we live in.

Being just in measuring the balance


13th day of Ramadhan 1432 (2011)

In ancient times, when supermarkets did not exist, weighing was a central / important aspect in business transactions. This is especially true when it came to food. A certain amount of money was given for a certain weight of food.

However, there came times where people would commit injustice and cheat people into paying for lesser than what they should have received. For example, they would say that their merchandise is 10kg, while in truth they only weighed 9.8kg.

The cheating got so severe, that it became one of the main central themes of the messages brought by the Prophets and Messengers (peace be upon them). One of them was Prophet Syu’aib (peace be upon him). As with many prophets, when he delivered the message to his people, out of rebellion, they did not want to put the effort to try to comprehend or think about the message that was given. Eventually, the people were punished and put as an example for future generations.

Nowadays, although not that explicit, there is still injustice in the business deals that we experience. Whether it’s by hidden expenses, covered up truths about what is sold, a price that way exceeds the real price of the unit, etc. This cheating can also take form as bad service, going home early from work (while getting the full amount of pay), etc.

Being unjust in business transactions were one the causes of the decline in ancient communities. Thus we should also be aware of our conducts and do our best to be just in all our affairs.

The slave that we are


12th day of Ramadhan 1432 (2011)

Either we like it or not, we are enslaved to one thing or another. In many cases, we might not even realize it. Some people are enslaved by their work, their family, with lust, greed, or whatever they obey and strive for.

In truth, we can choose what we want to be enslaved to. We can choose to be enslaved to what was said previously, or we can choose to be enslaved to God, our real Master. When we choose to enslave ourselves to God, we will break free from all the other types of slavery that exists. Or in other words, the moment we surrender to God is when we will become truly free human beings.

As a consequence of being a slave of God, we belong 100% to Him. A slave doesn’t have the privileges that a company worker has. There is no weekend, no sleeping time, etc. His soul and body is fully dedicated to the Master.

But God is indeed a merciful master. He has given us everything that we have, despite of us deserving them or not. What did we pay for getting two perfect eyes? What did we do to deserve our limbs? What did we do to deserve our ability to speak? And the list goes on and on. And on top of that, we don’t even own all of those blessings, as one day they will all be returned to its Owner.

Unfortunately, we human beings are built with ingratitude inside of us. No matter what is given to us, we still find it in ourselves to complain about what we don’t have and overlook what we do. And so we must struggle our hardest to be grateful slaves.  

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Being enslaved to the culture


11th day of Ramadhan 1432 (2011)

The moment we step foot into this world, we are exposed to a way of life that we ourselves did not choose to follow, the particular culture of the region. We grow in that environment and the right and wrong within in it becomes our norm. We follow the norms that our forefathers have taught us and strive to protect them.

Although it’s perfectly fine when we follow what is beneficial, there are times when the things within a culture become burdensome, destructive and contradict common sense.

One of the examples in my culture that immediately popped into my mind is how difficult it is to get married. I am sure that this is also the case in many cultures. The groom and bride need to make a cumbersome amount of preparations if they are to get wed. That range from preparing financial requirements to organizing the ever so large wedding reception.

While the truth is, to want to get married is a pure and noble thing, and should be facilitated for ease, especially in these times where adultery and fornication are prevalent. Why would people want to make difficult a noble effort? The answer is because of the culture. Because everyone else is doing it. Because of the shame of not going along with the culture, even though it’s burdensome, of little benefit, or even harmful.

Whatever culture we follow from those before us should always be looked with a critical mind and heart. Don’t be a slave towards it. Especially if it is not part of Divine guidance sent down by God. Because we will indeed be responsible for all of our actions, and we will be in loss if what we followed is actually useless or even harmful for us in the end.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The first supremacist


10th day of Ramadhan 1432 H (2011)

Almost all of the wars, genocides and holocausts in human history are caused by supremacism, which is the belief that a particular race, species, ethnic group, religion, gender, sexual orientation, belief system or culture is superior to others, and has the right to dominate, control or rule.

Supremacism has always been there in human history. In fact, it can be traced way back before that, up to the creation of man. The first supremacist was the devil himself. He was ordered to bow down to Adam, but refused out of arrogance. Giving the argument that he was made out of fire, and Adam (peace be upon him) was from clay.

Due to this act, he was banished from heaven. He became an outcast and a true enemy of humanity, which we will have to continue fighting up to the end of time. The devil’s argument, saying that fire is nobler than clay was a mistaken notion, because the true essence of nobility is not measured by physical attributes and affiliations that we have, but rather from what is in the heart.

Thus the devil became the first supremacist. And he has succeeded in deluding some of the worst of humanity to follow his footsteps. Slavery, war, colonialism, etc. are all the product of supremacism, deluding the criminals of humanity that other human beings are low enough to be used or even slaughtered without mercy.

We may not be able to do anything in this life. But God is Just. There will come a day where all the criminals of humanity be brought forth, and they will have to answer for the crimes they did. In this life, they can only receive one death sentence. But in the next, the will become fuel for the hellfire, and there they will squeal and feel the pain of dying over, and over, and over again.

The end of racism


9th day of Ramadhan 1432 H (2011)

Racism is always a problem on every corner of the globe, in every social setting. I remember that even in football matches, racial incidents still occur. Strange, considering that a football match is a place where people are supposed to have fun. Even in Indonesia we still see Indonesian-Chinese people being discriminated because of their race.

I find it strange to see people being boastful about how they look, what color of their skin is, about what nationality they are, or whatever. For all that I know is that nobody has the authority to choose these things. It’s God’s authority, and only those who are short minded and lack of intellect would boast about their lineage or race.

In the 1960s, a man by the name of Malcolm X opposed the racism towards the black people in the US. At first, he fought racism with another type of racism, regarding white people as devils, while the black as the original people of the world. However, after he went to Mecca for pilgrimage, and saw all colors, white, black, yellow, and red, being as one in worship, he contracted is original statement. There, he experienced the hospitality and brotherhood of people who would be considered as “white people”.

All of us without exception are of the children of Adam (peace be upon him). Thus, we are brothers in humanity no matter what color or flavor we are. If God wanted to, He could have made us all the same, from our looks to how we think. But He didn’t, out of divine wisdom. And if we could truly understand this from the bottom of our hearts, God willing, we will be able to see the differences that we have as something beautiful.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Appreciating the blessing of speaking


8th day of Ramadhan 1432 Hijriah (2011)

To be able to speak is indeed an amazing blessing. If we would just reflect on how complex the act of speaking is, we would use this blessing for better use. Speaking involves so many organs in its process, even up till now, scientists are still unable to create a unified theory about it. It involves the tongue, the lungs, obviously the nervous system, the mouth, and a whole lot more. Not to mention all the different languages that we have. An amazing act indeed!

The Muslim grammatical scholars agree that the ability to speak is one of the main characteristics which differs man from animal. In fact, many of them call man, the talking beast.

But when we think about how it is used nowadays, we should be ashamed of ourselves. We use it to insult people, for saying shameless words, for gossiping, and other displeasing acts, showing us that we may not deserve to have this amazing blessing.

In the Qur’an, it is said that the norm is, whatever we say, there is nothing good or useful in it. The words that we utter are useless, EXCEPT the words that we use to encourage charity, to encourage acts of righteousness / good deeds, and the words that we use to make conciliation or peace between people.

So in order to truly appreciate the amazing blessing of speaking, we should ponder how we use it. Do we say things that are good, pure, and beneficial? Or is it the contrary? May we be given pure tongues that bring goodness to whoever the listener is.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Noble characters of the dwellers of paradise


7th day of Ramadhan 1432 Hijriah (2011)

We live in times of insecurity, rage and animosity. People cling on tightly towards their wealth, as they think it’s the source of security. Even when knowing that other people are in dire need of financial help. People are reactive towards everything they feel and see, raging about what they feel unsatisfactory. Maybe even we fit into these descriptions in one way or another.

These are opposite from characteristics owned by the future dwellers of paradise. These people have security with their Lord. They are not afraid to give in charity whether they are in ease (they have plenty of resources) or in tightness (not having plenty of resources themselves).

They are secure with their Lord and their own selves, that they have the heart to not get angry towards whatever injustice is committed upon them. Not only that, they find it in them to be able to forgive and forget about it, leaving no traces of the damage that was done.

Another characteristic that they have is the sensitivity to realize their own faults. They realize their faults quickly and repent as soon as they can. Thus they improve themselves as human beings all the time.

People with noble characters are hard to find nowadays. And no wonder our societies are in chaos. In order to transform our societies, we need to transform ourselves at the individual level. If we can obtain the characteristics of the future dwellers of paradise, that would be a great victory indeed. And as a bonus, our societies will in turn be much better than how they are now.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Being obsessed with our image


6th day of Ramadhan 1432 Hijriah (2011)

We are living in an age where people are obsessed with their image in front of others. This is especially true regarding how they look. Many people go to all ends to enhance how they look, to look more “beautiful” in front of others. They do it through surgery, extreme diet, by wearing expensive branded clothes, through make up, etc.

All do it for a different reason. Perhaps for their career, for self esteem, for experimentation, etc. But ultimately, the goal is to be happier and to expect recognition from other people.

The truth is, we should know that every human being is beautiful in their own unique way. It is God who created and shaped the human being in the womb in perfect manner. Whether it be male or female, handsome or otherwise, happy or miserable, with perfect measure according to His Divine wisdom.

Unfortunately we are trapped in the stereotype on beauty made by the corporate marketing and branding, that the pinnacle of beauty is within the actors and artists who walk on the red carpet wearing clothes with little decency. The way they look and dress become the dream of o so many.

The bottom line is, we are all beautiful. Whether short or tall, good looking or not, black or white, no matter what physical attributes that we have, God was the one who gave them to us. And if anyone understands beauty, the Creator, Shaper of whatever exists most definitely knows best. We need to break through the perverted perception of beauty created by those who have their own selfish agendas.

The beloved (peace and blessings be upon him) said that God does not look at how you look and your wealth but He looks at your heart and deeds. And we should also judge according those parameters. Thus, let’s do our best to become deep people in the shallowness of the times that we live in.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Showering our souls with charity


5th day of Ramadhan 1432 Hijriah (2011)

No doubt that water is the most important substance in life. 80% of the human body is made out of it, and without it, life as we know would not exist. Water also triggers seeds to germinate and nurture them to become full grown plants which sustain life. The presence of ice on a new planet is also seen as a good indicator for the possibility of the existence of life.

We can go on and on talking about this amazing molecule. But what I’d like to share here is again a reminder from the Qur’an. Water is made as an analogy of charity for the sake of God. To give in charity is one of the ancient commandments that all the messengers and prophets (peace be upon them) were told to deliver. Thus, it should be an honor for us to be engaged in such an act.

The likeness of charity for the sake of God is like a garden that receives plentiful of rain which doubles the harvest. And if only small amount of rain showers it, it is enough for it. The garden is a person’s soul, while the harvest is a person’s good deeds. Thus, the one who gives in charity for the sake of God’s pleasure will find ease and many opportunities to perform other good deeds. And consequently, these good deeds will make the soul stronger and happier.

The devil threatens us with poverty, thus it becomes so difficult for us to give even a small amount in charity. While it’s so easy for us to spend on luxury that we often don’t need. But the truth is, as the Beloved (peace and blessings be upon him) said, a man will who spends in charity for the sake of God, will ascend a higher degree and status because of it. Furthermore, there is a guarantee from God that whoever gives in charity for His sake will get his or her wealth being multiplied even more.

There are many of our brothers and sisters in humanity who are suffering even now. Our brothers and sisters in Somalia, in northern Japan, and all over the world. It’s always a good opportunity to give in charity, but it is even better in this blessed month. Thus, let’s refrain from spending on what we don’t need, and shower our souls with giving in charity.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

A rock hard heart


4th day of Ramadhan 1432 Hijriah (2011)

Rocks are such amazing objects. They are among the hardest substances that the earth can produce. Metamorphic rocks like marble and quartzite are so hard and durable, that they are used to build buildings that can last for generations.

In the Quran, the hardness of rocks is associated with the hardness of the heart. Yes, hearts can also metamorphose into becoming hard, even harder than rocks. The hard heart is insensitive towards goodness. The hard heart doesn’t show any compassion whatsoever when being presented with the suffering of others. The hard heart despises kindness and mercy. The hard heart doesn’t respond towards words of Truth.

The reason of the hardening is simple: swaying away from the Truth after having belief, conviction and certainty towards it. And this happens because many people enjoy being rebellious and want to live life according how they want to live it. In this particular case, the children of Israel were shown miracle after miracle by Prophet Musa (peace be upon him). But these miracles that they saw didn’t increase them in faith. Rather, they became more rebellious towards what the Prophet commanded them to do.

Since ancient times, the prophets and messengers that came to humanity instructed the same basic commandments. Worship God (alone), be dutiful and good to parents, kindred, orphans and the poor, speak good words to people and perform prayer and give charity. The people of old rejected the commandments out of rebelliousness, arrogance and disbelief. Thus, their hearts were sealed and hardened, which is the worst tragedy that can befall a human being.

No one is safe from this tragedy. Thus we should continuously work hard to maintain every bit of faith that we have, work hard to tread the path of righteousness, and ask God to put us firm on His path. May He bless us with soft hearts that are full of His remembrance.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The harm of a small joke


3rd day of Ramadhan 1432 Hijriah (2011)

We often take for granted our interaction with other people, whether we mean to or not. Going up to the point where we hurt other people’s feelings with our speech albeit unintentionally. We make jokes and funny insults thinking that they are amusing and can strengthen the bonds of the relationship, while the truth is, it often does otherwise.

This happens most often among good friends, spouses, or family. Thinking that those who are closest would have it easier to forget and forgive. Although it may be the case in this world, it most certainly will not be in the next.

We will be faced by a difficult day where brothers would run away from each other, where a person would run away from their parents, their spouses and even the children that they cherished so much. It is the day when nothing but justice will be brought forth. And those small jokes and insults will also be brought forth, which could become troublesome for those who commit it.

Although right now our friends or family may look as if they don’t mind us cracking jokes and funny insults at them, on “that day” they might be in a deficit of good deeds. And they will not hesitate to take our good deeds due to the injustice and heartache we caused them (through our jokes). Or in other words, a joke can cost us paradise and put us into the fire. Of course, not all jokes are bad, and in fact jokes can be good and pure, as taught by the Prophet SAW. But too often do we take it overboard.

Therefore, in this blessed month, let us introspect our relationship with others, and try our best to avoid foul talk and useless speech. Instead, let us use good words and honor each other, for that is the best way to truly strengthen our bonds of love between us. May God make it easy for all of us to reach for success in this month.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Dangerous blessings


2nd day of Ramadhan 1432 Hijriah (2011)

Everything in life is a blessing. But for the ancient Arab (as with many people today), the most cherished blessings are having children and abundant wealth. However, without the proper attitude, they can become dangerous and lead the possessor down to the path of wretchedness.

People who have abundant blessings and don’t think deeply about them, can become self secure and arrogant. They begin to think that they have the blessings merely because of their own effort and strength. While the truth is, God gave it to them as a test. Simply said, the ones who are ignorant and don’t have gratitude towards God’s blessings have failed the test.

Being self sufficient and arrogant with what we possess can lead to many diseases (Al Qalam, ayah 10-14). The worst disease of all is to reject the truth and goodness that other people tell us. And unfortunately, we live in times like this. The rich and powerful often fail to see the goodness that other people advise them to. This might also be the case with us.

We were born into this world as weak and lonely creatures. Without any wealth, children, strength, or anything else. But God blessed upon us the ability to grow, get stronger, gain riches, and blessed us with children and companionship. Therefore, let us reflect and show gratitude towards all these blessings, so we can benefit from them and avoid the danger that they can bring us.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Don’t worry, be happy... with everything

1st day of Ramadhan 1432 Hijriah (2011)

Obviously, we as human beings will often find ourselves being disappointed whenever things aren’t going our way. We may have worked tirelessly to achieve a goal, yet we didn’t get what we wanted. We may get hurt and twisted our ankle even though we tried to be as careful as possible, and all kinds of other mishaps. At these times, we might feel restless and disappointed with what happened.

As a medicine for this restlessness, an ayah from the Quran (Surah Hadid, 20-21) mentions about this scenario. The truth is, whatever we get, and whatever we don’t get, is already pre-destined. So everything that happens is supposed to happen, and they happen for a reason. For the believer, we have certainty that whatever God wants is what is best. And our ability to perceive what is good and what is bad is so very limited. Who knows, maybe through a calamity we face, we might learn good and noble characters that outweigh the harm of the calamity.

So if we miss good opportunities, lost our wealth, got injured, or even face death. We should know that it was supposed to happen and we wouldn’t be able to escape it no matter what we do. And we should face whatever calamity we face with patience and forbearance. Likewise, whatever good that happens to us, all of our success was supposed to happen inevitably. So we shouldn’t be arrogant with our achievements and be grateful instead.

Wrapping it up in one sentence, quoting a sentence from Ibn Kathir’s explanation of the Qur’an, "Every one of us feels happiness and grief. However, make your joy with gratitude and endure your grief with patience.''

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Learning from our Japanese brothers and sisters

You can’t help but feel the pain and sorrow of what is happening to Japan. Especially to those who are located near the disaster zone. The earthquake and tsunami has claimed tens of thousands of lives, many people are forced to stay in refugee camps, without any heating in cold winter-like temperatures. And while their supplies run thin, there is also the additional ongoing danger of nuclear radiation. However, no matter how bad it is, in every situation, there are lessons that we can learn to make us better human beings.

I have lived here in Japan for quite some time. Almost 6 years to be exact. And during that time, God has taught me a lot through my Japanese brothers and sisters (I don’t hesitate to call them my brothers and sisters because as God has said, we all came from a single human being (the Prophet Adam), which automatically makes us brothers and sisters in humanity transcending nationality and race). Several important lessons have again been taught to me through this bitter tragedy.

The first lesson that can be learned from the Japanese is the ability to have patience in difficult times. God values the virtue of patience in very high estimation, as it is mentioned time and time again in the Qur’an. And the Japanese are people who have this noble virtue. Even in times of difficulties with scarce food supplies they can stay in line to get them. Whether in the end they get what they need or not, they don’t transgress other people’s rights (to cut the lines or shove other people). Even without traffic lights (due to the blackouts) and no police officers they can maintain order in the roads. Everyone understands their role in this situation. That everyone is in this together and has to put all egos aside.

Being just
The ability to have patience and control one’s self leads to being just with other people. In this chaos, there are no stores being looted, no properties being damaged, and no rights being transgressed. And "The Just" is one of the names of God (Al ‘Adl in Arabic), and God indeed loves those who are just. It takes a high degree of control to be just to other people, and it becomes even more difficult in times of tribulation. I truly admire the Japanese for this trait.

Empathy and compassion for others
Generally, the Japanese are people with good hearts. Despite the toughness that is apparent in many cases, they will try their best to help others. And in this case, during the disaster, we can still see people trying to help others, even though they need to put themselves in harm's way. They can also cry for other people’s pain, which is indication that they have very delicate hearts, and I mean this in a positive way. One of the greatest disasters that a human being could experience, is to have a hard and dead heart.

Neutrality of the mass media
I might be wrong here, but it seems to me that unlike the mass media in many countries, the media here doesn't try to exploit this dire condition to get more money. I feel that the mass media genuinely tries to be a mean to mitigate the situation and provide information for the people’s sake. And most importantly, they encourage everyone to stand together and help hand in hand. Even the commercials being aired are those that highlight the importance of helping others, which conditions the viewers to have empathy towards the victims.

Although there are positive and negative traits in every society, I feel it’s important to learn from Japan regarding the many noble traits that they have. As the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said, that hikmah (wisdom) is the lost treasure of the believer. And we should do our best to strive for finding wisdom in whatever or whoever it may be in. This disaster is an eye opener towards the whole world about the beauty of these lost noble characters.

May God make it easy for us to see the wisdom behind whatever happens to us. May God ease the pain, give goodness, give patience and perseverance to all our brothers and sisters in humanity who are facing difficulties all around the globe. And especially for our Japanese brothers and sisters, may things get better soon and may the scars that have resulted from the recent tragedies be quickly healed.

Living with corrupt leaders

The string of revolts in the Arab world against their respective leaders is one of the hot commodities in the media nowadays. This is indication that there is a serious crisis of leadership in these countries. Most of them are corrupt and succeeded in establishing a dictatorship that oppresses the rights of the people for their private benefits.

No doubt that these corrupt leaders play a big role in creating the social problems in the society, such as the increase of unemployment, hunger, etc. However, we as citizens may also have a part in creating this condition, and should try our best to do what we can to make things better, and have patience for the sake of getting God’s reward. Of course there are without doubt times when the leaders are overwhelmingly unjust, and there are guidelines to deal with such leaders in Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh). However, there are also times when we put the blame too easy on whoever has authority in the land.

As said in the Qur’an, God will not change the condition of a nation until they change what is inside of themselves. It means that the best way to achieve positive change is by collective internal revolution. The results may not come overnight, but by God’s will, it will come. Even the Prophet (Peace be upon him) needed 20 odd years to build the perfect community. So to achieve positive change in a society, the emphasis should be on one’s self before anybody else. By doing so, God willing, divine help will make its way. Just as He put corrupt leaders on top of us, without doubt He can put just ones too.

Furthermore, we should also remember that everything that we experience in life is merely a test from God, including the power that people are granted with. Those corrupt leaders were tested through power, and failed. And we rest their case with God. There is no guarantee that we would do better in the same condition, and we should be grateful that God is protecting us from the tribulation of having power. As the historian, Lord Acton said, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." Of course there are exceptions on this, with the greatest example our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), who albeit had power, always remained humble and just. On the other hand, we too are tested through these corrupt leaders. And we will get reward accordingly with our response.

May God have mercy on all of us and help those who are oppressed in His lands. May He guide our leaders to become just leaders that love the people. May He make all the tribulations that happen to us means to purify us from our sins, for the sake of our true victory, which is to be put in His gardens.

And God knows best

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Our role in managing nature

Despite of all the arrogance that human beings have, we are actually generally weak and incapable of doing anything without relying on God's blessings. We boast of being able to manipulate nature, yet even the most casual natural phenomenon is beyond our grasps to understand, let alone control.

One of the examples is the sowing and growing of plant seeds. Human beings sow plant seeds everyday for all kinds of uses. And no matter how casual they may seem, I have always found the sprouting of seeds and the growth of plants to be such an amazing phenomenon. The seemingly lifeless seed, which actually contains an embryo from which new life will emerge from, will stay “dead” until being in the right conditions.

Although we may say that we planted and grew the seed, the truth is, after planting them, besides doing our best to maintain good growth conditions, we are merely passive spectators which can only wait and watch the emergence of new life. We have no control whatsoever in deciding the success of growth, whether the cells of the embryo will divide or not, etc. Simply speaking, the whole sprouting and growing process is a witness to God’s supreme creative ability and authority.

Another example is the rain sent down from the sky, which is a blessing from God, because we all know that water is the source of life. It makes up 80% of the mass of our body, and without it, life will not exist. Although human beings have been trying to control rain, either to (strangely) withhold or induce it, like what they tried to do in 2008’s Beijing Olympics, the chances of success in doing so is very low. Showing that we have no control whatsoever to decide whether it will rain or not.

Thus when we think deep about the natural phenomenon around us, we can see how everything has been made automated, so well balanced and in place. This is also true for the phenomenon inside our own selves. The beat of our hearts, the process of breathing, the blinking of our eyes, the division of our cells, are all automated and beyond our control. We don’t think about doing them, let alone control them. Rather they are all automated, which are signs for people who think deep.

Pondering on these phenomenons puts our perspective in place, reminding us about how weak and helpless we really are as God’s creations. And in turn, hopefully enable us to learn to be humble and have gratitude with all of the blessings we do have.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Protecting growth by providence of good nurturing conditions

There are so many lessons in wisdom that we can extract from the occurrence of things around us. From simple things to the large phenomenon, all can provide parables for understanding the nature of this world.

I have recently been growing some safflower plants for my research, and noticed something which I find very interesting. All of the seeds were sowed and grown in almost the same conditions. Differing only in the intensity of the sunlight they received. Some of them got more sunlight than the others, which turned out to be a key factor in their vitality when being attacked by insects or fungi.

ALL of the plants were attacked by insects early in their growth, which made most of them sick throughout their lives. The sick plants of course didn’t grow well, being stunted or abnormal, and to make matters even worse, some of them even got infected by fungi. However, the plants which received good amount of sunlight remained healthy despite the attacks. Their favorable growing condition somehow made it easier for them to repel the effects of the insect attacks.

Nurturing conditions played an important role for the plants I grew. And I feel that this isn’t only the case for plants, but for all creatures, including human beings. There are many parables that can be seen from the observation. But for me, I immediately thought about my children.

With widespread moral decay in our societies, it’s the parent’s responsibility to ensure that their children are nurtured in favorable conditions. By doing so, the next generation will automatically have stronger self defense from the overwhelming negative influences that our societies have to offer.

We have to ensure that the family can be as nutrient rich soil for the plants. And make sure that adequate amount of prophetic guidance and noble character showers them as the sunlight helped the growth of the healthy safflower plants. Only by doing so, we can nurture healthy individuals who can withstand the negative influences all around us, and in turn transform what is around them for the best.