From My Heart


March 2017

Struggles of the Courageous

Since end of last year, I have been listening to this series of lectures, titled Seerah of the Prophet by Sheikh Yasir Qadhi. I would strongly recommend all Muslims to listen to this series. It is very long, 104 lectures altogether, and each lecture is about 1 hour, or sometimes more. It might take us more than a year to complete them, but it is worth doing.

There’s so much benefit we could derive from this series of lectures, I could write a long article just about the benefits that I have obtained so far. However for now I’m just going to state one from the endless list. 
Looking back, I realize that all of the sahabi are real, imperfect humans. They experienced anger, sadness, restlessness, frustration, moments nearing or commiting sins; you name it. Despite all that, many of them were promised paradise by Allah SWT.

Even Prophet Muhammad SAW experienced a range of emotions, which I could not even begin to imagine, because of the deep love he had for humanity; the love that enabled him to fight for the truth and justice no matter what he went through, physically or emotionally, at that time.

What made them successful is how they overcome those feelings. How they channel their emotions for the sake of Allah, for themselves and the people around them. The strength they showed in facing adversities in their lives. The courage they mustered was something perhaps we could never achieve….but we could all try.
Because they are humans and we are humans.

We are made the same since the beginning of time. If they could struggle with their imperfections, so could we.

If they could turn from extremely bad to extremely good, we could all do too.
May Allah bless Sheikh Yasir Qadhi and his family, in this life and the hereafter.

May everything be easy for him.

* * *

This is the link to part 26 of this series:

Seerah of Prophet Muhammad SAW by Sheikh Yasir Qadhi

One Day


The Roadside Booksellers of Jakarta

I did not go to Jakarta to shop, but I thought, if I were to buy anything, I would buy a few books by Hamka, Soe Hok Gie or Chairil Anwar. I absolutely love Hamka, I fell in love with Mr Soe after watching the movie Gie, and I wanted to know why Chairil Anwar is a celebrated poet in Indonesia.
The movie Ada Apa Dengan Cinta showed a scene where Rangga brought Cinta to his favourite book shop. It is a small bookshop with loads of books, spilling onto the pavement. Thing is, I do not know where to find them. I heard that they don’t print Mr Soe’s Catatan Seorang Demonstran anymore.
Knowing the literary history of Indonesia, I was pretty sure that they have those kinds of shops in many places in Jakarta, and my mom said there are many bookshops in that city.
I browsed through my Jakarta guide book but found that the old bookshops are not within the areas that I planned to go, and I did not think I will have that much time to get there. 
While we were riding on Transjakarta and the bajajs, I did look around for signs of any bookshop, but I could not see any. Though that afternoon I saw a man carrying a tall stack of books walking on the road side.
And then night fell, we came back from Monas and stopped by for supper at Jalan Haji Agus Salim near our hotel.
A middle-aged man came with a stack of books and asked us if we wanted to buy any books. Immediately I scanned his books and I saw what I wanted. My heart leaped but I tried not to show it.
“Lihat yang ini boleh?” I pointed at Catatan Seorang Demonstran. (Journal of a Demonstrant). May I see this book?
He took that book out, and a few more. 

“Ini satu set dengan yang ini, ada empat dalam satu set,” he said.

This is within this set of four. He’d give a special price if I bought all of them.
I looked at the rest of the books, it would have been nice to buy all of them, but as much as I love the character portrayed in the movie, since this is the first time I’m reading his book, it is better if I try one of them first.
Then I pointed to Hamka’s Falsafah Hidup (Philosophy of Life). He took out not one, but three from his load. He said the other two books are also part of a series, and the one I picked was the second of them. He kept on telling me that he has special price if I took all of the books. This time, I really wished I could buy all of them, but I really did not have enough cash to last until the next afternoon.
He also showed us a few other books, one of them was Kisah Nabi-Nabi by Ibnu Kathir (Indonesian translation of Ibnu Kathir’s Stories of the Prophets). Again, it would be really nice to get my hands on it but I did not have enough money, and I have seen it sold in Malaysia. Luggage wouldn’t have been a problem as we were flying back on Malaysia Airlines.
I said sorry and I paid for the two books (without any special discount. Oh well..). While putting back the books in a neat stack, he told us about how he’s been selling books like this since 1968, carrying books for sale on the roadside. I did not ask, though, where he put the rest of his stock, because I worried that he might think that I wanted to see more of it.
Maybe next time I can ask more questions.
I made a mental note to bring more cash to Jakarta during my next trip.
Before leaving us, he took out one last book: Aku by Sjuman Djaya.
I felt rather embarassed at that point, I will tell you why. Almost immediately, in a chorus, my brother, his wife and myself said, “Sudah adaaaaaaa.” I have it already, thank you.
You see, many of my recent connections to Indonesian literature was through characters played by Nicholas Saputra in the movies Ada Apa Dengan Cinta (AADC) and Gie. Personally I have been interested in the Indonesian (particularly Javanese) culture, for so many reasons, and these two movies, especially Gie, has exposed me to a different view of the country.
Nicholas spoke highly of Rangga during an interview, saying that Rangga is a brave young man who loves helping out people no matter who they are, even if that person have beaten him up before. He also said that Rangga was inspired by Soe Hok Gie, a man born right after Indonesia’s independence. I read from the predace of Catatan Seorang Demonstran that the character Rangga was indeed born out of an awe towards Mr Soe.
I watched Gie recently just because I heard that Nicholas won an award for his role as Soe Hok Gie. He said he did a lot of research about this impressive young man prior to filming the movie. He read the books written about him (which may have included compilations of Mr Soe’s articles), and spoke to people who knew him while he was alive.
I loved Gie much more than I do Rangga. The movie Gie moved me a lot more than AADC could ever do. Hence I was interested to know more about this inspiring man. He lived a short life (like Chairil Anwar), but he was so influential, even back then without all the social media. Therefore I searched for a book related to him.
Why was I embarassed?
You see, when I saw the book I was excited but I tried to hide it. I even bought another book that is not connected to Nicholas Saputra at all. But at the end, the man still took out the book that made Rangga and Cinta possible (in AADC). The book that says, “This lady must be a huge fan of Nicholas and she’d get her hands on anything related to him.”
Well, yes, and no.

Yes, I am a fan.

But that doesn’t mean I must read everything that he reads. Although I must say, it is one of the ways you open your eyes to a whole new world. Like we have Emma Watson’s reading list, and a list of hundreds of books mentioned in Gilmore Girls, JK Rowling’s suggestions etc. I read Murakami because it was mentioned by Redza Minhat many years ago, but I ended up not liking it so I will read other authors instead.
Even my latest reading obsession is inspired by Dian Sastrowardoyo, who said that she used to read one book per week (of Indonesian literature) when she was in school, and discussed the books with her mother. It was such a great blessing to have come across her statement; it opened me up to a whole new world of knowledge and discoveries. I already have a soft spot and interest towards Indonesia since I was a child (this is a story in itself), now is the time I open up that new chapter in my creativity and literature life.
* * *
After that man, another man came by to show us his stack of books. Obviously we had to turn him down because I already bought some books from the above-mentioned man.
I took his photo, though (the second man):

My Reading List – Part 3

1. Jakarta: 25 Excursions by Andrew Whitmarsh and Melanie Wood

I found this book while planning for my weekend trip to Jakarta. I wanted to travel with my little sister, so we only have weekends free. I searched the net for 24-hour excursions in Jakarta, and found a few. But none of them could match the kind of details this book provides.

To be honest I have yet to finish reading this book, I have only covered north and central Jakarta, but at least I can compare the contents to my own experience since I have just came back from my 24-hour trip last weekend.

The lovely thing about this book is it contains suggestions for walking trips within different regions in Jakarta. They are divided into parts of Jakarta, and further divided into areas that might interest different people; for example historical places, museums, food and coffee, and shopping. It makes it easy for us to decide which places we want to go first.

One of the authors lived in Jakarta and have explored the city by foot and bicycle, which explained the amount of details available in this book. I found that the accounts on the locals and history are at times rather quirky and entertaining; I was caught laughing a few times reading a travel book! Of course, looking at Jakarta as a Westerner versus as a part-Javanese Malaysian would result in different views. There are part of their culture that is quite familiar to me (not necessarily practiced, though), but reading it from another person’s perspective was simply amusing. 

There are detailed maps for each excursion, on top of area maps, map of the whole Jakarta and a folded map of Jakarta provided in this book.

Obviously there are things that you should experience yourself, and will only find out when you’re in Jakarta. Yes, the people are indeed friendly, towards Westerners, as well as their next door neighbours like us who have shared a fair amount of love-hate relationship throughout history. Do follow their advice to talk to the locals. I came up with the conclusion that the best way to enjoy Jakarta is to have a local (like a friend or and expat) who could show us the way there, so we could make the most out of it. 

I would recommend this book to anyone who plans to go to Jakarta. I would read this again when I plan for my next trip.

2. The World Atlas of Coffee by James Hoffman

I bought this atlas because I realized I have almost zero knowledge about coffee.

This book is divided into three segments: Introduction, from Bean to Cup and Coffee Origins. Basically it covers almost everything you need to know about coffee; from the history, the plant, the process of producing coffee beans, the different ways of brewing coffee, types of espresso drinks, to the details about different coffee from different coffee-growing countries. Here we could learn a little bit about how local politics influence the production of coffee in each country.

It is a complete book if you are a coffee lover who wants to enjoy different types of coffee from all over the world. It is an interesting journey of discovery, to see how much this world love its coffee, and how differently we all enjoy coffee.

I’m not a heavy coffee drinker, drinking only 1-3 cups per week. But having read this book definitely took my coffee intake to a new level of meanings.

3. Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrmage by Haruki Murakami

This is my first (and perhaps the last?) Haruki Murakami. I have heard of his reputation for a few years already, but I only managed to get my hands on this book just recently.

Where do I begin…

Well, I guess I should begin with the good ones first. When I started reading the book, I was impressed by the unique storyline, and the characters in the book. Perhaps part of the factors is that I do not know much about Japanese culture. The flow of the narrative is rather relaxed; Murakami took his time to describe the movements and the appearance of the characters. There are times when he gets philosophical about life.

The pace became even more slow as the book progresses. Although some questions were answered, many issues are left hanging with huge question marks.

As a rather conservative Asian and a Muslim, I am not entirely comfortable with the graphic imagery of sex in this book. Sex is never ‘just’ sex. It is a very private act of intimacy and love between two persons, and should be kept at that. Just reading about some fictional characters being described to be doing this and thinking of that is rather disturbing. 

Therefore I feel that anything that sells or attracts merely by sexual appeal lacks sophistication.

I guess the world around us is too used of seeing the act and thiking about it to be able to understand how peaceful it is without this kind of disturbance. It would be very difficult to comprehend how discomforting those imaginations would feel, without knowing how peaceful it can be when there is absence of dirty thoughts. Therefore its presence became a norm, something that is thought to be natural human instinct.

But it should not be. Intimacy should be kept between the couple, in the bedroom or in the house, not to be aired in the open, and certainly not to be used as a selling point for a book or a movie.

I will think many many times before buying another Murakami. 

MONAS (Monumen Nasional)

The park surrounding MONAS (Monumen Nasional) was CLEAN!!! And it was almost sunset when we reached the park. The grass was neatly cut. There were reminders to not step on the grass, and most visitors abide by it. Every ten minutes there were reminders coming from speakers all over the park advising visitors to not litter, and there were signages everywhere too. There were no warnings whatsoever for those who are caught littering. And there were NO city council officers guarding the park.
I think more than 90% of the visitors were Indonesians. They did not dirty the park, took good care of it, without even needing to be worried about fines!!
Oh, I am so happy!!
There were no dogs so obviously there were no excreta. I did not see any cats either. There is a foodcourt at the end of the park, and there were no food carts around.
I did not plan to go up the tower but the rest of them wanted to. So we lined up for more than an hour to get to the single, small elevator that would bring us up the monument. The queue was calm. All of them just patiently waited for their turns, none of them tried to cut queue. While waiting, they took photos, sat on the floor and enjoy that spare time with loved ones, some of them would get out of the queue occasionally to sit at the staircase and observe the skyline of Jakarta. None of them came with packets of food (Malaysians would do that, though). Maybe they did not expect the long queue, or perhaps they are not as obsessed about food as Malaysians (hence they are really much fitter than us).
The top of the monument is quite small. We needed only a few minutes to see everything. As we reached the top it was already after sunset, so we noticed was Jakarta switched their lights off at night. So the office buildings were barely seen, there were only streetlights and lights from the (still) heavy traffic.
There was a few open-side buses (free of charge) that can bring you from the park entrance to the entrance of the monument.
At the basement of the monument there is some sort of museum, or rather a series of displays telling us about the history of Indonesian archipelago from palaeolithic age until the 1960s. It was dark down there, but worth going through especially if you are interested in history, and if you have all the time to spend. 

Masjid Istiqlal

We visited Masjid Istiqlal on a Sunday. When we reached its entrance, the traffic was heavy (it was a Sunday morning!) and there were loads of people. We thought it was because of the Sunday mass held at the Jakarta Cathedral situated opposite the mosque (we found out later that the mass has not started at that time). It turned out that the hustle and bustle came from the masjid itself.
Amazingly the masjid entrance was rather busy. There was a steady flow of people coming into the masjid, little boys and elderly ladies selling drinks, kuih and plastic bags (to put our shoes in once we’re in the masjid), there’s a souvenir market in the compound, and inside there was a lecture going on. Around the main hall, there were booths set up by various charity organisations asking for donation. There were guides around the entrance and on the way to the main hall, approaching those (like us) who appeared lost. Young men and women held hand-written reminders for visitors to mind their belongings and to keep the masjid clean.
With the loud lecture going on at that time, it seemed that the masjid was hectic and crowded.
But things were different inside.
Yes, the lecture was loud. It was held in the main prayer hall. But the masjid still maintained its peaceful environment. The corridors were cool and breezy, the ambiance was relaxed, it seemed like anyone could do anything there. There were smaller religious classes going on in one of the corridors, men napping near the many columns of the masjid, kids running around, girls taking selfies and wefies, here and there were small circles of discussion on the floor.
I loved it there.
I took some time walking around and climbing upstairs (it is the largest masjid in South East Asia), taking photographs. My brother and his wife sat near one of those columns and talked. My sister sat and made a sketch, and after that fell asleep.
Nobody came to ask my sister-in-law about why she didn’t wear a hijab. Nobody asked my sister why she slept on the floor. Nobody reprimanded the kids for running around, neither were the girls told to stop taking selfies. The lecture went on and on.
I know not all Jakarta is like that. Just look at the issue with Ahok. But at least, I could definitely feel the freedom in that masjid, as it should be.

Just Saying Hi

Hello, Jakarta.


Nice to meet you. ☺️

My Reading List – Part 2

1. Lyrebird by Cecelia Ahern

This is a story about a beautiful yet mysterious young woman who lives alone in the hills near Cork, with a special talent of mimicry matching that of a lyrebird. The story moves with the world trying to understand her, and her trying to understand the world.

It is really interesting to see how the plot develops, especially the kinds of details that Ahern puts in the book. For example, how depth of communication would not only depend on effective listening and relay of information, but also personality and perception of life among the people involved too. As with many of her other work, it shows the depth of her knowledge, intertwined wity a imagination, which opens our minds and hearts to a lot of possibilities. The style of the narrative is what we know of Cecelia Ahern, but it is the finer details that makes each book different from the other, while keeping our attention to them.

I would give this book 4/5, for its depiction of Lyrebird’s life and the description of complexities of human interaction.

2. The House of Wisdom by Jonathan Lyons

This book, as the cover tells you, is about how the Arabs transformed Western civilisations. It started with the completion of Islam and goes on explaining us the thirst for knowledge amongst the Muslims of those age, which brought about scientific discoveries, development of printing press and ultimately turning a world of darkness into light.

This is the first book that I have read about Arab civilization, so I could not comment on the accuracy of its contents. Of course, I need to dig deeper into each major personalities that he mentions in the book, with their contributions to the modern world of knowledge and discoveries. Personalities such as the amazing Al Khawarizmi (without whom we would still be calculating with the impossible Roman numerals!), Al Idrissi, Ibn Rushd, Ibn Sina, and so many others that we have heard briefly a during history lessons in school.

I found that the narrative is all over the place. It goes back and forth from one century to the other, which made it difficult to figure things out in a chronological order. Although at the beginning the author did draw out a chronological map. 

I would recomment all Muslims to read books like this for a number of reasons:

(1) We would realize that all the initial discoveries and developments were done because Muslims wanted to follow Allah’s book: the Quran. Like the development of astronomy because Muslims away from the Kaabah needed to find a way to determine the Qiblat. Or development of a good water supply system because Muslims need to clean and perform wudhu’. The use of a more efficient numbering system because Al Khawarizmi was trying to calculate the divisions in our inheritence law, which gave tise to algebra, without which modern engineering would not be possible!

(2) Us Muslims should learn from ANYONE in this whole world. We should travel and learn more, as Allah has made this world with its colours and cultures. The Muslims of old time learnt medicinal knowledge from Indians, learnt to make papers from the Chinese (because they needed to print and spread the Quran), learnt philosophy from the greeks, botanics from various people of different places. The Muslims of those times were not afraid of knowledge, they would NEVER say things like “this is not Islamic knowledge” or “the Prophet did not tell us to study this” or “we should only learn from another Muslim”. NEVER. This is the kind of book that will make us open our minds to more discoveries in this world.

(3) The rise of Muslims depends on how close we adhere to the Quran, and the fall of Muslims is when we get away from the teachings of the Quran.

I noticed the same pattern with the fall of each Muslim civilization – womanizing kings, re-emergence of slaves in the houses of the riches, luxurious lifestyles. Life comes with responsibilities, the place of rest and luxury is only in jannah. 

(4) The Arabs were ethical in their journey of searching for knowledge. I could conclude from this book that they mention the source of their discoveries, whether it is the Indians or Chinese or Greeks, because up to this date we could gather those information. However, the West were much less ethical than that. Some of them merely mentioned the Arabs, and some poorly translated the works of the Arabs and claimed them as their own! 

(5) Muslims should understand that science is WITH religion rather than against religion. Science is merely a discovery of the laws of nature, but the laws of nature itself is created by God. When science does not seem to tally with God’s words, you will find that either the research technique is wrong, or flawed, or biased towards what they ‘expected’ to find, rather than the real findings. Science theories that are against God’s words will end up as difficult-to-prove theories, with many loopholes and flaws. 

(6) As Muslims, we should not lament on the good-ol-days. We should get back to our Quran and push ourselves into the path of knowledge and discoveries.

3. Di Bawah Lindungan Ka’bah by Hamka

This book is actually a brief love story between two young people in Indonesia, with a background of the Hajj season in Makkah. It was written beautifuly, although this book was written in the 1920s, but the description of Makkah and its pilgrims could not be more similar than it is now.

Just reading about the Ka’bah and the desperate pilgrims (we are all desperate for something) made me tear up, because in the end of the day, no matter which age we live in, human nature remains the same.  

The book has some kind of Romeo-and-Juliet tragic feel but with the values of a Muslim and an Asian. It was an easy read, the book can be completed within a few hours.

Hamka was the man who wrote the first ever Indonesian trafseer of the Quran, which made it possible for millions of Muslims in this region to understand the Quran in better depth. Therefore his work depicts the kind of manners and linguistic profeciency that is expected to be seen in a person so deeply immersed in the study of the Quran. It is so much different from Sjuman Djaya’s script book, it is even different from A Samad Said’s, obviously I will be in search of more of Hamka’s literature produce in the near future.

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