If The Oceans Were Ink

Buku ini tak bisa kulepas begitu kubaca. Aku terus membacanya hingga selesai. Selain karena penulisannya yang baik,buku ini terasa beresonansi dengan yang kupikirkan terkait umat islam, khususnya di Indonesia. Aku bahkan menerjemahkan beberapa bagian  dalam buku ini dalam pembacaan itu dan sudah kupublikasikan berseri di blog ini. 

Buku yang bercerita tentang Syekh Akram dari mata kawannya ini, seorang jurnalis keturunan yahudi, seolah memberi kesejukan pada hati yang begitu mudah memanas mendengar kisah-kisah tak sedap tentang kalangan sendiri. Pertanyaan tentang adakah Islam yang saat ini hidup dan berjalan di atas bumi serasa bertambah kemungkinannya untuk dijawab secara positif. Ya, mungkin saja itu kesan naif dari orang yang kurang pergaulan sepertiku. Tapi itulah kesan yang sesungguhnya muncul. Ironisnya, harapan itu disampaikan oleh seorang penulis yahudi yang sering dipukul rata dikecam sebagai musuh umat. 

Buku ini merupakan memoir indah tentang perkawanan dua orang dari latar belakang yang jauh berbeda. Namun dalam beberapa hal mereka berbagi hal yang sama sebagai migran, warga dunia yang kosmopolit. Satu hal yang membuat hubungan bisa berjalan baik adalah keterbukaan dan sikap yang tanpa pretensi terhadap sesama. Sebagai seorang wartawan senior bagi Carla, topik Islam telah sering menjadi headline dan ia bisa menemukan sumber referensi dari manapun. Namun dengan tulus ia ingin mencoba memahami dari sumbernya. Itulah mengapa ia mengontak Syekh Akram untuk mengajarinya alQuran. Lalu selama setahun ia mengikuti sesi-sesi kajian alQuran dan menanyakan berbagai hal, terutama yang sering salah dipahami. Ia tak peduli pada penggambaran Islam yang kian memburuk di media Barat pasca runtuhnya WTC. Pada suatu obrolan kala itu yang terpikir bersama Syekh Akram justru di mana mereka mengambil peran di tengah ketegangan yang penuh salah paham itu. Bertahun-tahun kemudian, buku ini baru muncul, tanpa kehilangan relevansinya di tengah situasi di mana agama serasa sulit bersandingan dengan damai.

Carla Power and Syekh Akram Nadwi (Source: http://www.thenational.ae)

Buku ini juga bisa dibilang sebagai sebuah catatan–sebagaimana judul yang dipilih penulisnya– perjalanan menuju jantungnya al-Quran melalui pertemanan dengan seorang muslim yang ta’at dan pada saat yang sama benar-benar menunjukkan sikap ‘iqra’-nya dalam setiap responnya terhadap yang ia jumpai dalam kehidupan. Menjadi figur bahwa untuk ta’at bukan berarti jadi buta, justru harus terus membaca.
Dia berdakwah, tentu saja. Bahkan Carla sempat bertanya-tanya apakah sesi pertemuan yang ia minta adakan bersama Syekh untuk keperluan penulisan buku ini dijadikan kesempatan untuk Syekh untuk ‘mengubahnya’, ‘memuslimkannya’? Syekh Akram dengan lugas menyatakan dia senantiasa berdakwah tapi hati manusia ada di tangan Rabb-Nya. ‘Mengubah orang’ bukan tujuan berdakwah.

Aku belum mengecek kabar terbarunya, namun hingga ia menyelesaikan penulisan buku, Carla Power tidak melepaskan keyakinannya. Meski ia sempat ragu dan bertanya tentang posisi orang yang tidak muslim sepertinya pada Syekh Akram. “Apakah neraka benar-benar menjadi tempat baginya (yang kafir)?” Jawaban Syekh Akram yang bijak pada pertanyaan ini maupun topik diskusi lainnya sangat menarik untuk dijadikan bahan renungan para muslim terkait keberislamannya, keberserahannya pada Allah, pada sikapnya yang lillahi ta’ala dan kedinamisan merespon setiap hal yang dihadirkan Allah dalam hidup dengan tetap berpegang teguh pada keyakinannya.

Syekh Akram bisa dibilang konservatif, beliau lulusan madrasah di Lucknow. Namun di kampusnya itu selain berfokus terhadap kajian Islam, mereka juga dikenalkan pada khazanah pemikiran Barat. Jadi ya mungkin ada yang menuduhnya liberal, tapi di sisi lain para liberalispun menghujatnya. Terkait poin ini aku mengutip tulisan Carla  dan bagian itu memberi secercah petunjuk pada pertanyaan “Andaikata aku muslim, islamku islam yang mana?” Karena itu buku ini aku rekomendasikan bagi siapapun, terutama saudara muslim yang sempat gamang karena seolah ‘tak kebagian perahu’. Di akhir perenunganku selama ini, keterbatasan kita mengenal islam justru bisa jadi karena kita begitu terkotak-kotak dalam perahu (harakah) itu dan akhirnya memandang perahu itulah keseluruhan islam. Ketika tidak lagi termuat dalam perahu dan bergabung bersama kebanyakan muslim yang kita kenal, seringkali posisi kita tersudut. Padahal perahu itu hanya salah satu wahana mengarungi lautan. Ilmu keislaman sendiri lebih dari itu. Takkan habis-habis dituliskan bahkan bila seluruh samudera menjadi tintanya.

Keterangan Buku:
Judul: If The Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to The Heart of The Quran
Penulis: Carla Power
Penerbit: Henry Holt and Company
Tahun Terbit: 2015
Penghargaan: Finalis National Book Award for Nonfiction, Finalis Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction

The Labels

 

The more I studied with the Sheikh, the less helpful I found all the available labels, both Western and Muslim. What is the Sheikh, anyway? A traditionally trained scholar who scandalizes conservatives and disappoints progressives. And sometimes just the reverse. A champion of women’s rights who accepts that Islam allows polygamy. A defender of individual conscience, but not Western-style individualism. A champion of creative thought, so long as it’s based on proper Islamic scholarship and classical sources. Think for yourselves, he counsels students, but don’t change Islam’s God-given Truth. “The Message,” he cautions, “is the Message.” He is traditional, yet is frequently criticized by others claiming to be traditional. He is a proponent of fundamentals who draws fire from fundamentalists. Every time I thought I’d found a term to describe him, the opposite also seemed to apply. To try to categorize the Sheikh was to flail.

As it turned out, flailing was entirely appropriate. I discovered this, to my relief, when I visited Tim Winter, a professor of Islamic studies at Cambridge University. Trying to fit Islamic thinkers into Western categories was a nonstarter, he told me. “Islam doesn’t have a spectrum,” said Winter, who also goes under his Muslim name, Abdal Hakim Murad. “There are Muslims who come from very literalist traditions who are massively pro-women. There are others who are very mystical, but also very political. Any combination is possible. The danger is always when you try to impose the idea that Christianity is the default religion.” I left Winter’s office vowing to try to avoid rigid categories. I’d flail on.

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5:51 Piece

Exhorting his students to get out there and mingle with non-Muslims, the Sheikh challenged the extremist concept of al-wala wa al-bara, the doctrine of loyalty and dissociation, which holds that Muslims should not, except in circumstances of extreme need, befriend non-Muslims.

The Muslims who warn against befriending Jews or Christians often cite the fifty-first verse from the fifth sura, “The Table,” which can read like a bald warning not to mix with other monotheists: “Choose not for friends such of those who received the Scripture before you.” Thomas Cleary, my favorite English translator of the Quran, sees 5:51 as a warning merely against taking “Jews and Christians for patrons, for they are patrons of each other.” Whether one opted for “patrons” or “friends,” the phrasing seemed to encourage Muslims to keep their distance from people of other faiths. Hostile zealots both Muslim and non-Muslim—love to brandish that line from 5:51 as proof that “we” should keep clear of “them.” I’d seen 5:51 quoted on a nasty little Islamophobic website that boasted it had “the politically incorrect truth about one really messed up religion.” I’d also read it invoked by a hard-line Muslim sheikh online. In response to a young man’s query as to whether Muslims could “play basketball” or “hang out” with non-Muslims, he handed down fatwa number 59879: “Allah has forbidden the believers to take the [disbelievers] as friends.”

When I asked the Sheikh about it, he cautioned that 5:51 wasn’t a blanket statement. Rather, it applied to a very specific group of non-Muslims at a particular moment in Medina when certain Jewish tribes aligned with the pagan Quraysh against the young Muslim community. “That verse came down when they were in war conditions,” he explained. “That verse is for when unbelievers have all the power, and yet still they oppose the Muslims, and persecute them, and don’t give them freedom.”

Reach out to people of other faiths, the Sheikh encouraged his students. Invite your non-Muslim neighbors to your daughters’ weddings! (He had, though it was fortunate that “our neighbors are very nice people anyway.”) If your neighbors are sick, help them out! Take them a plate of samosas! “The way to bring people to Islam is not the sword,” he smiled. “Sometimes, food can do more than the sword. Invite them for a nice biryani.” Or a kebab. All were means to “interact with the people, mix with the people. People are not your enemy! If there is a barrier between you and them, break the barrier! If people just smell you cooking your biryani, they will hate you! If you offer it to them, they will love you!”

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Change Needs the Right Infrastructure

“Nobody would listen,” he said. “People would say, ‘Oh, he’s gone to Nadwah,’ or ‘Since he’s gone to Britain.’ I can say it in Lucknow. I can say it in Oxford. I can’t say it in the village. If you’re going to change people’s minds, you can’t start from the village.”

Changing tradition, like putting in electricity or running water, needed the right infrastructure.

“To behave differently just because someone is weaker or stronger than ourselves,” he later wrote, “implies a weak understanding of our equality of being as creatures of the Creator.”

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Live Burial in Our Age

After the seventeenth century, with the rise of European colonial rule in many Muslim countries, women’s scholarship declined. The Sheikh explained its dilapidation, in part, by the more general decline in Muslim intellectual confidence. The madrasa system languished, so patriarchal customs filled the vacuum. Flabby leadership from the ulama, many of whom have turned to politics rather than scholarship, left Muslims ignorant of their own history. “Our traditions have grown weak,” the Sheikh once told me, “and when people are weak, they grow cautious. When they’re cautious, they don’t give women their freedoms.”

Male insecurity about what they saw as their own traditions meant women often suffered. A friend of the Sheikh’s was traveling with his wife in England, and when it came time for prayers, the couple stopped in the local mosque. The imam refused to let the wife pray there, claiming that women weren’t allowed to pray in mosques, even when they were far from home. Who finally gave the woman space to perform prayers? A Hindu merchant. “He opened his shop to let her pray there,” said the Sheikh approvingly.

Denying women access to the mosque, like denying them other rights, was simply clinging to customs, not faith, said Akram. In the case of education, he’d gone further: preventing women from pursuing knowledge, he said, was like the pre-Islamic custom of burying girls alive. Stifling their potential makes the current status quo no better than the jahiliyya, the Arabic term for pre-Islamic ignorance. “I tell people, ‘God has given girls qualities and potential,’” he said. “If they aren’t allowed to develop them, if they aren’t provided with opportunities to study and learn, it’s basically a live burial.”

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Pondering on Yusuf a.s. Story

Reflecting on it, I could see how Akram’s space-cycle model could comfort a migrant, homesick or not. In recent decades, terror analysts have suggested that the dislocations of the migrant experience helped create conditions for breeding extremism. Ripped from their ordinary contexts and networks, migrants are often vulnerable to being recruited by Muslim extremist networks. Greatly simplified, the theory goes as follows: The children of the migrants, at home neither in the culture of their parents’ homeland nor in the West, find a cultural home in the mosque. Radicals, savvy to the vulnerability of this in-between generation, target these lost youths as recruits.

Yet here Akram was proposing an entirely different response to the challenges posed by a fragmented world: prayer and acceptance. Reading the sura, I could see how Yusuf’s endurance, as he is bounced from slave market to jail, spoke to millions of Muslim migrants. To the Mumbai-born day laborer in Dubai, or the Punjabi gas station attendant in Texas, or indeed to the Lucknawi sheikh missing his old madrasa, the taqwa cycle gave control over circumstances. The conscious practice of patience and faith lent dignity, comfort, and meaning to lives spent far from home. For those who had to tell themselves that it would be just one more year before they went home, it served as an engine. The men who’d promise themselves daily that they’d quit the Gulf after just one more season, after earning just another thousand dollars, got strength from taqwa. “Every time when the sun rises, think what Allah is,” said Akram. “Do what he commands. And the space will be changed.”

To do otherwise, he went on, was to court disappointment. The problem with many Muslims today: they were too concerned with their immediate conditions, and not concerned enough with their taqwa. “For a long, long time, Muslims have been very concerned with the space. We think, ‘If I had a better space, it would be better.’ The Muslim reformers think, ‘If we had the caliphate, it would be better. If we get a Muslim state, it will be better.’ Are there Muslim states?”

Nods from the crowd.

“Are we better?”

Silence.

In Egypt, Muslims said that when the Muslim Brotherhood took charge, all would be well. All is not yet well in Egypt, said the Sheikh.

Or, he said, just as sternly, there are the Muslims who contemplate hijra. The term, which means emigration, refers to the Prophet’s flight from Mecca to Medina, to try to find a place where his Companions could worship freely. Today, some Muslims invoke the concept of hijra in their own lives, aspiring to move from non-Muslim environments to Muslim ones. “We think, ‘The people around us, they are not Muslims.’ We think, ‘If we go to Saudi Arabia, it will be a better country.’ Go to Saudi Arabia … and you’ll see there’s no freedom!”

He went on. All the complaining, all the protests that the Muslim world had seen over the last century were counterproductive. India’s Muslims thought they’d be better off when they got a proper space of their own? Well, they got Pakistan—and look how well that turned out. After the great struggle by Indians to get the British out, after the traumatic slicing up of territory to create Pakistan, what did the children of these freedom fighters do? “They’re all running away!” he said. “They all want to leave Pakistan and come to live in the UK!”

All this energy spent looking for the perfect space in which to create the ideal Islamic state, and yet the Muslims living in so-called Islamic states were desperate to get to the West. Only last year, he’d met a scholar from Mecca—the epicenter of Islamic civilization—whose great aim was to go work in the United Kingdom. All time wasted: “When you come to the space given to you by Allah, don’t complain!” he exhorted his students. “Learn how to use it. Think!”

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