Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Di Tepi Sungai Dajlah: Kembara ke Kota Baghdad, Iraq by HAMKA

Assalamualaikum and greetings dear Bits and Pieces readers,

On rare occasion, I would accidentally come across a book that is simultaneously unputdownable, on-point, well mannered in its words, and coincides with current world event. This is that book translated in English; On the Banks of Dajlah River: Travel to the City of Baghdad, Iraq.


Di Tepi Sungai Dajlah narrates HAMKA's travelings in Iraq with a backdrop of the region's history. Due to the fact that I had visited Iran last year, the never ending Sunni-Shiite quandary, and the assassination of Iranian General Suleimani, I immediately felt an affinity to this book.

For this post, allow me to concisely discuss the lessons that we can derive from the Sunni-Shiite quandary within the context of this book.

Let me first state one thing (lest I'll be judge in the social media tribunal), that I am a Sunni and disagrees with the Shiite doctrine. Yet, I feel the pure hatred that half, if not majority of Malaysian Sunnis, have on Shiite has caused a dangerous rift between Muslims. I am well aware that there are fatwas saying that Shiite are not Muslims, but I will reserve my comments on this matter. Instead, let me turn your attention to HAMKA's narration in pages 75 to 78 [1] (brief explanation in English is provided after):

Maka bilamana kami telah masuk ke dalam perkarangan makam Abbas itu, mulailah mutawwif kami mengajarkann bacaan-bacaan. Mula sekali mengucapkan salam pada Rasulullah, sesudah itu kepada Ali bin Abi Talib, sesudah itu kepada Hasan dan Husain, barulah langsung kepada Abbas ini. Bermacam-macam pujian diberikan kepadanya, dan kami turutkan. Kemudian mulailah bacaan berisi politik itu, iaitu mengutuk kepada orang yang membunuhnya dan mengutuk kepada orang yang menyuruh bunuh! Tentu saja Yazid!

Oleh kami adalah kaum Sunni, dan pasal kutuk mengutuk itu tidak ada dalam ajaran kepercayaan kami, maka di waktu bacaan sampai di sana, kami berdiam diri. Diulang oleh mutawwif kami itu sampai dua kali, kami tidak mahu menurutkan...mutawwif kami kelihatan agak kurang gembiranya...

Lalu di tengah jalan saya suruh mutawwif itu mendekat dan saya berkata: "Kami ini bangsa Indonesia, mazhab kami ialah Sunni, Syafie. Tetapi kami bukanlah membenci zuriat Rasul (keturunan Rasul). Kami ziarah kemari dari tempat yang jauh karena kami pun cinta kepada Husain... Sebab itu tuntunlah kami, tunjukkan kepada kami tempat-tempat yang penting, tempat berziarah. Cuma satu permintaan kami, janganlah dibawakan lafaz-lafaz yang mengutuk kepada orang yang telah mati". 

"Maafkan saya! Maafkan saya!" Jawabnya...

"Dahulu Imam Syafie difitnahkan orang di hadapan Raja Harun al-Rashid, dikatakan pembela Syi'ah, sehingga nyaris berbahaya bagi jiwanya" kataku pula. 

"Oh Tuan orang alim. Tuan banyak pengetahuan. Maafkan saya!"

Saya jawab pula: "Alim benar pun tidak, cuma tahu sedikit-sedikit saya kenal nama Ulama Syi'ah yang terbesar di zaman ini. Syed Al-Mujtahid Al-Akbar Syeikh Al Kasyif Ghita".   

"Oh , Tuan kenal nama beliau? Wahai, itu adalah ulama besar kami, pimpinan besar kami. Tuan kenal namanya?"

"Selama orang Islam membaca bahasa Arab, tentu akan kenal buah fikiran beliau. Kenal cita-cita beliau yang luas dan faham beliau yang mendalam". 

Brief English explanation:

When HAMKA and his companion was in the tomb of Abbas, the mutawwif (guide) ask them to praise Muhammad the Prophet (may peace be upon him), then Ali, then Hasan, Husain, and finally Abbas. They did so. But when the mutawwif went into politics and ask them to curse/condemn the killer and the plotter i.e. Yazid, they refused to do so and just kept quiet. The mutawwif was not happy.

HAMKA then explains that they are Sunnis and Sunnis are not supposed to curse. Yet, they do love the lineage of the Prophet. The founder of the Syafie madhab, Imam Syafie himself was slandered in front of a king saying that he's the defender of Shiite. HAMKA proceeded in stating that he also appreciates the thoughts of one of the Shiite's ulama namely Syed Al-Mujtahid Al-Akbar Syeikh Al Kasyif Ghita.  

It is a known fact that Shiite originated from a political disagreement; the reason why I ardently believe the mutawwif had asked HAMKA and his companion to curse/condemn Yazid. Interested readers may read this book to know the exact account of this historic event.

To return back to our main purpose, we can certainly derive two important lessons from HAMKA's narration in pages 75 to 78:
(1) Politics combined with any supremacist ideology can lead to a treacherous schism
(2) Yet, a bridge can be built over the schism by speaking the truth kindly and wisely

Certainly, in this dark age where people defined freedom of expression as freedom to express crudely, it is refreshing to read how HAMKA stood firm on his faith and politely disagreed. At the same time, he had also been respectful and sought common ground to further diffuse the tension. Nowadays, this courteous manner is almost an art form. I give this book 5 stars.


[1] HAMKA. (2018). Di Tepi Sungai Dajlah: Kembara ke Kota Baghdad, Iraq. Kajang: Jejak Tarbiah Publication.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld

Assalamualaikum and greetings dear Bits and Pieces readers,

Death is only the beginning; afterward comes the hard part.

Immediately I was sucked into the story and found myself at Wall Street in year 1920. I could almost hear the bomb exploded and swore my ears were ringing among the civilians. When the story reminisced on World War 1, it is as though I was transported to the war zone itself. When the author introduced me to Sigmund Freud, Marie Curie, and Thomas Lamont, I was intrigued. As the story evolved towards the United States Treasury, a building on Wall Street, I got a sense of how monetary based on gold had worked before the Bretton Woods system collapsed.




Indeed, for the first time in weeks my mind was able to wander and forget the mirage we call reality. 

Unlike any other historical fiction I'd read, this book seeped right into my soul. The choice of words that the author used and the scene he depicted, revived something in me that I thought had long abated. That something is the thirst to write placidly, without chains.

As the book has given back a piece of me, I in return, give this book 5+ stars.

I just hope that I won't lose this piece of me again.

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Charm of Knowledge

Assalamualaikum and greetings dear Bits and Pieces readers,

When my emotion and physique are not exhausted from work, I would pick up a non fiction book. I have piles of them waiting to be consumed in my office and my apartment. The one I'm currently reading is the The First Command by M. Jamal Haider. It is about Muslim intellectualism in the past.

But don't misunderstand, this is not a post about book review. This is a post on how I am inspired and at the same time stressed, by the Muslim savants from history at which the book highlights. I am inspired because their thirst for knowledge is so pure and sincere, and I am stressed because as an academician, I don't think I can reach their heights.

Source: Wikimedia


Martyrs of knowledge
The curiosity that these group of men possessed were immeasurable. They would go to great lengths for knowledge; always willing to sacrifice almost anything to get an ounce of it. Below is a bullet list of some of them:
  • Ibn Sina, or most Westerns would call him Avicenna, had cured the King of Bukhara from an illness when he was mere 17 years old. The King had hired many physicians beforehand but all were unsuccessful. Out of gratefulness, the King wished to present him with a reward. Instead of asking for wealth or power, Ibn Sina asked for access to the King's extraordinary library.
  • Abu al-Nasr al-Farabi or better known simply as al-Farabi, did not marry for he was highly focused in academia. I dare say that if most of you had known him, you would say that he doesn't have a life! Before that, he had endured poverty. He was employed as a gardener at first, and at last became the King's companion. He taught us that patience, determination and passion can help one pull through. Perhaps, he understood the meaning of life the most! 
  • Abu Ali Hasan ibn al-Haytham or Ibn al-Haytham or Alhazen loved other fields except engineering. He hated it so much to the extent that he pretended to be mentally unstable when Caliph al-Hakim asked him to figure out how to stop floods. After the Caliph died, he pursued other fields of knowledge in Spain. This is another example of what passion, patience, and persistence can lead us to. In addition to all those lessons, we also learn what line of action to take when person(s) of authority asked us to do something that we don't like 😜
  • Prince Khalid ibn Yazid ibn Mu'awiyah had abdicated his throne in order to study chemistry. People nowadays would call him a fool.

Most of them are also Mathematicians
It is interesting to know that regardless what their expertise were, most of them were also excellent in Mathematics! Below are some of them:
  • Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (died c.840) - Geographer, Astronomer, and Mathematician 
  • Banu Musa brothers (9th century) - Mathematicians and Mechanics 
  • Thabit ibn Qurrah (836 - 901) - Mathematician, Astronomer, Mechanics and Translator from Greek to Arabic 
  • Abu Abdullah al-Battani (858 - 929 CE) - Mathematician, Astronomer, and Mathematician 
  • Al-Razi (864 - 930) - Studied medicine, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, music and philosophy 
  • Abu al-Nasr al-Farabi - Studied philosophy, logic, sociology, music, medicine, and mathematics 
  • Abu al-Wafa Muhammad al-Buzjani (940 - 997) - Mathematician and Astronomer 
  • Abu Ali Hasan ibn al-Haytham (965 - 1040) - Studied optics, mathematics, physics, and medicine 
  • Omar Khayyam (1044 - 1123) - Studied mathematics, astronomy, poetry, and metaphysics
This fact is exceptionally intriguing for me because:

Reason 1: My undergraduate Degree was in Mathematical Science
When I entered into the last semester of my sophomore year in university, it began to dawn on me that Mathematics is not for me. I found it harder to learn and understand. Despite my interest in it, I can't seem to grapple with most of the concepts. But somehow when I did my Masters and Doctorate Degree, I always steered back towards some form of Mathematics. I suppose just like human love, I can't really forget Mathematics. Ever since I started reading this book, I decided that I should incorporate more Mathematics in my research; even if it turns out to be mediocre.

Reason 2: Philosophy, poetry, AND mathematics?!
This is utterly mind boggling. In Malaysia at least, there is no one who would be an expert in philosophy or poetry WITH mathematics (if I'm wrong, please correct me). Those three different fields are just that, THREE DIFFERENT FIELDS! I however, do have have a few theories why, though. That my friends, will be in another post in the future, inshALLAH (God willing).


Still, there is one pertinent question to the current post that must be addressed; why was knowledge so alluring to the point that these Muslim scholars fell head over heels for it? I believe the words from M. Jamal Haider holds the obvious answer:

If now some scholars are using such verses (Quranic verses regarding geology, zoology, astrophysics etc.) as proof of authenticity of the Quran, in the past, such verses had directed the Muslims into an incredible quest for scientific knowledge that had lasted over a century.