Sunday, March 25, 2012

Islamic Writing Workshop (Bengkel Penulisan Islami) by Ustaz Pahrol Mohamad Juoi

Alhamdulillah..all praise be to ALLAH for giving me the opportunity and showing me the path in realizing my dream. It has not been realize yet but, I've come to know the way :)

Well yesterday, I had attended this workshop: Islamic Writing that was given by Ustaz Pahrol Mohamad Juoi. I came to know this workshop from his blog: Genta Rasa. So if anyone of you wants to attend this kind of workshop, do follow his blog. His blog too are filled with many "heart-to-heart" posts so do visit. Although, he writes in Malay and the workshops are all held in Malaysia so for non-Malay speakers and non-Malaysian readers, it might be difficult for you to read and attend.

But do not fear, my friends! I'm going to relay to you, in this post, about what I had learned in English. InsyALLAH.

                                                                    From left: My junior, Ustaz Pahrol and me

There are three factors that play a powerful role in producing a good writing:
1) Writer (producer)
2) Writing process (the process of producing)
3) Writings (product) 

But before I explain the three factors above, a Muslim should know his vision and mission. Vision relates to "what" and mission is "how". A Muslim's vision is divided into two that are in the short term(dunyaa/the present world) and in the long term (akhiraah/hereafter). A Muslim short term vision are comfort and convenience and; peace and happiness. A Muslim long term vision are to attain ALLAH's pleasure and heaven. In order to achieve our long term and short term vision, we must perform our mission, that is to do the 'how'. 'How' here is by performing the specific ibadah, the sunat ibadah and the general ibadah. Writing lies in the category of general ibadah.

1) Writer

"...Truly the best men for thee to employ is the (man) who is strong and trusty." (Al-Qasas:26)
According to the above verse, a writer must acquire the attributes of Al Amin (amanah/trustworthy) and Al Qawwiy (strength). With Al Amin, a writer will produce a work that is based on truth (authentic) and with Al Qawwiy, a writer will produce a work that's aesthetic and scientific. Also, a writer needs to know the role that he/she plays:

First off, a writer needs to know that he's also a dai'e (pendakwah/preacher), murabbi (an educator/pendidik) and an unofficial leader. A writer must have confidence and the feel that he is trying his very best (mujahadah) to apply his writings in his daily life. He/she is a fighter who brings him/her and the community towards Islam. In other words, writing is an ibadah and also a jihad. And without these attributes, he/she will only be tied with human's want, not ALLAH's.

Secondly, a writer is like a doctor. A doctor is the one who decides the best medicine or treatment that is given to his/her patients without being influenced by the patients' wants. (This point strongly reminds me of House :D) Meaning that, only writers that possess hardcore commitment can perform this job.

Third, a writer is not a businessman. A businessman sells anything that is requested by his/her customers and occasionally changes what he/she sells according to the customers' taste. If a writer is like this, he/she won't be the one who changes the community, but instead, the community is the one changing him/her! Therefore, this is definitely not the attributes of an Islamic writer.

Fourth, of which I think is very important: change yourself in order to change others. Remember the saying: "In order to change the world, we must change our self first"? Or you can listen to Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson. Here comes one question though. What exactly should a writer change? There are 3 things that he/she must change:
i) Heart
ii) Mind
iii) Body

i) Heart
His/her writings must have the sense of 'life' in it. The writer must first feel and have confidence on what he/she intends to write.He/she must have the right intention; that is writing for the sake of ALLAH. Always bear in mind that we are not writing for glamour; instead we are writing out of sincerity. "Words that come from the heart will reach other hearts too." Thus, self change can only come after the heart decides to change. A writer too must acquire the feelings of sympathy and empathy; in short, he/she must be loving. For instance, hate the sins, not the sinners. This is because writers are dae'i and an unofficial leader. "We can love without leading, but we can't never lead without loving."
Now, how do we cleanse our heart? It is by performing the wajib (mandatory) and sunat (not obligatory but when it is done, we'll get reward), always strive to become better (mujahadah), always do reflection about our self (muhasabah), be forgiving, give and remember death.

ii) Mind
Being a writer means that he/she is also a thinker. And Islamic writers must ingrain a Tauhidic Mindset in themselves. The way he/she thinks must not be poisoned by elements of shirk, secularism, ignorance or any other notions that are against the value of Islam. A writer must have the below forms of thinking:

1- Systematic - Use the 5W 1H (what, where, why, when and how) to organize your ideas.
2- A big message; but a simple approach - Use easy terms and phrases to deliver your message
3- Optimist and positive - A writer must be positive in following updates about Muslim news and issues
4- Give solutions - Don't be someone who can only see faults without suggesting a probable solution
5- Pure and sharp - A writer's mind must be free from obscenities and other negative thoughts. Only then can he/she possess a mind that is sharp in investigating and contemplating based on the 5W 1H

iii) Body
A writer should be the first one who applies what he/she writes. If not, his/her book will be vapid and looked down upon by readers. Take Rasulullah saw as an example; he is the walking Quran. A writer too must be brave and take risks on his/her writings. He/she must be willing to stand up for what is right.

All in all, a Muslim writer is not like a candle who burns himself to let others get the light. Instead, he/she gives light to others AND themselves.

Now that we know what a writer is, let's see the types of writer. A weak writer writes about himself/herself. A moderate writer writes about news. A good writer writes about knowledge and a wise writer writes about hikmah (lessons and inspiration). However, it doesn't mean that when you write about yourself your writing won't be good. Ustaz Pahrol is indifferent when one participant asked this question to him. But personally to me, you can combine all this type of writing: self, news and knowledge to produce a hikmah writing script.

2) Writing process

How do I start to write? Well first, you need to read. Second you need to read. Third, you need to read. Fourth, you write. And when you read, you don't fast read but you really read. Highlight the phrases that you see important, jot down quotes that you love. See Figure 1 to know what you should read. When it comes to writing, don't start with the introduction, just write anything: the body, the ending..anything! Don't even bother with your grammar at first.

                                                                                    Figure 1

The writing process should embody these 6 matters:
i) The correct intention
Writings must be done for the sake of ALLAH and not for glamour or any other materialistic gains. However, it's not wrong to obtain reward for your hard work; but always remember that the reward is your need, but not your goal.
ii) The job or the manner of doing is in accordance with shariah
iii) Good implementation
Even if our goal is noble, it does not make every means in achieving it are acceptable (Tujuan tidak menghalalkan cara). Rasulullah saw and companions had strive for Islam the right way, not the wrong way.
iv) Execution at the best
The right intention and the correct way of doing are not enough. A writer too must give his/her best in writing by seeking knowledge, sharpen his/her specialty and enhance his/her ethics. Not only that, a writer too must be discipline.
v) Does not miss the mandatory form of ibadah (the specific ibadah)
vi) Good outcome
A good book will give material gains to the the writer. Make sure that the money is not spend the wrong way. A writer too must avoid arrogance, riak and sum'ah.

Lastly, you must write. You must start. Remember these: Don't be someone who do but never think and think but never do. Also, don't ever think that a writer only needs to sit in front of his/her laptop all the time. He/she too needs to go out and mix around with the community. Only then will his/her writings be real.

3) Writings

A good writing is one that can touch the three human sensitivities: heart, mind and emotions. The heart will be strong when it receives truth, the mind is satisfied when it indulges in knowledge and emotions are calmed by beauty. With regards to these sensitivities, the al-Quran has successfully embed all of them. Therefore, the Quran can be use as a guide in producing our writings. All in all, as an Islamic contemporary writer, he/she must creatively embody these 3 components:
i) authentic
ii) scientific
iii) artistic

In essence, writings must have the element of dakwah (enjoining people towards the true way of Islam) and tarbiah (enlightenment/nurturing)
i) Revealed knowledge (tauhid, feqah, akhlaq) must be synchronized with acquired knowledge (science, mathematics and history)
ii) Present the impact on the believe in the Hereafter and other ghaib (invisible) matters in our daily life
iii) Convey the good news and bad news about the reward by ALLAH and unsettling outcomes that one will get should he obey ALLAH or disregard HIM in this life. This can be done by portraying their (the salafussoleh/those who obey ALLAH's commandments) attitude, aptitude and commitment in truth and eradicating falsehood by relating these to the realities of the 21st century.
iv) Show how the Islamic way of life can be practiced in the present world; share doa (prayers) and other tips
v) Further strengthen the issues of Fardu Ain by showing the relationship of it with experiences, incidents, issues and cases that had happened in the writer's life.

The attributes of a good writing script are:
i) The message is clear and accurate
ii) Simple language - Mix short and long phrases, make use of commas, exclamation marks, full stops and others.
iii) The content is based on experiences and knowledge - Write something that is happening in reality; don't get carried away with theories, philosophies and assumptions that are not realistic.
iv) Creative rhythm and style - A good writing script is as though the writings are talking with its readers. Don't be bound rigidly by grammar, punctuation and additions of phrases.
v) Readers must be made happy with the promise of heaven so that readers can feel hope (raja') and readers too must be threatened with the tortures of hell so that readers will feel fear (khauf) - tabsyir and tanzir
vi) Right on target - Every writings must have its target audience. Target is hit if the writings causes awareness and remorse. Target is not hit if readers become angry and rebellious. However, bear in mind that some readers would still reject a writing script even if it's good. This group should be targeted last.
vii) It reflects the writer's identity - At first, a writer can copy other senior writer's style. But you must still search for your own identity.

So don't wait. Start to read, read, read and write! Oh, one more thing. Ustaz Pahrol had shared with us that when he writes, sometime in his life, the things that he writes would happen to him too. For example, he would be tested with his children, wife... He said that he had taken a month to reflect on why this is happening. And he obtained an answer. He said that be grateful when bad stuff happens; that bad stuff happens because ALLAH is reminding us. See the chain here? Writers remind readers and ALLAH helps remind writers. So don't give up writing when bad things happen. It is actually how shaitaan (the devil) hinders us from performing good deeds. Shaitaan is indeed a sly enemy.

May ALLAH guides us always.

p/s: I got a gift :)