Posted in Culture, Religion

The Case of Spirituality

When we come to the term spirituality, we may inevitably stumble on religion. Although since the 19th century the term spirituality sometimes separated from religion and has become more oriented on subjective experience and psychological growth. All religion have their own tradition regarding their spiritual process.

The world has experienced the spirituality since the ancient times up until the modern times, which includes all religion and activities from the Eastern spirituality, Buddhism, Orthodox Christianity, Catholics, Protestant, Jewish spirituality, and also from Islamic spirituality or Sufism/mystics and so forth. But then, we started to ask a question, “What was the common thing which is essential to all religion and spirituality?”

Archbishop Dom Helder Camara, an advocate of liberation theology who believe that God speaks through the poor and the Bible can be understood only when seen from the perspective of the poor, was remembered by saying, “When I feed the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why so many people are poor they call me a communist.”

dom helder camara
Dom Helder Camara (1909-1999)

How Dalai Lama connect himself with the spiritual dimension? We may not know that he wakes up every day at four o’clock and thus began chanting and initiate the form of meditation. That is how he try to understand the meaning and the very essence of life. He shapes himself with this spiritual environment by discipline.

Dalai Lama

Let’s take a look our world now.

The world we are living now tends to become more subtle to hedonism and materialism within the capitalist societies. Passengers, hospital patients, students become customers, citizens become consumers, and employees become “human resources”

Capitalism and consumerism have become, for many today, a powerful life-orienting ideology.Our life is consummated by greed. Just like children who want to eat all candies even their stomach already full. Greed is not about the money. It is about pushing yourself beyond the limit to acquiring more and more. That greed changes our orientation in regard to our spirituality. Our spiritual orientation in religion-old tradition becoming hollow and filled out with greed.

When it comes to shopping mall. Buying things around Christmas and new years event have a becoming lifestyle in many countries. Well, some fellow Christians says that the consumerism and capitalism have brought this typical culture. They need market aren’t they? Even, he added, Santa’s belly becomes not proportional (becomes, although he said it with the jokes intention of course.

Then I remembered how the Muslim also faced the similar problems during the Ramadan. The month where we supposed to suppressed our ego, instead of buying things that we do not really need. New shoes, clothes, etc. It also becomes a culture in several parts of Muslims countries (especially Indonesia). Well, typically it is about greed and spiritual hollow.

Back to the topics. In his speech to commemorate Christmas, Pope Francis was saying about “spiritual Alzheimer” phenomenon in Vatican, turned many people to become the machine of bureaucracy. They lose their serenity in the spiritual sense.

pope francsi
Pope Francis


Even in Islamic society, The Islamic studies has turned into an industry in some part, thus formed a capitalist market with a market share! Some scholars want people to come to them and then take advantage of people in the name of religion! It is the fact and happened right in front of us.

The essence of any religion is not the “rules” within the religion itself. Many people obsessed with this. They obsessed to talk about the prohibition, laws, and rules. I am not saying that those things are unimportant. But when do we really start to talk about those? Do we really know?

Socrates said something about “knowing yourself”, and this is essential. Do we really know ourselves?

What did the religion come for? The moment that Prophet Muhammad revealed the first revelation, it is about how ignorant the people in that time. Thus, the first revelation is “Read” which related to education and knowledge. It is how to take the education to the higher level in our life. To control our self. That is the essence! That is the “Greater Jihad” in Islamic perspective.

What the religion came with was the education to control our inner-self. This is the first important thing that we should realize. Ego or inner-self related to the personal freedom. What is freedom?

There is saying, “I do what I want.” Is that freedom?

To give you an illustration of what is freedom, remember those shopping mall mentioned earlier? When you go to shopping mall, especially when they give more discount (usually around Christmas and the end of the year) sometimes you will hear music that attracts you to buy certain things in that mall (it is a discount man! :D). Your emotion will be shaky, and voila, you buy those things. When you do what you want, when you buy those certain things, is that your personal freedom? Or just some personal emotion because of that music and discount?

Freedom is different from that kind of “emotional” thing. Freedom is related to education, knowledge and good understanding. The question regarding the freedom should be, “Are you sure that you want what you want?”

There is no freedom without knowledge. I remembered my old days in high school. There is a motto, “Knowledge is power, but character is more”. Knowledge is just like double sided blade. It can be poisonous enough and endangered the humanity itself. We should gain humility after we gain knowledge. Be humble and make a good character out of you.

Now, take the time to know yourself, instead of judging the religion of the others.

It is the same with your ego. This is essential to get your true freedom. This is where religion and spirituality come together.

“What have I done to make myself better?”

“What have I done to make our society better?”

This is the starting point of all spirituality. After that, spirituality will be speaking of putting meaning for all actions. After all, spirituality is not about isolated yourself from the environment. It is about triggering actions to save humanity within our reach.

Or maybe we still entrapped within this “Spirituality Alzheimer” phenomenon?


*Just a scrappy note inspired by Tariq Ramadan and Nouman Ali Khan talks and Pope Francis speech*


Posted in Religion

Sacred Text

Approaching the sacred text is very much like walking the proverbial bridge over hell that is said to be thinner than a hairbreadth and sharper than a sword’s edge. The main function of it is to provide guidance, but this matter depends on its reader.

In our society (Indonesia. red), we usually read the sacred holy Quran without any understanding of the context behind that text. Even, we didn’t understand its translation. And it’s weird isn’t it?

The translation, in fact, is an interpretation because words and the shades of meaning they contain can be translated in so many different ways depending upon the translator academic background, his school of thought, or even political situation he grew up with.

Furthermore, words in the translated language are understood through a cultural history that may be tuned to Qur’anic message. Each translation implies something significantly different based on how we understand these words. Each of us may experience it differently.

When we are writing or talking in the English language, our mind should think in English too.Not in Indonesian or in any other language. It will be hard for the brain to process the translation by memorizing words in many languages. It takes time. Simply, lack of efficiency. This phenomenon should be happened too when we are reading the holy scripture of Qur’an, to understand its words, then trying to grasp the context.

The Qur’an is non-chronological, meaning that it doesn’t begin with the first revelation and end with the last revelation as Prophet Muhammad s. and his companions would have experienced it over the span of 23 years. Rather, the Qur’an is ordered as the Prophet and the companions recited it. Also by 23 years of revelation, the passage that sent down in Mecca (13 years) differs from the passage in Medina(10 years). The difference between those two reflects what the Prophet and his early community were going through. While in Mecca, the Qur’an message was about the foundation of faith, certainty about the afterlife, character building, enduring patiently through difficult times – all these messages reflecting the humility and struggles of the early Islamic movement.

Medina phase reinforces these foundations, but moves toward a more social message with laws and concerns addressed such as marriage, business, war, interfaith relations –all these social messages reflecting that the Islamic movement has shifted its phase, and thus signed that the ummah or Islamic community was born.

The question now for us: How do we understand the Qur’an?

Well, if you are alone and nobody to ask, but you got access to the internet. I got some advice, you may try it as well. Firstly, try learning Arabic, because originally Qur’an is Arabic. There are many ways to learn Arabic, you can learn it by online (there are many websites providing the lecture). Or if you find it difficult to learn, maybe you can start reading the translation. At least try to read two or three translations, and then try to compare each other. By doing so you may find the beauty of the Qur’an in linguistic aspect.

Secondly, you can try to read the Qur’an and its translation cover-to-cover. Begin with surah(chapter) al-Fatihah and continue until the surah an-Naas. Read it slowly, and try to grasp its meaning ayah by ayah (verse by verse). If you can’t figure out what the ayah means,or you found “shady” word, just skip it for now, and take notes. You may also read the chronological stories behind the revelation as an addition.

Thirdly, try to figure out the Arabic root of some words in Qur’an. Supposed you found “shady” word which has many interpretations in it, or maybe you found “unique” word, take notes of it. Then use some website that can give an insight of it. By doing this you can classify words in Qur’an, in which ayah (verses) they mentioned, and on what context they used.

Fourth, repetition. Try all these three processes simultaneously in a parallel way. By learning this way you may experience something new. You may try to figure out the short surah(chapter) first because it was short and easy to memorize.

And lastly, it depends on your intention. What is your goal? If it is to understand only in an academic way, then you got it. You may understand it, but you won’t get the other benefit: how those transcriptions can purify your soul. That’s why it is called “sacred text”.

Remember, Allah chooses the first revelation word: “READ” not just for us to read it literally. There is a huge meaning behind those simple word. It has the power to urge us to think, to ponder upon the Qur’an.

In one narration when the Qur’an revealed in the first time, the Prophet said, “It was as though it was written in my heart.”

So, our intention that rooted in our heart is greatly affected all the processes we will going through to understand the true message of Qur’an.

One Islamic scholar said this advice, “Whenever you recite the Qur’an, do so as if it is being revealed to you.”

May Allah reconnect us to the message of the Qur’an.