Friday, January 23, 2009

Jakarta: The Light of God 2

Pengalaman mbak Dina (Wartawan Surat Kabar Malaysia)

Dina Zaman | Jun 7, 06 10:51am
I beg forgiveness of Allah
La illah ha illallah
There is no God but Allah
Al Fatihah (The Opening)
In the name of Allah, Most Gracious,
Most Merciful.
Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and
Sustainer of the worlds;
Most Gracious, Most Merciful;
Master of the Day of Judgment.
Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek.
Show us the straight way,
The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose
(portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray
For the next nine days, before each group zikir sessions, we recite each of the above 100 times. There are a number of group sessions throughout the day. Two in the morning, one after Zuhur prayers,another after Asar, then a break before the sessions are resumed after Maghrib prayers which are held as a jemaah, and then another after Isya. You would think that each session is easy for all you have to do is chant the zikirs on a chair, but you will be surprised to know that when you perform the sessions, you will find that you are fighting yourself physically, mentally and emotionally. You're looking at probably four to five hours of zikirs each day.You will be shown to your seat, and you will be taught how to breathe. Those familiar with yogic breathing and pranic healing may find this extremely familiar. Tuck in your pelvic muscles, and rectum and breathe normally as you sit upright and recite La illah ha illallah repeatedly throughout the 30 minute session. Do this throughout the day, together with other clients from all walks of life. You are taught too, to not just pray using your tongue, 'secara lisan' but also to experience the zikirs in your heart through visualisation. As if you see the Surah Al Fatihah cleansing your heart from all the blackness - nafsu amarah yang didalangi oleh Syaitan - anger, sadness, vengefulness, negativity. Curiously enough, as you chant and pray that all your worries and ills are taken away, your hands move instanteneously, in keeping to the beat of your zikirs. The sessions are held in the living room of Bapak Bambang or Bapak Haji's home. No caves, no dark rooms and certainly no incense. The room is well-lit, and the comforting smell of cakes and pastries promise a feast after the sessions. Yes, whatever little NurSyifa’ receives from visitors and patients goes towards the maintenance ofthe foundation, the jamu concoctions that are served to all the clients as well as snacks. It's a calm setting. As each one sits in his or her chair, praying and reflecting on their past, present and future, tears are shed. Regret is sighed out aloud. Some sit and smile as they chant. But sometimes the atmosphere is interrupted as a patient fights with his demons.
Moans, screams, anger - surupan ghaib? Evil supernatural forces at work? Or manifestations of psychological stress? Again we are reminded to turn to God, for only He can help materialise our wishes, and that only we decide what lives we want. If He wills it, it will come true. Kun fa ya kun.

Looking at yourself
There is a rhythmic hum in the room as everyone chants their supplications. Some are calm as they pray to God, while some weep. The volunteers speak softly to the clients, consoling them. One begins rocking in his chair a tad too violently.
"As you cleanse yourself, your true self comes out. So if you are like a monkey, you move like one when you zikir," a volunteer smiles when I ask why.
I am supposed to close my eyes as I pray but I cannot resist peeking to observe a man weeping and moaning, it hurts, it is eating me up, whimpering in pain. There is something eating me! he calls out and then he falls to the floor. One of the male volunteers helps him up, and calms him down. 'You will be fine, just be positive and you will be well," he advises.
The team comprising Bapak Haji, his wife and sons, and the volunteers, do not look like ethereal beings. The volunteers wear sleeveless jackets over their shirts, with NurSyifa’ emblazoned at the back of the jackets. Bapak Haji and his sons wear shirts and trousers. I expected them to wear robes, with long flowing beards, but the men are clean shaven. Ibu Haji is firm in her dealings with clients but dresses daintily in a head-scarf that matches her clothes.
In fact, the visitors that come are a mixed bag of Muslims and non-Muslims. Some wear the hijab, some wear loose scarves and the men visit in work clothes. No one has celak on their eyes, no one turns up in flowing robes and none of the men I meet have facial hair. During the lunchtime zikir, executives turn up in jackets and knee length skirts.
I ask how come there isn't anyone dressed like an ustaz or 'properly'as back in Malaysia, holy men wear robes, kopiah, the baju melayu...and if anyone's to turn up in a skirt and shirt to a religious place, she'd be met with snide remarks and glances.
"We can't turn people away because they're not dressed in a hijab or a robe. We don't even dress that way because we're normal people, passing tools and life skills to the ummah. Who knows, maybe after being with us, the women will cover up. But we don't impose on our patients. We just help them to realise, heal.
"We're servants of God. We are nobodies. Who knows, maybe when they leave, they become better people. And yes, non-Muslims can come too. They do not utter our zikirs, because they have their own religions, so we teach them skills like meditation, motivation. Islam is not exclusive; look at our Prophet, he was cordial towards his Jewish neighbours. He went to their funerals.
"In between zikir and counselling sessions, the volunteers as well as the two men - visit hospitals. Counsel the poor. The weak. It's a tireless task, but one that the volunteers look forward to with a smile. It is as if they do not sleep - at NurSyifa’ they teach, counsel, help with light physiotherapy, and in between the zikir sessions, it's off to the other side of Jakarta. Sometimes they visit the homes of dying people. I think of what my friends that work with street people have told me: how our country fears so much of priests, Buddhist and Christian, coming to convert the ailing Muslims, when in reality there are so few Ustazs and Muslim volunteers that visit the third class wards of public hospitals. There are one or two, but that's too few.*

My deal with God
It is not easy meditating this way. Too many things come to mind - anger, work, sadness - and I find it hard to concentrate. Monkey mind, as a former yoga teacher told a bunch of giggly women (my friends and I) once.
"Ayoh, Mbak Dina... fikiran keroh," Mas Arno says.
Let go. Let go of all the anger and sadness, he advises me.I look at him. He must be joking. If he only knows what I have gone through.
He smiles. "Let go.
"How about this. I pretend to forgive all that have hurt me until one day I really believe that I'm forgiving them. By then I'd have forgiven them fully?
"He laughs. "If that works for you, why not?
"Before he attends to another client he tells me that when one prays, have an intention - niat - first and smile."Smile?"
"Iya. Kenapa mau bengis apabila berhadapan dengan Allah? Greet Him with happiness, even if your heart is heavy.
"How on earth does one recite zikir with her pelvic muscles and buttocks tucked in, breathing, imagining the light of God cleansing one's self, asking for forgiveness and rebirth, smiling at the same time?
This is a feat for pious gymnasts.
"You can do it," Ibu Ida tells me.

Here are the stories
I heardI overhear an elderly man say to his wife:
There must be something wrong with me. During the session, they said to imagine your parents, your family forgiving you... all I saw was my late mother, and my step-father. But my father, my real father, all he had for a face was this black space. What is wrong with me? I asked him to forgive me too but all I could see was this black dot.
Your father died when you were a baby. That's probably why you can't remember how he looks like. Your late mother never kept his photos, his wife said.
But he can't not have a face. He's my father. My real father.
A man in his early forties has been coming to NurSyifa’ because he is trying to find ways to love his second wife.
"You see, my first wife, she died of kanker. She wasn't pretty or clever. A simple nurse. But everyday, even though she lost more and more of her looks due to her illness, I fell in love with her even more. From the day we married until the day she died, we were like two teenagers. Everyday we were in love with each other!"
"Then she died. "
"Three years later I remarried. She's very pretty, a manager! Very clever, she can speak English, you know? We have one daughter. But aduh... no matter how much I try, I cannot love her like how I loved my late wife. Kami bersama seminggu sekali Bapak! (We're intimate only once a week!)
"We try hard not to laugh, because he is earnest and sincere in finding a way to love his second wife.
"Once a week is good, Bapak," one of the volunteers offers, "some people don't get it at all!"

Mirth erupts.
"Eh, I am serious! She's a good woman, she deserves to be loved. Maybe I'm crazy?"
One of my zikir partners is a good-looking man. A senior executive, Disco Boy has been coming to NurSyifa’ to heal his busted liver. He developed cirrhosis and after getting 'quite fed up' with conventional medicine, he saw NurSyifa’ featured on television and decided to visit.
"I was quite nervous. I hardly prayed! Did I have to be an ustaz to come heal? But I was surprised by the warm reception. So I've been coming every other day since. I'm not religious or anything like that yet, but I feel more at peace with myself. And I think because I am less stressed, my liver is getting better.
"Still go clubbing, Disco Boy?
"Once in a while. Funny, but I feel like I'm sullying myself if I do something naughty now. Aneh."
Everyone has a story. Cancer, loss of confidence, fear of djinns, there is always something to talk about. And they travel all the way to NurSyifa’. I meet a man from Palembang who has come to heal his sick son, and I meet a spry 80 year old woman that looks exactly like Mak Enon, who takes the bus to and from, amounting to five hours of travel, every three days. To them, it is a small sacrifice to find peace, even if their session lasts an hour.I even meet a few Malaysians that have come on a spiritual cum pleasure trip to Jakarta. Why does NurSyifa’ have that Malaysia does not, I ask the women."
The practise of healing in Malaysia is all about economics and status. Certain ulamas cater to certain people. If you want something more 'down to earth' you may end up sesat, because you don't know where these ustazs had their learning," one of them sniffs.
"It's nice to be here. No one judges you. No one gossips or talks about you here. Back in Malaysia, if you fart, the whole country would know."
Heavens, are we Muslim-Malaysians that bad?
"Auntie ni bukannya pandai sangat pasal bab ugama, politik (I'm not well-versed when it comes to religion or politics)... Indonesia is not perfect. It's a secular country and it's got all sorts of Muslims. But the pendakwah here are honest and sincere, and follow the Sunnah. Look at the NurSyifa’ boys. They work with street kids, prostitutes, eh sini ada one you know, junkies, doesn't matter Muslim or not, this is real dakwah work: helping the community. In KL... jangan harap."

In the evenings
One way of learning about a country's culture and mindset is to watch the local programmes. I didn't bother exploring the city, I was addicted to the television programmes!
I'm guessing at how the channels do their programming, but there seems to be a daily theme for all channels. On one night, it was horror movies all the way. IndoSiar featured this film: TUYUL TUYUL (goblins created from aborted foestuses). On another channel, it was WALI POKOK PISANG. The other seemed to be about a pontianak haunting a family.
The next day it's all about naughty children receiving their just bits for being awful to their parents. One drama's about this giddy headed girl that becomes a stripper and then repents. After surfing more channels to see even more stories about retribution, I'm ready to turn into a demure Malay girl. I don't want to end up in the gutter, with a shrieking transvestite begging me to repent for being rude to my mother. And I'm not passing any banana trees for the matter because I don't think I can cope with the sight of Sufi mystics going in and out of trees.
I'm just basing this half-baked theory on my viewing, but I wonder whether religion, retribution and redemption are ingrained in Indonesians so much that they seem to be obsessed by the Three R's.
What else do they have apart from a fierce pride in their language, culture and country? How else do they make sense of their world, which can be violent as well as destitute?
But I am a visitor to Indonesia, and what would I know?

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