A modern Musa wannabe

I avoided being in a spotlight. Standing in front of a group of people has made me nervous. I have spent years working behind the scene. Writing, translating and editing have been my comfort zones. I feel happy when producing high quality articles. Doing so has kept me away from facing direct criticisms from those who have different opinions with me.

I didn’t realize that focusing too much on writing was feeding my ego. On one hand, I was enslaved to it. There were times when all I was thinking mostly was improving my writing skill. As much as that was inevitable as I worked as a journalist, I was reducing my world into writing and reading spheres. Someone who wrote better than I did became sort of my modern idols. I read books and articles from incredible authors, mostly outside Indonesia, to gain inspiration and sharpen jealousy inside.

Long story short, I have learnt one super bitter truth during eight months of becoming a freelance content writer. I live in Indonesia that doesn’t appreciate writer as a noble profession like others. I know how hard to create a decent article both in English Language and Bahasa Indonesia. Sadly to say, payment for freelance content writers is too low to be mentioned here. Some are lucky to have clients that will pay them with handsome amount of money but most are not. And I fell into the latter category.

I was put in two different scenarios at the end of November 2019. I was looking for a permanent job at that time. One person offered me working as a writer in English Language which, honestly, is my cup of tea. What else can satisfy my brain and soul other than writing? The second one offered me working as a copywriter and English trainer. I am happy with the copywriting job but not so sure with the second role. Teaching English Language is not my thing. I am not comfortable standing then teaching people.  As I was facing the situation, I had been working as a private English Language teacher. Despite the low self-confidence, my students were happy with my teaching. At least that’s what I felt. There was one of them who said he was pleasant with the way I was teaching him and the others.

I was about to take the offer as the writer because once again, who doesn’t want to be in a comfortable zone, right? Deep in my heart, I expected the second offer dismissed. But the circumstance painted me with a hard scenario. I couldn’t tell in details why I eventually went for the second option. All I could share here was that for years I had decided something based on my fondness. This time around, I accepted the second offer because of simple and realistic expectations.

The company that becomes the office I am working at is a growing enterprise. I was laid off twice in 2010 and 2017 when I was working for different companies. One of them were closed for good. The other one remains operational but with different business segment. It felt painful to see your companies crumbling because of financial problems.

No big decision comes without a price. On one hand, I am certain that the current firm will grow bigger as I know the firm is under skilled people. The prospect of the firm is promising as technology is today’s darling industry. On another hand, I have to work super hard to be an English teacher.

Let me tell you, friends. As I’m writing this post, I interviewed my would-be students and examined placement test results they did one week ago. Coming to this period gives me a mixed feeling. I am still nervous, to be honest. Insha Allah there will be 52 students that will be under my supervision. Such an honour but frightening at the same time for an inexperienced teacher like myself.

Whenever I am about to get carried into this anxiety, Alhamdulillah that Allah swt always reprimands me on very basic goal on why I am here in the first place. Seeking halal income while at the same time paying “knowledge tax” for my fellow office mates who need it.

This leads me to the story of the prophet Musa who was very afraid of meeting Fir’aun. I am nobody as compared to the messenger but in one smallest portion, I can tell that my current situation resembles to Musa’s mission. As Musa needed strength and comfort from Allah swt to encounter Fir’aun, I, too, require His counsel and guidance to put me at ease. I need His help to calm me down whenever I overthink on what will happen if things go wrong.

قَالَ رَبِّ اشْرَحْ لِي صَدْرِي وَيَسِّرْ لِي أَمْرِي  وَاحْلُلْ عُقْدَةً مِنْ لِسَانِي  يَفْقَهُوا قَوْلِي

“[Moses] said, “My Lord, expand for me my breast [with assurance]. And ease for me my task. And untie the knot from my tongue. That they may understand my speech”. (QS At Thaha: 25 to 28)

I firstly heard the ayah from my teacher, ustadz Nouman Ali Khan. He mentions the ayah every time he starts a sermon. And how profound the dua is for me and for every one who has problems becoming a teacher, public speaker or the like. The prayer really resonates for me and everyone else who has low confidence.

I attempt to make the prophet as a role as someone who hopes to convey good words from Allah swt to others. Whenever I am about to overthink, I pull myself back to simple goals that land me here. Like the prophet’s mission of trying his best to spread His oneness to Fir’aun, so is my purpose. I want to share things I know for my potential students. I keep myself out from overwhelming myself to make them smart in English Language.

It’s entirely in Allah’s hands that Fir’aun doesn’t listen to Musa’s words finally. I, of course, hope that’s not the case with my would-be students. I sincerely hope that Allah swt makes things easy for me to deliver all lessons. I’am afraid that while in the middle of the lessons, I suddenly get nervous and forget English words that I have to apply. I don’t practice Speaking Skill as frequent as Reading and Writing Skills thereby the fear feels real. And this, again, resembles to the dua by the prophet. I learn that the prophet has problem with speech. It’s surprising that he toppled Fir’aun through his words, not from snake.

And I hope Allah swt helps my would-be students understanding the lessons. Every time I think that the essence of life is moving closer to Allah swt, I can’t think of better ways doing so than becoming an English teacher. Earning a closeness to Him is eventually what I’m searching for. Thinking so makes me at relieved already. It sets me free from unrealistic expectations like making the would-be students knowing all the lessons in short time.

Dear friends, please pray for my new roles as an English teacher. And I pray Allah swt makes things easy for you in whatever affairs you have in your minds at the moment. Thanks so much in advance.

Listening, the neglected skill

I took pride in my reading and writing skills. Years of intensive reading and writing nourished arrogance seeds that existed in the heart unbeknown to myself. As a lifelong student of English Language, I should have known that four skills within the subject can’t live as a self-sufficient entity.

I personally categorize Listening and Speaking Skills are best buddies. Reading and Writing Skills support one another. As I incline to Reading and Writing Skills, I ignored the other two skills, especially Listening Skill. Having no partner for speaking in the language became a lame excuse. Later, I talk to myself in my small, rented room every time I want to. I sometimes talk to myself as I walk down the street after I see no one is around. Such small and weird habits but they help me keeping the passion of speaking in English Language alive.

That’s not the case for Listening Skill, though. I simply didn’t want to “take care” of it. The ignorance grew bigger as I was submerged in smartphone. I thought the skill was getting hard to master. I once missed old times when I was able to listen to lectures while at Gadjah Mada University. My focus was undistracted. I could stand of listening the lectures for hours without interruption from electronic devices. At that time, I didn’t have any cellphones. The technology was such a luxury in the beginning of 2000s.

With just some years of smartphone addiction, I started ignoring the Listening Skill. I am reminded just how beautiful the skill is whenever some friends confide in their stories with me. I feel glad that I can listen to their stories for hours without touching my smartphone. By the time their stories end, I feel heavy and tired. That’s when I realize the skill can take up so much of your energy when you don’t get used to it.

I don’t consider that practice as a “real action” to sharpen Listening Skill. Listening to what your friends say is after all, personal and subjective. What I would like to discuss here is Listening Skill for formal goals. And it comes to my surprise that I am hugely slapped on the skill once I find myself getting used to listening sermons from my teacher, Nouman Ali Khan.

I have to admit that the skill is what transforms my life as it is today. I can’t tell how transformative it is. I want to keep it as a secret between I and Allah swt. What surprises me lies on how Allah swt knows what goes missing in my life, which is Listening Skill. Subtly, Allah swt leads me embracing the skill then tasting how greatly beneficial it is. Because it’s by constant listening to Nouman’s sermons that I turn to Him with all of my heart. It takes years to finally come to this temporary conclusion. And it’s liberating that in certain spiritual journey phases, I take a pause, get down to this blog then share something for you on how fortunate I am to be one of His slaves.

Somehow, it’s strangely incredible that my journey coming back to Him resembles on how Prophet Muhammad saw (peace be upon him) starts his prophethood career. Everything starts from listening, right?

It’s from his ears that the beloved messenger firstly receives the revelation, Surah Al-Alaq ayah 1-5. In the silent and dark Hira cave, the prophet begins his journey. From his ears, Allah swt teaches the prophet to read. How Allah swt, as the Ultimate Source of Knowledge, directly teaches the prophet to read. Masya Allah!

And this story reminds me of a previous knowledge that says Listening Skill is what we firstly acquire once we were born into the earth. It’s the skill that Allah swt blesses each of us with right after we came out from our mothers’ wombs. From Listening to Writing, the latter is the advanced skill that we learn as we grow up.

When I was a student of the university, I thought Writing Skill was the ultimate skill one English Literature student had to master. I came up with the opinion as I had to study it up to the seventh semester while the three other skills ended well before that semester.

As much as Writing Skill is a difficult subject to excel, I shouldn’t ever ignore that a clever Listening Skill is miraculous gateway. Improving your Writing Skill is just one of the abundant benefits I can obtain. Referring back to listening to Nouman’s sermons, the skill opens my heart to Allah’s words.

As the teacher writes in his Facebook post, listening to concise commentaries of tafseer on His words attentively can bring us closer to Him. We can’t taste this closeness even by reading the tafseer, the skill that I put higher than Listening Skill. How hugely incorrect I was!

Which, once again, bringing us back to the beginning of the revelation by the prophet Muhammad saw. Masya Allah! Thank you Allah swt for constantly reprimanding me.