Journaling This Year’s Ramadan

Today is the 10th day of this year’s fasting month. Due to my menstrual cycle, this is my second day of fasting. I only ate three gorengan or fried snacks for sahur or pre-dawn meal. The closest warteg or food stall from my rented room was running out of rice. So, I only purchased the gorengan and long beans vegetable, hoping I would have enough time for cooking rice. But it was too late for catching up with sahur time. The rice wasn’t fully ripened at that time. I finished eating the gorengan and the veggie (which I didn’t eat them all) well before the Fajr prayer.

As I’m writing this post, Alhamdulillahirobbil’alamiin, by Allah’s Mercy, my stomach and my body are healthy. And Insya Allah, I’m experiencing the second fasting day with contentment, body and soul, amiin.

I find this journaling a bit mixed up. I guess this relates to my perfectionism characteristic. Part of me regards this journaling as an excuse to confirm my failure for memorizing many ayat from Alqur’an. I set a goal of memorizing one ayat per day for this Ramadan. But the goal is vanishing because of my surprisingly busy schedule. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to complete reading the whole Alqur’an or the book on the History of Islam. I can’t even listen to all sermons by ustadz Nouman Ali Khan on Surah Yusuf this Ramadan.

Sometimes, I blame myself for an undisciplined daily schedule. For indeed, there are actually some hours that are vacant. I should make use of that for meeting one of the personal targets. Yet, after hours of reading or working, sometimes I need to just get relaxed.

Truth to be told here, this year’s Ramadan is quite heavy in terms of emotion. Add to this is piles of works and community assignments. I have no option than to bury myself under jobs and voluntary tasks to drive my attention away from COVID-19 outbreak and delayed homecoming journey.

Perhaps, this year’s Ramadan doesn’t turn out quite as expected. And I don’t want to force myself making an unrealistic set of goals this year. Since the last few Ramadan months, I have made use the holy moment as the self-improvement starting point. This time around, I find myself working super hard to improve some personal parts that shall not be named here. That, alone, drains so much energy.

I made a kind of daily Ramadan action plan in one of my journals. I composed that before one extra job and the community task came. I cease fulfilling the action plan journal, knowing how significant the purposes have been changed.

For now, fasting with a grateful heart, getting closer to Him and improving my personality is more than enough to train. That will be a mighty foundation to face whatever that comes after the fasting month ends.

Thank you for those who read this post. Ramadan Kareem to those who fast.. May Allah swt accept our worship, erase our sins and show us our straight path on our journey coming back to Him, amiin ya robbal’alamiin..

Five Life Skills from Reading Fiction

Reading a decent fiction is becoming a good human being. A creature that is unique, complete and special. Each and every part of the creature has a certain need that requires fulfilment. And it can’t stand alone, much like every human that’s part of society.

Reading a decent fiction offers a greyish area on dealing with life. That good and bad times offer me a various lens through which I can contemplate. Within one wonderful, comical story, such as Tortilla Flat, I can find the bitterest way of life reality. While in one melodramatic novel, like Tess D’Urbervilles, I can sense vague ending that opens up my mind that a human being, once again, needs love.

A serious person like I am, find reading a high-quality novel such a teaser. “You shouldn’t view life seriously all the time, En!,” such are the words if the novel could talk to me. For truly, within one decent fiction, I can relate almost all of my problems with the characters inside the story. To fully extract wisdom and life lesson is the final fruit of hard labor of love that I must undergo. Such a tiring journey that is worth every second I spend on each of the books.

As I grow older, it’s remarkable that I owe this hobby more than I thought of. It’s no longer about enjoying a certain story, looking for happily-ever-after but reading the book has indeed cultivated five skills that I need them more than ever nowadays.

Patience

“Hang on, there, En! More pages until we reach our target today.” I often say those words to motivate myself whenever I read a Victorian novel that’s typically thick, over 400 pages on average.

Reading that sort of book makes me highly value patience. I utilize the virtue for leading me understanding difficult words, visualizing facial expression, scene and place and catching author’s moral message.

Whenever I am to give up, I tell myself to get back to why I buy the book in the first place. Reembracing the intention usually works out for putting me back on the track. Patience is surely a life skill that will help us get through difficult phases in our lives. The good quality teaches us to concentrate on the long-run for indeed, sometimes you can’t reap the benefits of being patient right away.

Uniquely, patience is such a universal life skill that stretches beyond any circumstances. Not only for when facing calamities, we need to cultivate patience for staying on a path for achieving something, from good grades at school to land your dream job.

Persistence

I use reading a top novel as my kind of self-disciplined exercise. I can be hard on myself whenever I cease reading book for good. Middlemarch poses a good example for this. I abandoned the book on my bookshelf for years until one day an article led me reopening it. Then, voila! The book is my most beloved fiction (at least until now).

Whether it’s just one page per day or 100 pages per day, reading such book genre teaches me a lot about persistence. I usually make a personal target after I buy a novel. This time around, I set a target of reading 200 pages for Our Mutual Friend per week. Alhamdulillah (Thanks and praise to Allah SWT) that I am able to meet the target. Now, I’m on the page of 600 something with 200 pages to go.

You can set one-day target or per month target. Reading a classic may take weeks or months because of the thickness and difficulty level. It’s important to set a certain target then stick to it. If you can’t meet it, get back then resume the reading.

When it comes to real life, persistence is what makes extraordinary people different than the common ones. Many people can have the same goal in lives but only those with self-discipline will obtain that because they enjoy and adapt as the process goes.

Focus

Until today, I stick to read physical novels. I find it easier to concentrate through the method. I once tried reading e-novels but it lasted for few pages only. I got tired immediately and I couldn’t remember a lot from what I had read.

And I personally believe that reading paper-based books is better because this drives you away from distraction, if you read at your smartphone. Aside from that, reading the book genre teaches me to always, always focus on big pictures. Reading the book type cultivates my concentration on main characters, plot and author’s idea. You can easily get lost in minor figures, less important events and flowery words given the long reading that you take.

The same with life that can offer us with mundane and small things that don’t matter so much. If we don’t realize then take any actions, we’re bound to spend most of our lives doing things that won’t contribute to obtain our live goals, whatever they are.

Creativity

This is one amusing life skill that I greatly learn from the hobby. Despite the life-long value and wisdom in the book genre, Victorian authors are just creative people who are very good that you may think their stories are real.

From funny names to unthinkable decisions by leading figures, the book type adds knowledge and idea that really helps me for writing. I steal many things from the books that I read then mold them. I apply that for job’s sake to deal with problems in life. Funnily enough that the author’s writing style influences I communicate with myself and other people. I can’t say my talking is unique but, surely, I hope it isn’t boring and plain.

Empathy

I can’t count how many weird characters that I have discovered from reading fiction so far. Add to the list is bad guys, spoiled girl, idealistic doctor, super lovely daughter, materialistic woman, devoted and religious woman, sensitive boy and harsh man. I delve into their personalities so that I know the authors create them and how do they actually feel.

I don’t say that I affirm wrongdoings some of the fictional characters do. Neither I take side with certain figures who take bad decisions. Reading their traits teach me to not be judgmental, even for people who are deemed “not good enough”. The book genre urges me to feel what other people experience.

Believe me, you and I need to be emphatic people in today’s world that is getting unsocial as more and more are fulfilling their greed.

Membedah “Thoyyib”, Panduan Allah SWT untuk Pencernaan Sehat Paripurna

بِسْمِ اللّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيْ

“Dengan nama Allah yang Maha Pengasih lagi Maha Penyayang”

وَظَلَّلْنَا عَلَيْكُمُ الْغَمَامَ وَأَنْزَلْنَا عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَنَّ وَالسَّلْوَىٰ ۖ كُلُوا مِنْ طَيِّبَاتِ مَا رَزَقْنَاكُمْ ۖ وَمَا ظَلَمُونَا وَلَٰكِنْ كَانُوا أَنْفُسَهُمْ يَظْلِمُونَ

“Dan Kami naungi kamu dengan awan, dan Kami turunkan kepadamu “manna” dan “salwa”. Makanlah dari makanan yang baik-baik yang telah Kami berikan kepadamu; dan tidaklah mereka menganiaya Kami; akan tetapi merekalah yang menganiaya diri mereka sendiri.” (Alqur’an surat Albaqarah ayat 57)

Saya membagikan tulisan ini sebagai bagian dari penceritaan ulang atas tafsir surat Albaqarah ayat 57 oleh ustadz Nouman Ali Khan di BayyinahTV.

Halalan thoyyiban. Begitu sering kita mendengar dua kata ini, “halal” dan “ظَلَمُونَا  atau thoyyib”. Sebagian besar dari kita sudah memahami benar maksud “halal” hingga kini ia menjadi industri yang mendunia. Sayangnya, “thoyyib” terkesan kurang penting. Hingga reputasinya tidak sementereng “halal” padahal Allah swt memasukkan kata ini ke dalam Alqur’an untuk memandu setiap Muslim menjalani hidup dengan pencernaan sehat yang menyeluruh.

Kata “thoyyib” salah satunya muncul dalam ayat di atas. Ayat tersebut, kata pak ustadz Nouman, menceritakan tentang kaum Bani Israil selepas dari belenggu penindasan Fir’aun. Sepintas kata “thoyyib” kita baca dalam terjemahannya “yang baik-baik”. Konsep yang begitu umum dan abstrak.

Apabila kita hanya membaca ayat tersebut saja tanpa merenungkan dan mempelajarinya, kata “thoyyib” memang terdengar biasa saja. Tidak seperti “halal” yang mengandung makna “bersih dan sesuai syariat Islam”. Saya sendiri baru saja menyadari betapa kata “thoyyib” sangat kuat dan relevan sampai kapan pun saat mendengar tafsir dari pak ustadz Nouman.

Beliau pernah mengatakan bahwa Alqur’an mengandung cerita kaum terdahulu, contoh terburuk dan contoh terbaik. Bani Israil atau Yahudi adalah contoh orang terdahulu yang harus kita hindari. Orang shaleh yang ada dalam Alqur’an kebalikannya. Mereka adalah teladan yang harus kita contoh.

Allah swt mengatakan ayat tersebut untuk kaum Yahudi. Lebih spesifik lagi, ustadz menceritakan tentang “manna” dan “salwa”, karunia Allah swt kepada mereka meski telah mengingkari Nabi Musa as. Dalam Alqur’an versi Kementerian Agama, “manna” adalah sejenis madu sedangkan “salwa” adalah “sejenis burung puyuh.” Ayat tersebut muncul saat kamu Bani Israil mendurhakai Nabi Musa as dengan menyembah patung anak sapi sebagai Tuhan mereka. Lalu mereka terlunta-lunta tetapi masih menikmati karunia dari Allah swt berupa “awan” yang menaungi kemana pun mereka pergi. Allah swt turut mencukupi kebutuhan perut mereka dengan “manna” dan “salwa”.

Menarik sekali, ustadz Nouman Ali Khan memperinci kata “thoyyib”. Menurut beliau, kata yang terdengar “umum” ini merangkum petunjuk dan nasihat dari Allah swt bagaimana agar setiap orang, bukan hanya Muslim, dalam mengonsumsi makanan. “Makanan yang baik” berasal dari tumbuhan dan buah-buahan yang Allah swt sediakan di muka bumi.

Saya pernah mendengar makanan adalah sumber obat sekaligus sumber penyakit, tinggal bagaimana kita memilih dan menerapkannya. Pak ustadz menyebutkan makanan yang kita peroleh dari rezeki yang halal merupakan awal yang penting. Tetapi itu belum cukup apabila uang halal kita pakai membeli makanan dan minuman yang “tidak baik”. Di sini, “tidak baik” dapat merujuk pada penggunaan zat kimia, pestisida dan aneka zat buatan lainnya yang sebenarnya tidak baik bagi badan.

Tidak perlu saya jelaskan rasanya betapa industri makanan modern menggurita, beranak pinak menjadi makanan dan minuman yang saya sendiri tidak terbayang. Dulu kita hanya mengenal junk food, sekarang saya sudah tidak update lagi dengan tren makanan saat ini terutama dengan hadirnya media sosial. Pesatnya industri makanan “yang tidak baik” berimbas pada maraknya penyakit, yang tidak hanya pada perut, tetapi ke bagian badan yang lain.

Sifat rakus membuat kita sulit menahan nafsu memuaskan lidah dan mulut dengan makanan dan minuman yang serba enak semata, padahal belum tentu “baik”. Pernah pak Nouman pergi ke Sri Lanka lalu memakan pisang yang rasanya benar-benar “baik” alias “pisang betulan.” Pisang yang beliau maksud ditanam dan dirawat menggunakan air dan material alamiah tanpa bahan pengawet. Rasa pisangnya sungguh berbeda dari pisang yang biasa beliau makan. Tentu saja, pisang di Sri Lanka ini rasanya ajaib dan sangat enak.

Saat ini, mengonsumsi pisang seperti itu akan membuat kita, setidaknya saya, cukup menguras kantong. Industri makanan organik hanya terjangkau bagi mereka yang berdompet tebal. Pada akhirnya, saya yang kelas bawah ini cukup puas dengan sayur atau buah yang sudah tercampur dengan ragam zat kimiawi.

Saking sudah mendarah daging, buah dan sayur yang organik dan tidak sulit dikenali. Sifat rakus yang berjamaah membuat kita hanya tahu enak dan cepat. Kita terbiasa berpikir pendek tanpa menaruh perhatian serius bagaimana nasib usus dan ginjal kita jika bertahun-tahun mengonsumsinya.

Sungguh ironis. Sementara kita menganggap industri makanan organik untuk kelas elit tapi nasib petani sayur dan buah di pedesaan kurang begitu mujur. Saya sendiri tinggal di kabupaten Karanganyar, sebuah kabupaten yang Masya Allah begitu sejuk dan rindang karena berada di kaki bukit gunung Lawu. Di kecamatan, seperti Kemuning dan Tawangmangu, jika Anda mampir, Anda akan menjumpai hamparan sayuran hijau menyejukkan pandangan.

Saya sendiri tidak tahu apakah semua petani di situ menggunakan pupuk dan pestisida agar sayuran mereka tumbuh subur. Hanya jika kita benar-benar menerapkan konsep “thoyyib”, kita bisa menyumbang banyak hal untuk menyejahterakan petani lokal sehingga mereka tidak perlu bergantung pada obat atau pupuk kimiawi agar tanaman mereka laris memenuhi ketamakan kita akan makanan menggoda selera. Dan industri organik pun bisa menjadi milik semua kelas karena petani di desa bisa melakukannya dengan ilmu yang cukup.

Bismillahirohmanirrohim.. mari memulai hidup dengan “thoyyib”, teman-teman. Tidak ada kata terlambat untuk memulai.

The Many Relationships with English Language

When I was a little girl, English Language was like a toy. It looked intriguing and amusing. The subject was addictive. My head was wrapped in endless questions. New and strange words made me very curious. I memorized new words, from a chair, table, horse and other items. The language invited me to have fun.

When I was at junior high school, I began studying it at the school. My English language teachers introduced me to grammar. More words came into my super tiny vocabulary pocket. Studying grammar wasn’t easy and I wasn’t a genius one. My scores were fair, eight on average. I had classmates who got better grades than I did. But I didn’t really care about that. The thing was the language made me having fun. Still.

When I was a senior high school student, the long affection started becoming a serious thing. It was no longer about entertainment. I still remember the moment when I was standing in front of the classroom reading what I wanted to be. I was marvelled at own story. I didn’t realize that I could write that much and that incredible. My classmates applauded at my presentation. My teacher praised my story, how I composed sentences that were explorative and creative. That was the time when I needed to take the relationship into a higher level. The time couldn’t be any more punctual because shortly after that, I was put into a Social Science class.

When I was at university, studying the language and its literature put me in ambiguity. I realize that I had university fellow mates who are much better than I am. I was very fortunate they were helping me improving the subject. Somehow, it wasn’t about studying it. It was more on how could I make a living with the language given the English Language is no longer a special subject in Yogyakarta or Solo. More English courses have been opened by that time. I was at the crossroad that almost drove me leaving the major. But I held on. I kept studying it although it was so dark and daunting. Until eventually, I knew that I wanted to a journalist for an English-language newspaper.

When I firstly moved to Jakarta, I had the language as my weapon to wither the tough life in the capital. Alas! The language has many faces that prompted me to get back to it as a professional. No more flowery words with spiral-thought writing style as I got used to. I had to use the language in straight forwarded manner. Avoid what was called as “the devils are in the details”. Frankly speaking, I felt stupid during the transition. I felt I had to study the language all over again. At this point, I regarded the language was harsh and difficult. I sought perfection that proved in vain.

When I quitted the profession, the language began friendlier. No more stiff and rigid pressure. As that was persisting for years, I saw my life was much calmer although financially unstable. I resumed embracing the language and the literature through classic books. Something that wasn’t pleasant when I was at the university.

Now that I’m a teacher, I feel English Language is such a faithful friend. I consider myself more as a student of the subject. I start collecting pictures for teaching me on English words like what I did when I was the happy kid. I study about grammar again. This time around, my purpose is for sharing them with my students and friends. Becoming the teacher of the language makes me feeling stupid again. The difference is, I consider that feeling as a privilege because I attempt to make a balance between studying and enjoying the process.

It’s remarkable to take a look back on how I feel with the language that’s close to my heart. Teaching the language humbles me. Every time I am about to teach, I always remind myself that I, after all, is the student of the language. This sets me free from feeling arrogant and selfish. I’m just a pupil. What must I be bragged about?

Mungkin Memang Butuh Korona untuk Jalani Ramadan yang Sesungguhnya

Selamat tinggal yang kepagian untuk sholat tarawih di mushola dekat kost. Bangun sahur Ramadan 1441 H ini mungkin tanpa mendengar tabuhan rebana anak kecil warga Gelora, RW 02. Gempita mempersiapkan mudik kereta atau pesawat tinggal angan belaka.

Beberapa hari yang lalu hati saya lega setelah ibu saya mengirim pesan melalui salah satu aplikasi obrolan gratis. Ibu saya meminta saya agar tidak mudik tahun ini karena wabah COVID-19 yang belum mereda. Awalnya, saya sengaja tidak memberitahu perihal penundaan mudik ini sebab saya takut ibu dan bapak saya akan sedih.

Tetapi saya mempunyai ibu yang luar biasa pengertian dan tangguh. Walau beliau pasti akan sedih tetapi ibu saya selalu mengajarkan saya untuk tetap kuat buat putrinya ini. Ibu saya selalu mengajarkan untuk mengutamakan kepentingan anggota keluarga yang lain dibanding dirinya sendiri terkadang. Saya terkadang protes karena itu seperti lebih memperhatikan kebutuhan orang lain. Namun kali ini, pesan dari ibu saya sungguh membebaskan.

Jujur rasanya menyesakkan nggak bisa pulang kampung. Selama 12 tahun lebih di Jakarta, ini bakal menjadi kali ke-3 saya batal mudik. Yang pertama dan kedua karena pekerjaan, masing-masing terjadi pada 2007 dan 2010. Kali ini, siapa nyana, lantaran virus mematikan bernama COVID-19.

Sebagai anak rantau, rasanya waktu buat berkumpul bareng keluarga terasa berharga. Saya hanya pulang tiga atau empat kali dalam setahun. Waktu mudik selalu terasa istimewa sebab bersua dengan keluarga inti dan besar. Belum lagi tetangga dan sanak saudara. Hambar sekali Idul Fitri tanpa silaturahmi, makan ketupat bareng keluarga besar.

Mau sumpah serapah dengan Korona rasanya tidak ada gunanya lagi. Yang ada badan malah sakit, kekebalan tubuh bisa berkurang. Sudah hampir sebulan saya kerja dari rumah. Pergi ke luar hanya dalam keadaan terpaksa. Itu pun hanya sebentar. Tidak bisa membayangkan Ramadan sunyi dan hening di dalam kamar kost.

Meski saya seorang introvert, jika disuruh memilih, saya akan tetap memilih berkumpul bersama teman dan keluarga. Saya tidak mau mematikan fitrah saya sebagai makhluk sosial. Sayang seribu sayang, puasa kali ini akan tanpa undangan buka bersama atau sholat tarawih di masjid. Aneh sekali membayangkan sholat Idul Fitri di dalam kamar sendirian.

Tetapi itulah yang akan terjadi. Mungkin ini memang cara Allah swt agar saya dan umat Muslim yang lain mengembalikan tujuan puasa dan Ramadan yang sesungguhnya, sebagaimana dulu Rosulullah Muhammad saw melakukannya.

Beda tujuan puasa dan Ramadan

Ustadz Nouman Ali Khan memberikan sentilan yang teramat menyengat dalam salah satu videonya. Saya merasakan sindirannya tersebut begitu nyata sebab melakukannya setiap kali Ramadan tiba.

Menurut beliau, bulan puasa justru menjadi momen kita lebih boros dari bulan-bulan lainnya. Bulan puasa lebih banyak berupa ritual, budaya bukannya waktu untuk merenung dan menyadari dosa dan kesalahan kita selama ini. Kita lebih sosial saat bulan puasa, hingga tak menyadari amalan yang justru tidak bertambah.

Kita lebih sibuk mau buka puasa dimana, itikaf dimana hingga membeli baju baru daripada duduk termenung meratapi khilaf kita selama ini atau mensyukuri karunia-Nya.

Ustadz favorit saya ini menambahkan bahwa tujuan puasa dan bulan Ramadan sesungguhnya berbeda. Secara historis, puasa bukan barang baru dalam agama tauhid sebagaimana warisan dari Nabi Ibrahim as.

Dulu, Rosulullah Muhammad saw berpuasa seperti halnya kaum Yahudi selama tiga hari. Tetapi Allah swt kemudian memerintahkan Rosulullah Muhammad saw berpuasa 30 hari saat bulan Ramadan dengan berbagai keringanan dibandingkan dengan yang dilakukan oleh orang Yahudi.

Tujuan puasa sendiri adalah menjadi orang yang bertakwa. Pada intinya, bertakwa berarti sadar akan kehadiran Allah swt kapanpun dan dimanapun. Takwa berbanding lurus dengan ketaatan, yang artinya semakin kita bertakwa, semakin kita akan sering menaati perintah-Nya dan menjauhi larangan-Nya.

Ramadan, bulannya Alqur’an

Sedangkan tujuan bulan Ramadan sendiri berbeda. Ramadan adalah bulan diturunkannya Alqur’an. Masih menurut pak Nouman, Allah swt menutup langit sehingga jin tidak bisa menembusnya tatkala Ia menurunkan Alqur’an. Sebegitu dahsyatnya peristiwa ini hingga tak berlebihan menyebut Ramadan adalah bulan yang sangat mulia.

Ramadan adalah bulan mengakrabi dan metadabburi Alqur’an. Bukan secara lisan tetapi lebih penting melalui hati yang bersih. Lagi-lagi, masih menurut pak Nouman, kini Alqur’an lebih banyak seperti seremonial. Berapa banyak yang sudah dibaca atau dihafal. Trofi atau piagam bagi yang telah menghafalkannya dan acara pengajian sebagai syukuran atas keberhasilan menghafalkan ayat atau surat dalam Alqur’an.

Yang sesungguhnya lebih penting adalah memaknai Alqur’an dari dalam hati. Terlebih bagi saya yang sudah tua ini adalah menyediakan waktu yang cukup mempelajari, menarik benang merah ayat-ayat di dalamnya dengan segala hal yang terjadi dalam hidup saya dan yang saya pikirkan selama ini.

Tentunya, itu praktek yang sulit dan membutuhkan waktu menyendiri yang tanpa gangguan. Minus berkerumun atau berkumpul bersama saat ngabuburit atau buka puasa saat akhir pekan.

Kapan lagi bisa melakukannya jika bukan saat ada pandemi ini? Mungkin saat ini Allah swt sedang sayang banget sama kita sampai Ia ingin kita mendekatinya langsung. Lebih lama dan lebih tulus.

Semoga musibah Korona ini benar-benar membuat kami dekat dengannya ya Allah swt melalui Alqur’an dan puasa, amiin ya robbal’alamiin. Marhaban ya Ramadan. Senang bertemu dengannya ya Ramadan, bulan penuh berkah dan ampunan.

Deep in Awe with “Our Mutual Friend” by Charles Dickens

Four more pages for reaching half of the super thick Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. Thanks to the COVID-10 pandemic that I have enough time for reading the book. I have been using the last two weekends to read a bit faster hence within a short time, I read 407 pages. And still, other 415 pages to go!

Mind you! The blog post isn’t about self-praising on reading that number of pages. For, frankly speaking, I lost in some ways in the details of the story. I kept mentioning the number of pages to appreciate myself to have come thus far. For surely, I questioned myself would I still experience a deep reading like I felt before I owned a smartphone? Would my heart be embedded into certain characters or scenes? Reading Our Mutual Friend proves that remains unshaken. And I couldn’t be any happier in terms of reading habit.

Gosh! How intricate this book is! It’s like disclosing one giant puzzle. This puzzle consists of minuscule details in the form of characters, metaphors and scenes that unless I put the total focus, I’ll get lost let alone complete the riddle. Nicky Hornby in his introduction said the novel is well below Great Expectations, which I couldn’t agree more. But the novel remains tough and captivating.

Unlike the masterpiece, Our Mutual Friend intrigues my brain. Once again, I admire Dickens for his skill in keeping readers attached to the story. To begin this post, I want to highlight, which Dickens readers must be surely familiar with, about plenty of characters, here.

Alas! Many of them have aliases that I may get confused time and time again if I don’t open the list of characters section before the novel begins. I actually dislike this abundant character thingy because I have to memorize them although not all of them play significant roles.

Thankfully, Dickens is such an artist, even for creating his minor characters. He often portrays comical characters that I always enjoy. In this novel, I love the characters around the Veneering family and the Lammle couple. I really like the way he mocks and makes fun of the wealthy people.

There are characters that represent lower-class society. And Dickens isn’t wholly pitiful for them. Through Mrs. Betty Higden, for instance, he brings up pride within the heart of the poor that sadly to say, costs the life of poor Johnny.

And the second element that really fascinates me is on how he weaves the plot. He starts with a mystery of a drowning man called John Harmon, the heir of an estate. From there, the story rolls and ties most of the characters to chase the wealth that’s under the hands of Nicodemus Boffin, the servant of the elder Mr. Harmon.

Interestingly, Dickens doesn’t make the heir as the dominant figure in the story. John Harmon isn’t dead. He returns to claim the fortune and seeks a wife as promised by his father. I think this what makes Our Mutual Friend is such a brilliant work of mind exercise. I truly salute how Dickens can turn John Harmon into such a charismatic and curious figure although he doesn’t overpower the story (at least until page 407).

The method sheds another light on Dicken’s mastery for bringing up influential protagonist through “sufficient” statements and actions. Such an efficient way of storytelling, I bet so.

As such, I can enjoy other minor to medium characters in the novel. The dutiful Lizzie, the spoilt Bella Wilfer, and the lovely Georgiana Podsnap. Shocking characters include Mr. Bradley Headstone and Fascination Fledgeby. Both seem calm and intellect on the inside but you can’t tell what their actual traits are.

Wish me luck for the half journey, hehe..

Roots Before Branches

Once you hit a certain age, which varies from one person to another, you’ll need to sit down with your thoughts frequently. Some life-changing events may lead you to this habit. Some of you may do so because you feel disgusted or annoyed with what happens around your personal circle or life at general.

The truth about life is that no matter how many times you hear wise words from seniors, you can’t truly believe them until you experience them on your own. Funnily enough, you will fall into the same problems, over and over again until you can’t rely on yourself anymore.

I have been a Muslim for my entire life. Being a Muslim means fully submissive to Allah swt, heart and soul. Performing five prayers every day, fasting during Ramadan month and giving alms don’t guarantee that you truly believe in His good plans for you. At least, that happens to me. I need to trip over a million times until I realize my ego and pride have got in the way.

The best news is when you encounter highly difficult trials and tribulations, that’s when He is about to purify you. That marks the moment when you know Him better and move to Him closer.

In my case, I cling to Alqur’an. I read the Book although most of the times, I misinterpret it. I keep coming to it although during devastating heartbrokenness, for instance, I didn’t find an easy way out.

Indeed, reading the Book with sound and genuine heart won’t bring you any solutions or ending your problems right away. But this is where the work of holding of the Book starts coming to fruition.

Alqur’an cleanses your lens for viewing life. Bit by bit, it helps you loosening worldly burdens that felt so heavy that they dragged your feet moving forward in life. The Book invites you leaving small roads that blocked your way leading your turning to Him. And my favourite is the book makes you coming to the roots of everything. Problems and solutions.

The much better news is that the Book strengthens your faith to Him and in turn, He makes you feel confident to wither against all storms.

In my own terms, this marks the moment when you recheck then repair all things that went wrong before welcoming much bigger challenges ahead. The moment is hard to come by. It requires you to contemplate, going back-and-forth and take rest most of the time.

You will then realize how the roots boil down to most fundamental principles that you frequently heard when you were a small kid. Iman, gratitude, taqwa, ikhtiar, tawakkal, ikhlas and sabr. Clinging to each and all of them is super tough but now you know those are the foods for making the roots growing solid and beneficial for others.

By the same foods, the roots will become branches, leaves and fruits that assist you as a truly Muslim according to the Qur’an and the sunah of the Prophet Muhammad saw (peace be upon him).

The good roots will lead you doing positive deeds and in reverse, the weak one will yield negative ones. Greed, jealousy, ego become roots of bad deeds that needless to speak here, how many sub-actions that come out of each.

You probably knew back then and now they become serious stuff after you experience on your own or know from your friends or relatives. At this point, as you make peace with your past, you may struggle to be mindful and present. Time and time again, you work on coming back to the roots of all, both good and bad things.

That may make your daily life is a bit overwhelming but worth of living at the same time. Even that comes back to the principle of mizan, the scale or balance, another lifetime idea from Allah swt. Masya Allah.

Putting on New Lens for My Second Literary Journey

I may haven’t shared in this modest blog that I planned to no longer read any fictions, including classics, that have been so special in my heart. Last year’s devastating heartbrokenness caused me to abandon any reading-for-pleasure thingy that I thought would pain me even further.

I mostly read books or articles about my religion, Islam, and started learning a bit of Arabic language. The last fiction that I read was “The Invisible Man” by H.G Wells that I didn’t review because I don’t quite like the book.

I enjoyed reading books about Islam, to be honest. During some months of total focus on the book genre, I realized I took classic books too much. I need help to stay positive and upbeat about life. Alas, most of the classics that I admire are stories about longingness, realistic romance, poverty, women rights, social values, idealism, materialism and other heavy stuff.

After reading that kind of books for around 10 years, eventually, there came the time when I was forced to review how my reading had affected my soul and my mind so far. And again, frankly speaking, I couldn’t help feeling sorrowful, pessimistic and unenthusiastic about my personal life and the world. I know that I shouldn’t act that way. That no matter how “close” the classics are to real live and people, they are still the works of imagination and prone to subjectivity. The books manifest their author’s opinions, past experiences and critics.

I admit that I was too much absorbed in the books that let them taking hold of my views about life in general. The heartbrokenness somehow refreshes my thought to finally coming back to read fictions, and of course, classic books, again. Do you know what?

At first, I felt so afraid of reembracing Victorian Literature for the dry wound would bleed again. And poor me! There were moments when I felt I wanted to really leave reading fictions for good. I wanted to ignore the book type because I said to myself the book genre was no good for my life.

During such time, I read printed books, as well. I even thought about dedicating my whole life for reading non-fiction. I resumed reading “Homo Deus” by Yuval Noah Harari. But I dislike the book. Not because I don’t yet accustom for reading non-fiction but the book isn’t well-organized. Too much information in such an overly crowded structure. I don’t know if I want to finish reading it or not.

And then there comes this COVID-19 outbreak. It has been almost two weeks that I have been working from home. Since the stay-at-home campaign was launched early March 2020, I thought of coming to read fictions. I missed being glued in very decent novels by Thomas Hardy or George Eliot. I missed getting lost in beautiful, artsy writing styles of Victorian writers. And yes, I missed imagining how peaceful and sociable life back then. And ah! the dress, the gown.. How I adore lace, pastel colours and a long skirt that make female characters in the book genre so graceful and ladylike, LOL!

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

So, last Saturday, I affirmed myself to shop briefly. Of course, I went to Kinokuniya bookstore at Plaza Senayan shopping mall, here, in Jakarta. I couldn’t help myself grabbing a classic book to help to go through yet another week of the stay-at-home period.

I wanted to unwind from getting connected to the internet while couldn’t step outside my room that I rent. Sure enough, I can read abundant articles and stories from my smartphone or laptop but doing so can’t release my mind and put me at ease. Reading printed books can only do that.

I thought of buying one of Sherlock Holmes series. Mind you! After the break, I have decided to limit reading books on fiction. I won’t read about romance anymore and all things that look gloomy and depressing. I couldn’t think of laying my choice any better than to read books about mystery, detective thingy and fantasy, much like Gulliver’s Travels.

And the bookstore offers so many versions of Sherlock Holmes. To my delight, it was easy to choose the Sherlock Holmes options, depending on my budget, LOL! But then, I am not really into Sherlock Holmes, by the way.

I couldn’t resist the temptation of glimpsing into other books, which of course, by famous Victorian writers. So, my eyes caught Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens. I haven’t heard the title. I intended to buy the book after I read the cover text which says the book tells about greed.

Greed, hmm.. Why did the theme suddenly pop up in my head during the coronavirus time? No topics can’t fit today’s pandemic better than this one. When I was looking at the title, my eyes moved to the book next to it.

Voila! It was Our Mutual Friend! Oh my God! I was looking for the book for years until I forgot it. I smiled, then grinned then relieved. I couldn’t find any better companion than this title. I didn’t want to grab it right away for I wanted to greet my friend long enough before officially embarking the second literary journey.

“Oh, you! So happy to see you!” I said to myself at that time as if the book could speak!

I brought it to the store’s cashier section and now, I am on page 200 something. The book is also about greed on money which really suits my search. No need to worry about coming to bleakness because I have Alqur’an as my wise reminder.

My daily reading routine runs like this: at the morning, I will read Alqur’an or listen to its interpretation by ustadz Nouman Ali Khan. After that, I read Our Mutual Friend. Sometimes at night, I continue reading the novel or reading a book about the History of Islam.

Such a packed and fully-loaded reading stuff but I’m happy that I keep myself productive and occupied with positive things. I always, always remind myself to keep reading at balance. Make the activity stands equal between Islam and fiction.

For now, I’m glad to tell myself that I don’t have to leave fiction, especially classic reading, again. I come to it with a brand new perspective and genuine love as I always feel.

Test of Faith in the Time of COVID-19 Outbreak

Yesterday, I cried while I was making dua after performing Maghrib prayer. About two weeks after the outbreak of COVID-19 in Indonesia, I complained a bit to Allah swt. I felt the whole COVID-19 thingy took its climax on me. I couldn’t help feeling miserable after I watched news on television on rising COVID-19 victims in my country. By the time I’m writing this post, 686 Indonesians are suffering from COVID-19, 55 of the number die while 30 others are recovered.

Before the prayer, my sister who works at a state-run hospital in Semarang as a nurse, warned me. She urged me to stay indoors, reducing using cash for preventing any COVID-19 virus making its way to my body. She told me so after I had shared my plan of going to a convenience store nearby a room where I currently stay. I had to draw cash because I still need cash for buying ready-to-eat foods and snacks.

She insisted me to cook or use food delivery, to which I declined because the COVID-19 pandemic makes online transportation more expensive. On the other hand, the room will be too packed if I purchase all cooking utensils. Alas, I also don’t have a fridge to store and keep all veggies and meats fresh for days.

During our chat, my head was already overwhelmed with unfinished jobs by that time. You can imagine how negativity was surrounding my mind that all I could think of was complaining to Him.

In the first two weeks, it was easy for me from swinging from hopelessness to positivity. Every time the Indonesian government announced on latest COVID-19 victim number, I took seconds to bounce from misery to good spirit. But yesterday told the different story.

As days go by, more Indonesians are confirmed as suffering from the virus. Worse, I found more hoaxes were spread everywhere, from portal news, WhatsApp group chats to social media. It became common that I would discover some rumors in one or two particular groups then had them clarified, revised or nullified by other people in another chat group.

I really wanted to smash my smartphone at that moment. No kidding! What’s the use of #socialdistancing and #workfromhome if we can’t keep our mind positive by limiting news consumption? Aren’t we hurting our mental health if keep doing so?

Truth to be told, after the Maghrib and even Isya prayers, I didn’t feel peaceful at once. Quite strange. The triple negativity took hold my mind and soul thereby I couldn’t put myself at rest while praying.

But there was one thing, one thing that relieved me. I stopped complaining right away. I picked up my bag, went to the convenience store by using a public minivan. I forgot to wear a facial mask but I didn’t return home for getting one. I used my headscarf to cover my mouth almost for the entire quick shopping.
The Palmerah traditional market, which is only some meters from where I live, seemed quieter. Few sellers were opening their stalls, such as foods and fruits. Most of them shut theirs. Only few public minivans were passing the market, making the area a bit lonelier than usual.

Yet just some meters from the market, a lot of citizens flocked fresh veggies, spices and fruits that were put on the edge of the main road leading to an intersection to Kebayoran Lama and Rawa Belong.

I found nothing changed that night. I can’t blame them for keeping business as usual that eventually drew would-be buyers. Surviving in the COVID-19 pandemic is getting harder as people choose staying at homes. At the same time, I regretted most of them didn’t wear facial masks let alone kept distance.

The convenience store welcomed more visitors than usual. And more citizens gathered around the store with small traditional food and drink stalls remained open. It’s really hard to stop people from working. It’s like it’s either they’ll die from the virus or from starvation.

I bought necessary stuffs at the store. I was proud of myself that I didn’t activate the smartphone even for just one hour. As I completed the transaction, I stopped a public minivan which was empty. He was speeding with me as the sole passenger.

And here was the best lesson of all. During the super short homecoming trip, the peace started taking over my heart again. The wind of the night felt so refreshing, probably as pollution was less harmful and the sky was clearer with more citizens didn’t use their vehicles.

I was grateful to Allah swt that He still gives me halal provision from home as I was looking at the traders who had to keep working on the streets. I couldn’t believe how much difference it made for not opening the smartphone for one hour. The good mood and faith only needed that short of time to finally blossom in my heart.
Having good faith during this difficult and uncertain time is like holding on an invisible rope. It will only get real when we look at it, over and over again.

My Love Letter for Alqur’an

Dear Allah,

This is me, your curious student of this universe. I’m writing for you after postponing doing so for many weeks. I thought the letter would be the hardest thing to do despite the fact You knew what things that were inside my mind.

Much like Your book that invites me visiting it again and again, so will this love letter. I actually dropped some takeout from the Book in the previous posts. But I need to sum it all then add more hearts in this post. And I hope I will write yet another post about Your book in the future as the more I study the Qur’an, the more I realize Your extreme love for me. And I have to share Your love for friends, netizens and anyone who happen to come by to my website.

You know what, ya Rabb? I will proudly and humbly share this love letter on the internet. Despite countless grammar errors and rumblings here, I am not ashamed to tell the whole world how super lucky I am to have come thus far, to have cherished and lived by Your words every single day.

Moreover, I am not afraid to let people know about our intimate conversation because I know my love for Your Book will always, always be reciprocated. Because You are the ultimate source of love itself. It has always been me who rejects or dismisses Your affection.

Some say, hardship is the express route for receiving guidance. In my case, that speaks more. The latest hardship is Your way of preparing me to receive the greatest gift ever in my life; Alqur’an. More precisely, taking the Holy Book seriously with this thankful and low-profile state.

I won’t get tired to mention this name, ustadz Nouman Ali Khan, for helping me to come to this stage. Every time I listen to his tafseer on Albaqarah, my heart is softened, renewed and revived. I talk to myself: “Wohoho, this is it! This is what I want for my whole life. Something that drives my curiosity while at the same time, keeps straight on the right path.”

I particularly love Your book because it marks the ending and the beginning on my new chapter of life. You must know, ya Allah, that I am such an avid reader and writer. Masya Allah, you have blessed me with these incredible hobbies; reading and writing. The two have been my best buddies since I was a little girl.

Running to books and writing have been my solace. I don’t have to worry of losing friends because they will never leave me. I don’t feel old despite the fact that I grow weaker physically as days go by. Absorbing information, embracing knowledge, reflecting, contemplating and sharing have become my habit.

Somehow, I slowly made the pursuit of knowledge as one of the top goals in my life. Of course, the knowledge wasn’t about You or the Qur’an. I worshipped opinions or writings from intelligent authors. During the years of doing so, I read Your book. But that felt nothing. Worse, I didn’t think it was important for connecting myself with Your book with a down-to-earth attitude. I thought cleansing my heart was unnecessary. No wonder I considered Your book as mere knowledge. It didn’t attract me by heart.

Alhamdulillah that the greatest calamity in my life happened last year. At the beginning of 2019, I felt like the calamity couldn’t hit me any sooner or later. What was supposed to happen eventually did. It took me by surprise that as months went by, You taught me a precious lesson I couldn’t think of. The calamity was all my own fault. You permitted the emotional rollercoaster to have occurred to teach me one thing. You wanted me to get closer to You more than ever. Only then my relationship with Your book has got tighter.

It does take multiple, tiring phases to really build a solid and sound foundation with the Qur’an. But the pain and the confusion are so worth it. I am overjoyed every time I read your Book then get what lies behind every ayah. My heart leaps with enthusiasm. Sometimes, I cry every time I recall how loving You are by dragging me closer to the Holy Book.

I was a dark, pessimistic person. I was fighting with nostalgia and overthinking. Alhamdulillah, coming back to Your Book calms my heart. Better future and bright days always lie ahead. And nothing is as bad as I think of.

And You know that as I get closer to Your book, the harder the tests await me. Some of them have turned into realities. And you know what, ya Allah? I start thinking it doesn’t matter what will the results be. All I care is maintaining this sincerity and reliance upon You only. All I want to nourish is this imaan or faith upon Your help and good plan.

This religion, Islam, begins looking so beautiful for me. I have been a moslem for my entire life but I come to that conclusion just now. Well, at least, I proudly say that with this honest heart. The religion indeed teaches me to first and foremost believe in You, act according to Your words and leave all efforts entirely on Your hands.

Easier said than done but I have come closer to You by doing that. And really, it’s the journey that really matter. It’s the process that tastes so sweet and liberating. I finally sip the delicacy of imaan that Masya Allah sets me free bit by bit.

Ya Allah swt, I could spend hours to enlist wonderful things that have flourished inside my heart because of the Holy Book. But as You always teach us to put everything in balance, I thus end it now. Thanking you immensely for all of the blessings. Guide me to always keep my intention pure and grateful.

Your humble servant,

Eny Wulandari