I am a religious person. And I am not saying that just because this is the month of Ramadhan. Perhaps in the upcoming 11 months I am not anymore, but deep down, I truly am. When I was younger, my parents used to enroll me to this madrasah near our house in Tangerang. But not just that. Beforehand, they always introduced me to anything related to Islam, Prophet Mohammad’s deeds, and prominent Islamic stories. They taught me to read Iqra’, The Koran, listen to Syeikh Al Sudais, watch cartoony or wax-made prophet movies in DVDs, and read the story of 24 other prophets.
In the madrasah, we had this ustadzah and ustadz who would patiently accompany us read the Holy Book with colorful austere sticks in our hands to follow the letters. If we mispronounce one letter or one harakat, they quickly correct us in a way that we then follow their lead. (Thank God it’s not the era of 70s, where teachers would “pick a slap” on the students with wooden rulers or board eraser!). In my third year, I was mildly shocked when Bu Norma, my beloved ustadzah, asked me to deliver a tausiyah for tarawih. She said it was for “a boost,” which I translated into, since I was (and am) a naively narrow-minded narcissist, a page-turning moment of life.
In a nutshell, I had a great time absorbing this Islamic pedagogy in a half of a decade before 17. I had no complaints back then for the Islamic teaching because it nurtured my conceptions about anything. For instance, when I was melancholy getting bad grades in school, I remained phlegmatic and thought that “oh! This is what I’m meant to get. Allah wants me to study harder,” and felt reasonably fine, while almost my friends in class turned grey and hate-studied the lesson for the rest of the semester. Much of the same way when I dealed with unexpected moments in life, like not getting to my dream high school, or not successful in convincing my mom to buy the newest Giordano’s shirt. I stayed held in the teachings of Islam and what the Koran has told me in one of its verses: that I shall turn to Allah in any circumstance.
And this lasted until I got into college.
In one class, my professor told me that, to be a critic, you must stand on two feet with each stepping on a different territory simultaneously. In short, he taught us to live in a “shiratal mustaqiim”: being in between. For a second, I thought that it was only for academic purpose, especially when you have to write a paper for Critical Theory. But it was later I realized that it was not just for that, but for anything, basically.
That’s not the end of the story. Recently, in a poetry class, we discussed the inevitable inseparability of fact and fiction, and I learned that none of both is exempt to be worth being believed in. In one case, history, for example, is commonly considered as fact for some people, knowing that it reveres documents and records, stashed in a highly safe sanctuary. People can go to that place and see what a past might look like and maybe, in the end, have a faith in it.
On the other hand, when you read a novel, a short prose, or any form of written work, you’ll be inculcated by this imaginary world created by the author. You’ll see a town or a country in the novel similar to what you have seen or heard in real life. You’ll catch a glimpse of phrases within the dialogue between the villains and the whodunit, parallel to what you have said in a late-night mundane conversation with an old chatterbox friend in a diner not far from your house. You’re voluntary to stay awake at midnights to gulp the sappy ending of Romeo and Juliet? AND you would still believe that what you’re facing is an illusion. That it’s just in your head. Well, guess what? It’s not. The author of the novel might create a protagonist or a specific setting you thought was an underworld. But all those do not come from nowhere.
People back in time had indeed “gathered th[ose] stories afar in the wind and the rain”. The stories are passed on to the next generation so that it becomes a belief, a conception, a faith, which becomes their identity.
The Islamic teaching has somehow infested my mind, soul, and body, metaphorically speaking. It is a benign, healing virus that spread over my nerves and blood vessels, which gives myself a bit of a “boost” everytime things knock me down. Although, now, I realize that it is a fiction, or maybe even a fact, it will still remain a good book that I enjoy reading in a balcony of my two-story house on holiday, and not a brow-lifting heavy one assigned for a paper in a Critical Theory class.