The pray call crept into the classrooms of Taruna Dra Zulaeha Senior High school, followed by the school bell marking the start of the second break. Like a programmed routine after replying their teachers’ goodbye, most students would immediately leave for the mosque to perform their Dhuhur (noon) service. Only few students would remain in the class, reading or chatting with their friends, while others who could not bear their stomach’s call for lunch headed straight for the school canteen where they would find something to eat or drink.
As usual, Alya, a second-year student of Taruna Senior High school, took her prayer robe out of her bag, got up and walked out of the classroom to the mosque. But, she held her steps at the classroom door when she realized that Farah, one of her close friends in the class, still remained sitting at her desk.
Slightly raising her veil to wipe her sweat on her forehead, Alya said, “Let’s go, mate. You are supposed to pray Dhuhur now, aren’t you?”
Farah answered with a funny grin on her face, “I’m having my period now. Just send my best regards to God, OK?”
“Are you crazy or what?” Alya replied, “You can’t delegate anyone to perform your prayer, can you?”
Farah smiled, “I know. It was a joke. You had better hurry up now, or you’ll miss your first Takbir. I’m starving and I need something to eat. I’ll be waiting for you around the shop in front of the mosque.”
Smiling back at Farah, Alya made a gesture of goodbye with her right hand before she left.
Ten minutes later, she got out of the mosque and saw that familiar grin of her desk mate’s in front of the shop. Farah waved to her.
“I’ve bought you this”, said Farah when Alya was in front of her, pointing with her right fore finger at some food on her table.
Alya sat down and thanked her friend, “It’s a very kind of you, Farah. It’s not you. You hardly ever bought me anything, have you? What’s happening?”
Farah laughed naughtily, “Oh, nothing. I just feel happy today. I’m having my period and so, I won’t have to perform any religious obligations, at least for almost a week. I don’t have to get up early in the morning to pray”.
Feeling surprised at her friend’s answer, Alya stopped eating. Her beautiful young face frowned as she stared at her friend. But deep in her heart, she admitted that she often felt the same way as her friend did. Not knowing what to say, she smiled and shook her head at her friend’s uninhibited words.
A middle-aged man in his white moslem clothes and a white cap who was sitting next to them looked and smiled warmly at Farah. He must have heard what Farah had just said. The girls were wondering who he was, and started feeling uneasy at the stranger’s smile when they heard his words, “Please excuse me for interrupting. But do you know why Moslems have to pray?”
The man’s politeness and pious appearance caused an unexplainable feeling of safety creeping into the girls’ mind. Confidently, Farah answered, “That’s because we have to. I mean we must. It’s our obligation as moslems.”
Alya added, “Allah promises us heaven and protects us from hell if we pray.” The stranger nodded at their answers and smiled wisely. Then he asked another question, “What would we do if Allah never asked us to pray? And what would we do if God had never created heaven or hell? Would we still pray?”
Both girls stopped eating, and stared at the man with a dazzled look. They completely had no idea of how to answer the question they had never heard before. But, defending herself, Farah replied, “I’m sorry, Sir. But your questions need no answer. It’s obvious that God has asked us to pray, and created heaven and hell.”
Another wise smile was formed on the man’s face. He said, “You are right about that. But we are actually talking about our motivation in praying.”
“What do you mean?” the girls asked almost at the same time. They started to feel it was interesting.
“If we think that praying is an obligation or a must, we will sometimes find that praying is a burden to us. We will pray reluctantly or lazily, and at times, we’ll even delay or skip it. It will not happen if we believe that praying is one of human’s basic needs, like food or clothes”, replied the man.
“What? How can praying be a necessity?” asked Farah impatiently. Alya frowned, trying to figure out what the man was talking about.
With another fatherly smile, the man began explaining, “Praying is a necessity because of the weak nature of man. Scientifically, man is a social being who can never live dependently. Like it or not, they directly or indirectly always depend on others, such as their parents, friends, and their neighbors. Let’s take it as an example, when you are in trouble, you need a place to run, and someone to help solving your problem, or at least, to share it with. But, once in your life, you’ll feel no one can help or understand you, nowhere to go, and nowhere to run in this world. This is a very crucial moment in one’s life. Many people can’t get through it, and then trap themselves in frustration, which mostly leads to drugs, crimes, and even suicide. Na’udzubillah. At this point, they are mentally sick. However, for those who really believe in Allah, and always perform their religious obligations, this will not happen. They feel they meet Allah in their prayer, and talk to Allah. Allah is the only place for them to run to. Allah will listen to you, take care of you, and help you with however big your problem is, even when nobody else will. Allah will always forgive you even when this world cannot tolerate your mistakes.”
Alya addressed a question, “Can you make it short, sir?”
The man continued, “Prayer or what we call shalat brings an effect of strengthening our personality. Performing the obligatory prayers at 5 appointed times a day, if done with the right intention, will bring you confidence, peace, comfort and satisfaction in life. In this way, the effect of shalat is ensuring and boosting your psychological development, such as mental, moral and character, which, together, will improve your emotional quotient. To be short, Islam has known about how to improve EQ, emotional quotient, far before western people came up with the idea.”
Alya nodded, gesturing that she agreed with the man. Suddenly, Farah replied, still defending herself, “But, isn’t it the same as long as we believe in Allah? I mean, shalat is prayer. And prayer can be done anytime and anywhere, right? Not only by shalat. Besides, Allah is The Most Forgiving. Allah will forgive us however sinful we are, unless we are infidels or unbelievers.”
Still understandingly, the stranger replied, “You have to be careful. Even Satan, the cursed one, and his followers believe that God exists. They also believe in heaven and hell. But they are cursed because of their haughtiness and pride, refusing to obey God’s order. So, believing only is not enough. You have to proof your loyalty and devoutness to Allah by willingly performing all that Allah has ordered us to do, and at the same time, avoiding all that Allah has asked us not to do. Only in this way, a man can assume the highest position of all creatures, even higher than that of angels. That was why Allah ordered angels and Satan to bow before Adam, right after Adam’s creation in the heaven. In short, performing all of your religious obligations, including shalat, is a way to reach your true quality as human, the earth caliphs. The right understanding of all this will lead us to the level where the obligation is not only an obligation but also a necessity.”
This time, Farah said nothing. Alya, who had been listening attentively to the man, addressed a question, “Are you saying that if we don’t pray or perform our religious obligations, then we won’t have the real quality of human’?”
“That’s what I’m talking about,” the man replied. “In order to make it clearer to you, I’ll ask you several questions. Is it Allah who needs to be worshipped? Does Allah order us to pray and worship Him because He needs it? Does He need our shalat or prayer in order for Him to live? Would it lessen His Glory if the whole universe did not praise Him or worship Him? And, would our worship add anything to His Glory?”
Those questions, although they were unemotionally asked, stabbed deeply into the girls’ heart, like a sharp knife, cracking the walls of arrogance inside their heart. The questions obviously demanded no answers. Yet, in fact, they would scatter to pieces the arrogance of man who had often claimed to be superior in this universe.
Both of the girls felt their eyes warm and wet. In a shaking voice, Alya answered, “Subhanallah. The answer to all those questions is NO.”
Farah sighed, and wiped her wet beautiful eyes, realizing how arrogant she had been so far in front of Allah, The Creator who never depends on His creatures and His universe.
“Allah has ordered us to perform 5 obligatory prayers a day and other religious obligations merely for our own good, because He knows we have the ability of doing so. The whole universe up to all particles and cells all worship Allah. But they can’t perform shalat like us. Shalat, as well as other obligations in general, differs mankind from animals. Have you ever seen a monkey performing shalat? Animals may have brains like human and silently chant their praise or dzikir to Allah, yet still they can’t perform shalat 5 times a day like us. The true essence of shalat will bring man to the quality of honor, as the noble caliphs of the earth. Therefore, if a man doesn’t perform the obligatory religious service or not even remember Allah, he may be in a lower quality than a monkey.”
Farah’s face went red. However, deep inside she agreed with the man. She looked at Alya, and both of them suddenly burst out laughing, imagining they were worse than a monkey. But, at last, Farah, who liked arguing, said, “Isn’t it because monkeys and all other creatures can’t think just like human?”
The man smiled wisely, and continued, “Allah has created man in a more perfect condition than any other creatures, like animals, genies, and even angels. That’s why we have to perform all religious obligations sincerely to worship Him, as an expression of gratitude to Allah for being trusted to bear the responsibility as the caliphs of the earth.”
The man added, “You should always remember that the main purpose of shalat must be purely to express our gratitude and to achieve Allah’s blessing. Your shalat should be free of all forms of worldly intentions and motives, such as to gain fame, position or wealth, otherwise it will be impure in front of Allah.”
Wanting to know more, Alya asked, “You said that the impact of shalat is strengthening our personality. Is it also the purpose of our shalat? And is it wrong if we perform our service to God in order to seek for heaven in the after life?”
“No, not at all,” the man quickly replied, “A purpose is different from an impact. A purpose is the reason and motive why we do something, whereas an impact is what will happen if you do something. ”
The man added, “It is not wrong if we pray in order to be safe in the afterlife, or in order to avoid hell and seek for heaven. In fact, it is much better than expecting fame, or worldly position and wealth. The best of all is to humble before Allah, and to be sincere and wholehearted, not to expect anything, except being able to meet and see the light of Allah. But, never be proud of yourself that you can perform a religious service. If you think you are able to perform it because of your own strength and initiative, you’re making a very big mistake.”
Alya was sure that those seemingly underestimating words would be too much for her best friend to accept, and she smiled when Farah asked, “I’m sorry, sir. But I don’t really understand what you mean with mistake? Could you explain it?” This time, Alya was rather surprised to see her partner trying to be polite in defending herself. There was no more tone of arrogance in her voice.
The man wiped his sweat on his forehead with the back of his hand, and explained, “Being proud of yourself will lead you to haughtiness, and that will make your devoutness meaningless in front of Allah. Instead, you should be grateful to Allah for showering you with His blessings, divine direction and guidance from which your devoutness arise. He decides whomever He will guide with the light of faith and whomever He leaves astray in the darkness.”
The man continued, “I’d like to tell you something you ought to know about shalat. Shalat is the way of conveying your wishes and expressing your gratitude to Allah, as well as freeing your spirit from sins and impurity. Shalat is the place where the secrets of Allah are unimpeded, and where the bright lights of the highest knowledge of connaisance or ma’rifat rise. It is true when a servant of Allah stands up to pray, Allah will remove his blind for him, and directly meet him. Angels will stand upright from his shoulder up to heaven, follow his shalat and answer his every prayer with ‘Amen’. He will be bathed and sowed with God’s mercy and blessing from heaven down to the crown of his head. He will then be greeted with a voice; “If only this man knew to whom he is talking, he would never ever stop praying”. It is true that the doors of heaven will open for the praying ones, as long as they are praying. And it is also true that Allah is proud of them in front of His angel.”
Both of the girls, who had finished their food, now were in complete silence. All of the stranger’s explanation had raised their deepest consciousness as servants of God, and brought a new understanding about their religious service. It had ruined the walls of darkness, and brought a light into their heart, their mind and their spirit, and in turn, melted the rocks of arrogance, impurities and insincerity in being faithful servants of Allah. The light, which at first was only a dim ray, now had grown brighter and brighter. It shone on their spirit even more brightly than the sun that day, and revealed much of what had been hidden beyond the walls of man’s stupidity and ignorance. They now realized how impure their religious service had been so far.
Suddenly, Farah jumped, “My God, we’ll be late for class.” She pointed with her right thumb to the clock on the shop wall, which now showed 12 sharp. “I’m sorry, Sir. But we must go now. We have a class.”
While Farah was paying for their food at the cashier, Alya added politely, “We’re really thank you for what you’ve explained to us. It has added much to our knowledge and, Insya Allah, will be useful to us.”
“Alhamdulillah. Thank Allah for guiding you into His light,” replied the man humbly.
“Assalamu’alaikum”, said both of the girls almost simultaneously.
“Wa’alaikumussalam warrahmatullahi wabarakaatuh,“ the man replied warmly.
As they were leaving for their classroom, both of the girls looked back upon their shoulder at the shop where they had met the man, wondering who he was and where he came from. But he was no longer there. They stopped walking and looked round but he was nowhere to be seen. With a dazzled look, they stared at each other with their open mouth. Farah who suddenly realized they were late, dragged Alya’s hand, urging her to hurried for their class, where Mr. Agus Supriyono, their English teacher, must have started teaching by now. They were wondering what could be the perfect excuse to tell Mr. Agus for their coming late, but for certain they wouldn’t tell him how they had met a man, or whoever it might have been, who had led them to the beginning of a never-ending spiritual journey, the journey towards the light of God.