A heart reborn

by Aisha Rashid

“The health of the senses of this world
comes from the well-being of the body;
the health of one’s spiritual sense
arises from the body’s ruin.
The spiritual path wrecks the body,
but afterward restores it to health:
It destroys the house to unearth the treasure,
then with that treasure builds it better than before.”

(Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, Mathnawi 1)

This quotation is from the treasury of wisdom by a revered Sufi master, popularly known as Rumi, who wrote originally in Persian more than seven hundred years ago. It provides the backdrop for my journey as I meander through the challenges of life and my heart reborn when I discovered my true path.

Unlike many Muslims in Malaysia, I was not born a Muslim. Nonetheless, I was blessed to be raised and nurtured in the Muslim way of life. I attended religious school at an early age where I learnt to recite the Quran. My adopted parents were pleased that I khatam Quran (completed reading the entire Quran) twice and this gave them bragging rights to my qualification as an accomplished Muslim child. Thank you, Daddy and Mum, for instilling in me the prescribed Muslim practices and values.

However, I had often wondered what was so great about khatam Quran since I did not understand the meaning and the context of what I had achieved. This was my earliest stride into the concept of ‘form over substance’. This emphasis on form and ritual had been a bane of religious practice for me since as long as I could remember. I was soon to discover that this was the way of many Muslims who are often tangled up in promoting form above substance…

Adulthood was all about school, higher education, jobs, romances, marriage and motherhood. One got easily caught up by the whirlwind of responsibilities, the tsunamis of joys and disappointments that left little space for spiritual discovery. Life was about achieving goals one sets out to do, celebrating successes and despondent about failures. Where was the time to ponder about one’s spiritual fulfilment? It was all about meeting targets and the ensuing
manifestation of success.

Before long middle-age landed like a punch in the gut. I appreciated the need to learn correct religious practices that had to be done with conviction. Not just form over substance. I was determined to succeed and for this I had to seek knowledge. This quest demanded extensive reading on Islam, translations of the Quran and attending religious classes.

As time and tide wait for no man. At 59, it dawned on me that life was getting shorter. My father died when he was 75 years old and my mother when she was 78. By the law of averages, I had a balance of about 16 years of life to live – give or take a few years. Time was certainly not on my side, yet I have much more to learn about being a good Muslim.

Thus began my mission to gain deeper knowledge. My late husband, son of an Imam and more knowledgeable, was a patient teacher. I reminisce on our animated arguments and discussions about the dos and don’ts of Islam – based on what he and I had read, listened to and viewed. When he passed away six years ago, I lost a beloved guide…

Nevertheless, my thirst for knowledge never abated and I continue to attend conferences, classes, seminars and talks on Islam as well as read books and seminal papers written by religious experts. I crave for more as the more I learn I realise how little I know about this beautiful religion propagated by Muhammad – Peace be upon him. As a result of intensified knowledge-seeking my devotion has led to contentment and peace of mind.

This voyage of discovery continues, buffered by my relentless quest for knowledge and understanding of the Quran. The beauty of this quest is my discovery of a desired path as my heart encounters the world of the true believer. As my mind flows like a river that continues to the sea and meets the ocean of erudition, this journey endures…

Aisha Rashid is an author and public relations strategist. (The views expressed by our columnist are entirely her own).