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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Thinking of Allah at the pagoda

Nothing is comparable to aqidah, for if you do not possess aqidah, your faith in your religion is fragile, your love for Allah is weak.
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The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is one of my favourite places in Asia. Every time I visit the capital of Myanmar, I never miss the chance to visit this architectural wonder.
And no matter how many times I come here, I always find myself spellbound by its majestic splendour and the surreal aura of the place.
As I am writing this, I am sitting in a lotus position, in a spot overlooking a giant smiling Buddha at the pagoda. A few feet away from me are rows of Buddhist monks deep in meditation.
Occasionally a gong sounds, gently beaten by a devotee making a wish. And from afar, I hear the sounds of magical chants, so sacred, so pleasing to my ears.
I am not a Buddhist but this air of holiness and spiritual tranquillity is overwhelming. It is so captivating that I cannot help but submit to its majestic wonder.
I feel almost transported to a whole new world, to a wonderful state of divinity, where I feel very close to God.
It is true what my Burmese friends say – that the 2,500-year-old Shwedagon Pagoda that guards eight strands of Buddha’s hair inside its main stupa – reveals the heart of the people.
Sitting here, I feel almost invisible in the midst of monks, worshippers and visitors from all walks of life.
I place my pen and notebook by my side, close my eyes, join my palms and begin reciting my prayers.
Bismillahirrahmanirrahim (In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful).
While surrounded by the sounds of Pali chants, the smell of incense and jasmine flowers, the presence of Buddhist monks and worshippers, my heart still speaks only to Allah, for He is my saviour, my Lord, the Only One I believe in.
Truth is, being a guest in places of worship other than my own, is nothing new to me. In past years, I have taken great pleasure in spending hours inside churches and temples. I even bring my children with me during such visits. For me, understanding the faith of my friends, neighbours and members of the community I share my space with, is of tremendous importance.
But never once during these encounters and experiences have I found myself admiring the Gods of others. Even the majestic Shwedagon Pagoda which I adore so much does not shake my belief in Allah, not even one bit.
I guess that’s what happens when you have deep faith in your God – your heart submits to the only One you love.
That is aqidah. To have absolute faith is aqidah. And as a Muslim, I was taught from very young that nothing is comparable to aqidah, for if you do not possess aqidah, your faith in your religion is fragile, your love for Allah is weak.
Sadly, today there are Muslims whose faith or aqidah easily crumbles upon doing the simplest things such as reading books about someone else’s religious journey.
Astaghfirullahalazim.
I know many people, who are not Muslims, like me possess a very deep connection to their respective Gods – just as I do with mine.
They go through life every single day listening to five separate calls to prayer to a different God. They listen to recitals from a Holy Book different from theirs and they endure preachings about the greatness of someone else’s religion.
But none of these alters their aqidah, for their love towards their God is too great – like my love for mine.
Alhamdulillah.
“Muslim?” asked a Burmese men seated next to me as I gently rubbed my face with my palms, ending my prayers.
“Yes,” I answered.
“I am Kyaw, I am a Buddhist. This is my friend Simon from the UK. He is Christian. We are of different religions but all in this Pagoda,” he said with a smile. “I am going to show him the Jataka. You want to join us?”
“Jataka?” I asked.
“Stories of the previous lives of Buddha, painted on the wall. You should come see it,” Kyaw said.
“Sure. Sounds interesting.”
So I got up and joined the two for a little storytelling, confident in the knowledge that no matter how many stories I heard, or how fascinating I found them to be, nothing could affect my love and admiration for Allah.
Fa Abdul is an FMT columnist.

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