I wrote this with initial intention to post it to iammuslim2. After reading and re-reading I decided to submit the other article. However, I still feel obliged to share this with my viewers. I know this is lengthy, hope you could find the time to read it through. Enjoy!
To Combine or Not to combine
It was back in 1994, during one of the semester breaks, where the 30 of us boarded the university bus and went on a 2-weeks trip that covered ¾ of peninsular Malaysia. Four university officers accompanied us.
We were living off our suitcases, sleeping in low cost hotels, hostel rooms, training centers and old bungalows. No, this is not going to be a ghost story, to start off with. The trip was partially funded by the university and organized by my classmates (yes, I was part of the organizing committee!). I still remember the objective: to get industrial exposure related to the course we were doing then: Agricultural Engineering. Have you heard of it? I bet you haven’t.
We made a few stops during long journeys; to eat, rest and pray. Between Kuantan and Kuala Trengganu we made one stop, and then between KT and Kota Bharu we made 2 stops.
There was a Sikh girl in the group, Kavitha Kumari (no, not that actress/model. This was another girl.) She’s the chirpy, flirty type with the boys and easy going with the girls. We went along well as we loved the same type of music then: hip hop, R & B and soul. (That explained why I’m now into Urban Crossover, right?)
After the second stop, before we reached Kota Bharu Kavitha came sat next to me and asked,
‘If the journey is from 6 a.m till 9 p.m, are we going to make stop every time you guys have to perform your prayers? If there’s no place to stop, how are you going to pray?’ I didn’t know whether she was curious about Muslim’s prayers or she was actually complaining on the stops we made. I pondered for a moment before answering.
‘Err… actually we don’t have to stop every time,’ my mind was racing and working so hard then, searching for the right words and had to think fast on how to explain our prayers to a non-Muslim. At the same time, I wondered why she chose to ask me that question; back in 1994 I was not wearing hijab, have unruly hair, always in faded jeans, old t-shirts and sneakers most of the days. The image was a far cry from the other ustazah-like females in the bus. To make matters worse, one of the university officers was standing near us and seemed interested in our conversation. I was so sure he was waiting for my answers, too.
‘You know Kavitha, when we travel, the Muslims are allowed to combine and shorten our prayers according to some pre-defined rules,’ Kavitha looked at me with full interest.
‘Serious, ah? I never heard of that. What are the rules?’ That was when I had to do a speedy total recall: what was actually written in my form two Pendidikan Islam text books, huh?
‘I can give you some examples, okay. ‘She nodded, appreciatively. ‘We can combine Zuhur and Asar into one prayer, and shorten each into two rakaat. So, in total we will do 4 rakaat for both Zuhur and Asar.’ I explained.
‘Yeah, I remember the rakaat thing. It’s how many times you go up and down, right?’
‘Yeah, sort of,’ I had to agree because I realized how difficult it was to explain the whole process to her.
‘So, you cannot combine all of them into one prayer?’ she asked.
‘No, the rule is we can only combine Zuhur with Asar, then Maghrib with Isya’. We cannot combine the Subuh prayer with any other prayer,’ I explained further. I must admit that I felt so proud of myself then for remembering those facts.
‘Oh, okay,’ Kavitha looked less interested. Perhaps the additional information just confused her. She removed her walkman from her sling bag and before I could continue further, she was so into her music and ignored me. I felt rather disappointed as I was about to explain to her that in order to get the privilege of performing jama' and qasar prayers, the journey shouldn't have any maksiat elements in it.
The university officer was still there, smiling. He fingered his almost non-existence moustache and said,
‘I think you explained it well. It’s easier to understand.’ I gave away a small laugh, thinking: I hope his ustaz/ustazah taught him the same thing in school.
That night, while lying on a hard mattress in some college hostel in Kota Bharu, I asked another friend,
‘If we were to do the jama’ qasar, the journey must not have any maksiat elements, right?’
‘Yup,’ she answered sleepily.
‘Do you think there’s any maksiat elements involved in this trip?’ I was still wide awake, and the questions lingering in my head kept me fresh.
‘No. We’re on a university trip, our intention is to visit the places and learn,’ she sounded so sure and then she yawned, covering her mouth with her right palm.
‘But we mingle with the boys a lot. We ate together, we teased them. I even pinched, punched and kicked them sometimes. All those touching, skin to skin…. Don’t you think that’s sinful?’ I have to admit, I was still very much a tomboy when I was 20. I always felt more comfortable with boys; I treated them like my own brothers.
‘I understand what you mean, but can we go to sleep? My brain is not really functioning now,’ my friend was dozing off already. I kept quite and made a mental note to ask my father the same question later.
Once the trip was over, I went to my hometown and popped the question to my father after dinner. Although my father didn’t carry the pious man look, he read a lot. I knew he discussed about Islam with his pious friends. He was the type that will debate and present all the dalil aqli and naqli he knew to support his stand. When I asked him about jama’ and qasar prayers, he was quite for a moment.
‘Put it this way, lah,’ he said while adjusting his glasses. ‘Whenever you have doubt, then don’t.’ I gave him the ‘I-seriously-don’t-get-what-you-mean’ stare.
‘It’s just like when you’ve taken ablution, then you go do some chores like running to the kitchen to turn off the gas stove. When you’re back in your room and started donning your telekung, you suddenly thought that you farted while running just now.
But you’re not really sure whether you really farted; you’re in a doubt. So, in cases like this, you have to take ablution again as it was considered invalidated.’
‘Oh, okay,’ I was starting to understand the concept of doubts in Muslim ibadah.
‘That is why; we have to learn Islam from pious and knowledgeable Muslim. He could be a teacher, a scholar or a well known Ustaz who regularly lead the Yaasin recital at the mosque. But we can’t just learn from books, CDs or TV.’ He started explaining on more things I found rather difficult to follow.
‘Why is that?’ I asked, refusing to use my own logic.
‘You’ll have countless doubts when you only study about Islam from books, CDs or TV. Those mediums are not interactive, how are you going to ask questions when you don’t understand something? In the end you’ll have continuous doubts in your daily ibadah and you’ll misinterpret so many facts about the religion.’ He gave a long explanation.
I had to agree with my father. I learned a lot about Islam from him. He knew the best way of explaining Islam to a rebellious tomboy teenage daughter. When he passed away in June 1996, I was saddened for losing a friend, teacher and role model. He was one of the man with whom I could have serious, intellectual conversations.
Back to the jama’ qasar story, when I was sure I understood the whole concept, I got confused again. There was Mawi’s concert in Kelantan, where they only have males performing at the event; spectators are segregated into two groups: male and female, sitting separately. The songs were all related to spiritual and religious. If I travel from KL to KB with my family to watch the concert, can I perform jama’ qasar prayers? Considering there's no maksiat elements involved there, I think I can. But it's still a concert, I'm not really sure I can combine and shorten my prayers throughout the journey. Oh I need a pious and knowledgeable religious teacher.