2020 – The Dark Times, or the Enlightenment?


The year 2020 has ended. Many things happened throughout the year that can be taken as lessons and, for some, they can be the gate to a prosperous meaning of the purpose of life as a human on earth. In this post, I share a few of my pondering notes to you to three aspects: 1) early 2020 year; 2) the middle of the 2020 year; and 3) the end of 2020. I used to write reflective posts at the end of 2018. This time, I share what is more than just reflective notes. A few social conditions and facts are shared in this post to illustrate the whole point of the conflicting views: The Dark Times or The Enlightenment? Names of people and places are just coincident.

Perhaps, you might notice that this post might sound a bit personal because it is constructed from my experience, but I think that it might not be that bad to share with the world. For the many people out there, I hope that this post might be useful for you. I am a human just like you. It feels good to share with the whole world about our accomplishments, but it is also useful for the world to know about failure after being mistreated.

Early 2020: the Beginning of the Mysterious Year

In the early year of 2020, or on the last day of 2019, I posted Reflections from 2019 in my blog (see in this link: https://syayidss.com/2020/01/18/reflections-from-2019-the-sparkling-notes/). In that post, I shared a few reflective Notes on Life (Family, Friends), Notes on Work, Notes on Social Media, Notes on Arts, Notes on Religion and Faith (Islam – Leveling Up the Faith), and Notes on the World (Expectations & No Expectations). After I lived my life in 2020 year, I would assume that my statement:

I welcome you 2020 and hopefully, the big thing will come soon 

If you paid attention to the phrase: the big thing, then you will notice that there is a code there. I started it with the word: hopefully. The sentence means that I was in the middle of something and wishing that the good thing would come out of it. Unfortunately, what I wished for finally did not happen, and in the end, the superpower of the universe, Allah SWT, seemed to give no permission for the big thing to happen to me. I wished that the big thing was to work and serve my country in a better place.

When things happened beyond our control and logical mind, we might end up being confused. You started to ask questions to yourself, “How could that happen?” When we used to live our lives in a decent lifestyle, we used to think that everything is fine. The life-routine goes like this way. You went to work early in the morning. At noon, you were so busy at work, until you had lunch with meals that you brought with you from home. Occasionally, you had that small chit chat with your colleagues at work. In the afternoon, you paid a visit to see your mother and father have a nice conversation with you, including your siblings. After the sunset, right after the Maghrib prayer, you went back home to see your spouse and child and have a delicious dinner. All were so beautiful, until that day…somewhere in March 2020.

In March 2020, I joined a national test for governmental officials (ASN) selection. I preferred the Ministry of Religious Affairs to be serving as a faculty in an Islamic university in Padang city. The registration procedure was open in November 2019. The additional reason why I joined the test was to help the college where I worked. The pandemic Covid-19 situation was said a condition impacting the college financially. It turned out that it was a silly thing of me to hear such a whisper and trusted it. My intention was to help their condition, in hope that there would be no other bad thing happening. I trusted them that they would keep their words: that nothing would happen to my work status if I registered for the national test to become an ASN – an Indonesian government employee. At least, that was what I heard from the college rulers. Unfortunately, I obtained the second position for the candidates of ASN, and that leads me to, eventually, fail to be accepted as a worker at one of the Islamic universities in Padang. When I searched for information about who passed the test as number one, I found out that the person graduated in 2019. “Still young and a fresh graduate”, I thought. Perhaps, it was a good fortune for the person. I might have been thought that my experience as a lecturer for almost ten years might benefit me to gain that position. “Well, there must be a better position for me, then…Perhaps, working as an ASN isn’t my destiny at the moment”, I said to myself in a sigh.

Deciding to come back to the old college might seem to be a ridiculous idea. The rulers gave me opportunities to decide: remain working in the college with all limited rights on a monthly payment, reduced for about 50%, or applying for the ASN. The first might sound fine, but then I was told that they could not be able to give any more payment. Then, which option I had to take? The latter. It was risky, but I took the challenge, just because I trusted them. The condition was that it was not in certainty yet. For better for worst, I applied to work as ASN, to help the rulers. Today, I realize that I was fooled. I realize that it was the rulers’ intention to make me go, to be far away from doing what I love the most to do as a scholar: learning, teaching, and writing. Since June 2020, I never came back to college. Allah SWT, God of the Almighty, knows exactly the details and why…

Of course, I would not share too many details about the above experience in this post. Some of my blog readers are friends, while perhaps, some readers are the fault seeker: always finding statements that can be reported to give trouble to the statement maker. However, one thing that I certainly notice was that having money is a luxury, but having no money is misery. In the year 2020, I would call it a mysterious year. As a Muslim myself and I practice it on daily basis here in Indonesia, I realized that the only thing that can destroy human life is humans themselves: that is between them. The only thing that can help humans is humans themselves. We certainly can help ourselves, but in some conditions, we need to help each other. God, or Allah SWT, has never made any mistakes in the universe, but human does. It was not God’s mistake to let me be in this misery. It was actually my fault: to believe in humans who were unworthy of being believed. I asked myself. Have you considered that the bad thing that happened in your life was because of yourself? Have you ever pondered deeply in your mind that you had done the very best thing you could, still, bad things still happen in your life?

My answers would be two items: 1) bad things happened because of the decision of yourself; 2) bad things happened to you because Allah SWT wants to test you and your patience in life through conditions beyond your control.

Sounds religious? It does. Patience is felt heavy in the heart for the first time. You were born alone, and you will die alone, too. In life, we live together. That’s how life works.

Photo by Ali Arapou011flu on Pexels.com

Throughout the year 2020, I had left the job, although, in fact, the drama taking place in the job among the rulers made me seen and regarded as if it was me who decided to leave. In such a horrible situation, especially in the middle of the Covid-19 situation impacting almost everyone in different countries, I opened the Al-Qur’an. Searching for an answer. Where would I have to find an answer, then, as a Muslim? The following verses were what I found. Reading the verses calmed me down, so I could survive facing all the miserable conflict happening throughout the year 2020.

The first verse is about the meaning of surrender to Allah SWT.

Dan barangsiapa berserah diri kepada Allah, sedang dia orang yang berbuat kebaikan, maka sesungguhnya dia telah berpegang kepada buhul (tali) yang kokoh. Hanya kepada Allah kesudahan segala urusan

Al-Qur’an, Luqman: 22

Just as an illustrative point, I really knew exactly what it felt like after studying hard to answer the questions in the examination of a course in your school, you only ended up being in the second place. The first place went to the son of your school teacher. Have you experienced this? I had. Does it happen within your control? It did not. There are things that cannot be controlled within your capability, although you did your best.

In 2020, I felt that it was the year to surrender to the Will of Allah SWT. We know pretty sure when we do good deeds and we applied kindness to everyone around us without asking anything in return from the people that we helped. I still hold it tight: the rope to Allah SWT. As the verse said, all matters will be rest and decided by Him, so I surrender everything to the Willingness of Allah SWT. My tasks would be doing the best I could in life: to be the best version of myself and to be a human who worships Allah SWT, just like many other religious followers who worship their God. This consciousness is what I know as Hablumminallah. As the connection to God, I believe that Allah SWT never does any harm to humans. It is the human themselves who break out the natural ruling system.

Between humans, I know the term: Habluminannaas. It means that humans build a peaceful social life among themselves. There might be situations or conditions where we are treated in an unfair situation, or that we were considered as outsiders just because we are so active in giving opinions or judgments over social issues. We did that, simply, because we care. It turned out that we had been treated unlawfully. You may take what happened to me during this 2020 year as an example. The following quote is simple, but it means a lot, in this matter.

Hanya dua sikapmu untuk yang menjahatimu: 1) Abaikan; 2) Maafkan, lalu abaikan

Mario Teguh

Mario Teguh said that we had two feedback to be given when we were mistreated by others: either we ignore what happened and move forward, or we can forgive what they did, ignore what happened, and move forward. Going back to the verse above, Luqman : 22, then it is a wiser idea to just let it go: ignore what happened and move forward. Forgive? I give it the rest to Allah SWT, as the Best Decision Maker. As a human, I already forgave them. What had happened, happened. There is nothing we could change about it. The best attitude to give when mistreatment given to us is to forgive and let it go. It happened, and Allah SWT knows. However, when circumstances deal with laws and crimes that had been mistreated to us, perhaps, the story might be a little bit different. You tried to speak and tell the truth to the government. Once you did it, let all the rest belongs to Allah SWT. All matters will be His, as the God of all the Most Fairest of all.

The Middle of 2020: the Dark Times … or the Enlightenment?

As many Muslims in the world believe, life itself consists of two realms: 1) this worldly life at present; 2) the life of the hereafter after Judgment Day. As I pondered myself, after a few years back with tremendous access to accomplishments and travels to many different places, I then realized that the purpose of life is not the life itself. The purpose of life is what we get after this life because this life ends with death, one day. Death is a certain phenomenon. The logic of humans is to compete on this only one and shared planet. Well, if everything is done with such an honest attitude, I would not mind at all to compete. When I know that winners could win in competition by cheating with the jurors, bribing them, or paying the judge in court, for example, competing is just a fairy tale. You actually win, but you are not going to be the winner. Most of them think that those who could control everyone and master the economic power will rule the inhabitants on earth. To my surprise, Al-Qur’an teaches how to live life in balance between the World and the goal for the Hereafter.

The following verse speaks to me clearly about how important it is to be balance in life.

Barangsiapa menghendaki kehidupan sekarang (duniawi), maka Kami segerakan baginya di (dunia) ini apa yang Kami kehendaki bagi orang yang Kami kehendaki. Kemudian Kami sediakan baginya (di akhirat) neraka Jahannam; dia akan memasukinya dalam keadaan tercela dan terusir (18) Dan barangsiapa menghendaki kehidupan akhirat dan berusaha ke arah itu dengan sungguh-sungguh, sedangkan dia beriman, maka mereka itulah orang yang usahanya dibalas dengan baik (19). Kepada masing-masing (golongan) baik (golongan) ini (yang menginginkan dunia) maupun (golongan) itu (yang menginginkan akhirat) Kami berikan bantuan dari kemurahan Tuhanmu. Dan kemurahan Tuhanmu tidak dapat dihalangi (20). Perhatikanlah bagaimana Kami melebihkan sebagian mereka atas sebagian (yang lain), Dan kehidupan akhirat lebih tinggi derajatnya dan lebih besar keutamaannya (21). Janganlah engkau mengadakan Tuhan yang lain di samping Allah, nanti engkau menjadi tercela dan terhina (22)

Al-Qur’an, Al-Isra: 18-22

Allah SWT seems like proclaiming that those, humans, who want the prosperous life on earth and in this world, they can get it, if Allah SWT permits, they will gain more (Muslims and non-Muslims alike), but there is no chance for them to enter Heaven at all in the Hereafter (Muslims and non-Muslims alike). Humans who change or subsidize their destiny to be in Heaven to material life in the world will enter Hell easily. About the material life in this world, or being rich, is indeed the destiny given by Allah SWT for whom He wills (Muslims and non-Muslims alike). If He wills, a human can be rich, even with small businesses. Even if a human did their best to be rich with all he could if Allah SWT does not permit that, then being wealthy in this material world will not happen. However, as a reward, if the people who do not get this worldly life are patience, then they will get theirs in the Hereafter, in the form of Heaven. The best prayer, indeed, is that we wish that we receive enough needs in this worldly life and we enter Heaven with such a feeling of fulfillment. At this point, it makes sense, to me.

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I also try to remind friends of mine that the phrase of worldly life is like a trap. Islamic preachers, or ustadz, such as Aa Gym, Adi Hidayat, Abdul Somad, Basalamah brothers, Ali Jabber, and many others, such as Yusuf Estes, Ahmad Deedat, Zakir Naik, taught that the purpose of life of Muslims in this world is to live their life peacefully, to connect what is in this world of what they do intentionally to what they would reach in the Hereafter. If they do good in Life, they will earn well in the Hereafter. If humans focus merely on the worldly life, then they would slip off into the act of corruption, collusion, and nepotism. For this aspect, it has nothing to do with religion. If the purpose of life of humans is simply being wealthy, then what is the use of the wealth itself after we gain it? Well, if one day, I am wealthy, I will use the wealthiness to create a greater good. We should start with protecting ourselves first, then we could save others around us, but what does it mean with the word enough? The more money I have, the more responsibility that Allah SWT will ask me on Judgment Day about where I obtained the money and to what purposes I spent it. My question is that what does it mean to you the enough of the worldly life? So far, I only received income from monthly salaries and functional support payments before May 2020. Starting in June 2020, I did not receive any income. To this day, I certainly believe that all financial income that I received from the first time I worked to this day are from trustworthy sources. I worked and I got paid. I did not intend to earn more by cheating or doing any corruption. All money I have is pure and clean. No wonder, I do not have a house of my own or a car I could drive. I still have the same old motorbike that I purchased in 2010. Does not mean to be thankful, tho’, well, indeed, I am thankful for what Allah SWT has given to me. I just do not want to be greedy, that’s all.

If I could be so selfish to myself, with all of the financial income that I received in the past ten years as an English lecturer in Indonesia, including with my savings when I received the Fulbright scholarship award or payments from many sources, such as being an invited speaker in many international conferences or seminars, I might have been able to purchase a delicate car for myself or build a house on my style. However, I decided not to be that selfish. How would it be like if I enjoy myself with the luxury of life that I could achieve, while my mom-and-dad live their life in such a miserable life for having less financial abilities? I spent a few of my savings for my siblings’ school fees, helping my mother to pay her electricity bills, helping my father to purchase additional items that he needs, and of course, I gave a few of those to my spouse for a simple living at home, as well as providing necessary needs, such as milk, meals, clothes, and toys. What I purchased for my son, like baby clothes, toys, sometimes, are used by my wife’s sister because she has a daughter. She and her husband did not have a decent life. They live their life below the poverty line. Hopefully, they could be more independent in providing items for their daughter. I might not be able to help that much, or, being used that often since what I have been thorough. Now, I asked myself again. Did I have much money with all that? In numbers, definitely, no. Do I have a priority in life as to where I should spend my money? I, in fact, made use of all of my money to the fullest, not just for me. Should I have to tell this to the world? It’s yours to decide. I just want to be a useful person. Starting in 2020, situations are a bit uneasy …

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Did you see the above picture? Yes. That is the picture of a car. A nice and delicate car. Oh, I wish I could have a beautiful car like that. I know that everyone already has a car back in the United States. In the life setting of Indonesia, to me, having a car is still a luxurious thing to have. Corrupt officials make fortune by cheating. Not many of them, but some do. Living standards are different from one country to another. In Indonesia, a car is a luxury, while in the United States, a car might be purchased even at a lower price, excluding the brand. The gas that might be more expensive compared to the gas in Indonesia. What I did was that I traded my income to feed my family and help them to keep going. In turn, yes, as you could see, I own less for myself to pride everyone. I am poor, as the result. My sister went to a university and I paid for her school fees and transportation costs. I helped my brother with supports for entering a state university in Padang. I remember the following verse in the Al-Qur’an that keeps reminding me of the purpose of life.

Dan barangsiapa buta (hatinya) di dunia ini, maka di akhirat dia akan buta dan tersesat jauh dari jalan (yang benar).

Al:Qur’an, Al-Isra’: 72

Allah SWT says that everyone whose heart is blind in this world, they will go deeply blinder later on in the Hereafter from the real and correct paths to Allah SWT. I pondered about this deeply in this year since June 2020. Will I be able to feed my family and their needs in the year of 2021? I still have a bigger hope. Please do pray for me. It’s a hard trust to be the backbone of your family. I know that you might feel it the same way with me, no matter what your religion or faith is.

Due to the drama and conflict happening in the workplace between the rulers, I became one of the victims, simply because I did not pick any side. June 2020 was the month that I did not receive a monthly payment or salary, and onward to the foreseeable future. In many places in the world, including places in Indonesia, people lost their lives due to the Covid-19 virus, some lost their jobs, and quite a few lost their loved ones. I feel that I am not alone. I lost my job. However, there is something in my observance that I knew pretty well that I had my rights for extra payments, but well, yes, like what the verse said, some humans have blocked their hearts to understand the truth, even though you mentioned the truth wholeheartedly. They put hatred before listening or trying to understand one another. I still believe that humans were not created by God to be that senseless character. It is the thing that corrupts their mind that makes them do such false action. Going back to the verse of Al-Isra: 18-22, is it still alright to hunt this material wealthy, while right in front of your eyes you could see people who did all their can, even neglecting the basic part of human: being true to themselves, just to be wealthy? I agree that it is good to be wealthy, but it is never good to be wealthy if you reached it unlawfully and being wealthy by sacrificing other fellow humans. I may be used as one of the examples of the victims. Some people want to be wealthy, but they sacrifice others to reach what they want. How sad.

Well, some people might decide to be atheists. In my case, to whom will you return when none seems to be trustworthy and lack honesty other than giving your trust to God? It’s okay to depend on yourself, but to be alive in the setting where there is no reachable support system seems pretty tough to face. The biggest mistake I did was to give my trust to people who later on became unworthy of my trust. I was betrayed, and that feels so bitter. This is not about religious belief anything at all. It is about humans themselves. When powers are in the wrong hands, good people may become victims of abusive power. Am I wrong to say this? I believe that leaders are seen from difficult situations, while bosses exist only in the moment of a profitable situation. Right at this point, I surrender everything to the Will of Allah SWT. It is beyond my control to deal with humans’ greediness.

What people did to me will be their responsibility in the Day of Judgment, while the fact of the matter is that the doers and the victims will die at one point in their lives, so why is it so important to sacrifice others for the selfish ego? Just a question to ponder, my friends.

The End of 2020: Between Hopes and Prayers

The day when I wrote this post is Wednesday, December 30, 2020. On Friday, there will be a new day for the 2021 year. I have a bigger hope that circumstances in life will get better. Doing the best we can reflect the actions from us as humans, while the good way to do it is to have prayers. Everyone who believes in the magnificent superpower of the universe, Allah SWT, will enhance their prayers for what might still happen in the future.

I remember this verse in Al-Qur’an:

Ketahuilah, sesungguhnya kehidupan dunia itu hanyalah permainan dan senda gurauan, perhiasan dan saling berbangga di antara kamu serta berlomba dalam kekayaan dan anak keturunan, seperti hujan yang tanam-tanamannya mengagumkan para petani; kemudian (tanaman) itu menjadi kering dan kamu lihat warnanya kuning kemudian menjadi hancur. Dan di akhirat (nanti) ada azab yang keras dan ampunan dari Allah serta keridaan-Nya. Dan kehidupan dunia tidak lain hanyalah kesenangan yang palsu.

Al-Qur’an, Al-Hadid: 20

Such a tremendous statement from Allah SWT that the life of this material world is indeed closer to fake fun of shallow happiness. After I think about it, it reflects my mind about something. Everything we do seems to be repetitive. It does not have to be me as Muslims, but it includes all people of faiths: Christianity, Judaism / Jewish, Hinduism, Buddhism, or even Atheism, all do their life in such repetitive fashion. You woke up in the morning, and sleep at night. You were once a child, now you are old. Eating, having a bath, drinking, peeing, going to the toilet, and working, all are done in a repetitive fashion. One thing that is not being repetitive: Death. I have never seen any dead goat can be alive again after being slaughtered in the name of Allah SWT, for instance. Therefore, the purpose of life is to enter Heaven in the Hereafter. If I decided to put the purpose of my life today, only to be rich and wealthy, then I might end up losing everything if one day I realize that Allah SWT does not want me to be rich and wealthy. However, still, praying to Allah SWT to ease our life and bless us with the wealth of this world and use it to kindness just for the sake of Allah SWT, why not? It is good to be wealthy, but it is even better to use it for helping other fellow humans who are less fortunate, so they can be free from the poverty line.

Photo by Haydan As-soendawy on Pexels.com

In spite of all the life tests and difficulties that I experience throughout the year 2020, I read the following verse:

Sungguh, Allah Mengetahui apa yang gaib di langit dan di bumi. Dan Allah Maha Melihat apa yang kamu kerjakan.

Al-Qur’an, Al-Hujurat: 18

With or without even being known by people for all kindness I did, it did not matter much for people to know it. What matters is what Allah SWT sees from me. People can lie to one another like I told you earlier. Alhamdulillah, throughout the year 2020, I could be a blood donor for PMI Padang three times. I am happy to give more when I have what I can give to the world.

2021: The Year of Forgiveness and Moving Forward

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That is true that at one point in our life that we might be offended, hurt, or betrayed by other fellow humans. People who did treat us bad, in fact, are bad in their nature. In dealing with such disappointments, I read this verse:

Allah Mahalembut terhadap hamba-hamba-Nya; Dia memberi rezeki kepada siapa yang Dia kehendaki; dan Dia Mahakuat, Mahaperkasa

Al-Qur’an, Asy-Syura: 19

Then, to whom shall I rest my needs and rezeki other than to Allah SWT?

I have seen the real fact that humans can cheat and steal people’s rights with the unlawful act. Will these people be set free without being charged for committing crime? That might just happen in the life of humans. Once they reach the end of their life, is it worthy of repentance with all destruction that they had caused? I have learned a lesson that to put my trust in people, or in a famous and influential person for that matter, can sometimes be felt bitter, because somehow, it might be easy to break such trust by them. Breaking trust is indeed wrong in Islam, unless you were trapped, like my experience in 2020.

To close this post, now I sincerely answer the question above, as in the title of this post. The answer is that 2020 is the year of both dark times and enlightenment. I am enlightened that humans need themselves, and they can make their life better by themselves due to Covid-19. They should help one another to have such a delightful way of life. It is the greediness over political power that causes the dark times felt even bitter, more than the pandemic Covid-19. Isn’t that what the news had portrayed?

Hoping for the best in 2021, aamiin, insya Allah. I wish that the 2021 year will be a good year for everyone. Aamiin.

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