Monday, 14 June 2010

Imam Syafie: Pejuang Kebenaran

Imam Syafie: Pejuang Kebenaran is history novel by Abdul Latip Talib, also known as Pak Latip. In case you haven't heard of him, Pak Latip is perhaps Malaysia's most prolific history novelist, with a dozen or so titles to date. In fact, history novels are not his only forte. Pak Latip have also written teen novels and poetry.

Imam Syafie is one of the four major scholars of Sunnah wal Jamaah. His ideas and teaching, the Syafie mahzab (denomination), is followed practised by large percentage of Muslims including the Muslims here in Malaysia and South East Asia (myself included). Since I'm not knowledgeably qualified to discuss the merits of each of the four mahzabs, I will avoid from commenting on it.

It's also noteworthy that Pak Latip has also wrote novels on all the other three scholars, namely Imam Malik, Imam Hambali and Imam Hanafi. I think it's best that I start with my own Imam.

As a novel, I think this book is an excellent introduction to life and times of Imam Syafie. Pak Latip's style of writing brings to life much of the events in Imam Syafie's life. The idea of history novels is to make readers feel that they witnessing the events as if they are there as it happens. I could picture myself in the room as Imam Syafie's mother discusses with his younger self about sending him to study in Madinah, although I do feel a bit like I'm spying in on a very private family moment.

Born into a very financially adverse condition, Imam Syafie's path as a scholar was envisioned by his parents even before he was born. His father passed away shortly before his birth. Imam Syafie and his mother Ummu Habibah al-Uzdiyyah had to return to Makkah, his parent's place of origin. Nobody would anticipate that the move would make it possible for a young boy from a poor, single-parent family to pursue an education. Living close to Masjidil Haram allowed young Imam Syafie to follow the lectures given by the Syeikhs there. Just think that there could many other poor young boys at that time, perhaps even as intelligent as Imam Syafie, who are obstructed from being educated because of their family could not afford it.

The issue of economy and education was one of the assignments my lecturer gave me recently. It was clearly a broad topic. I had no idea where to begin. I did some reading and wrote a short paper on it. I did not get the marks that I hoped for, but I did learn a lot. I also missed a very important point that my lecturer was trying to make, which is education is always dependent on the economic situation.

I tried to argue that it's supposed to be the other way around, but the more I ponder the more I realise that his point has more truth to it. Imam Syafie almost missed out on education because his family was poor.

Can we solve the problem by opening up education for all? Developed countries like the U.K. have tried with the hope of empowering its society and workforce. They succeeded, but they also ran into an unexpected problem.

The increasing enrolment in learning institutions and reliance on academic qualifications did not match with growth of the the job market. There are more Bachelor degree holders than jobs that require Bachelor degree. As a result, the qualification requirement was raised. A job that originally asks for a Bachelor degree now requires a postgraduate Master degree. The Bachelor degree has now become less valueable. This phenomena known as “academic inflation” is not only afflicting the U.K. but also developing countries and many industries all over the world.

Academic inflation is subject from another book, so let me return to this one. I believe this is a very commendable effort by Pak Latif, educating readers about one of the most important and respected scholars of Islam. The history novel approach makes the subject very accessible for many readers including teens. I suppose it's comparable to watching a biopic film, as opposed to watching a documentary. Like any form of storytelling, dramatisation is added to make the story engaging and relatable to the reader.

The strength of history novels is also its weakness. Dramatisation can alter facts and sequences of events that occurred in favour of making the story interesting. Certain details such as the weather, time of day, personal actions and speech (especially self-reflection) can be disputed. After all, who can really say what goes on in other people's head, alive or dead?

But, no matter. History novel and history books are two different horses of the same stable. Both capable of transporting their readers to new places of discovery. I recommend readers of historical novels including myself to continue our journey with history books, to unravel history as it is as best as possible documented; to ponder, compare, critique and most importantly to learn the lessons therein. As matter of fact Pak Latip's history novels are based on history books, not simply other history novels.

As a history novelist, Pak Latif has opened the door for us. As a history student, he is inviting us to come in.


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