Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Essence of Ikhlas and Sincerity - All's Well that Ends Well

IKHLAS. ‘Ikhlas’ is originally an Arabic word meaning sincerity although there are a some other definitions of the word which are alluded to by writers. In the context of the Malay language it has been adopted to mean sincerity. In the context of the al Quran, there is a surah al-Ikhlas which is often referred to as the TAWHID verse (Verse of Unity) which is one of the greatest verses (Verse No.112) of the book referring to the absolutely utter Uniqueness and Oneness of God.

IKHLAS IN COMMERCE. In my culture however, the word has grown into a non-commercial phrase utilized in commercial contexts. In the olden days, and still occurring now, some transaction between us are still established on the basis of Ikhlas. For example, there may be a village ustaz (religious teacher) who teaches the reading of the Al-Quran to the village kids, and sometimes, when the parents were to ask the ustaz how much is his teaching fee, the ustaz would say, “Ikhlas sahaja, encik…” meaning – "with honesty, sir, how much do you wish to give me in good grace and absolute sincerity?” In the uncertain economic climate of a village (and indeed now, a city), this method of fixing the price of his teaching helps especially the poor, who can only give a certain amount, which doesn’t correlate with the parent’s own idea of how the true value of his teaching – because really, it is difficult to fix value upon the priceless knowledge of being able to recite the holy scriptures. It is a beautiful arrangement, and an honourable proposition, allowing both parties to maintain their face and most importantly, allowing children of the poor the opportunity to learn to read the holy book. Apart from Quran lessons, I have also experienced it being used to quantify pricing of traditional massages, healing and herbal concoctions, and also in one-off transactions which sometimes occur, say when you want to reward a passer-by who helped you to change your flat tyre.

THE ESSENCE OF THE IKHLAS PROPOSITION. The Ikhlas method is commonly used not just in traditional transactions, but sometimes in the highest level of commercial and corporate transaction. And this is the reason why – Because assuming you are the service provider, and the client queries you how much he should pay, when you say, “Ikhlas apa you nak kasi…” (With sincerity, just give me what you think I deserve) to the client, you are in fact placing a high level of respect to him. You are making the assumption that he has a clear grasp of the value of your service, and if the amount is much smaller than you anticipated, you cannot without losing your self-respect, protest and ask for a higher sum. Indeed, if you DO protest, it would indicate that you yourself are not so totally ikhlas and sincere in making the proposition to him.

SERIOUSLY? THAT IS YOUR LEVEL OF SINCERITY? My friend recently was caught in such a dilemma with a client. In my estimation, he was only compensated 2% of the market value of his services to a client, and this already being discounted because the client was his friend. When we met, my friend was literally fuming with indignation and disappointment and I too felt the same way.

IKHLAS ISN’T SO EASY AFTER ALL. So you see, the test of sincerity in an Ikhlas proposition cuts both ways. If the customer is so callous or ignorant of the value of service rendered by my friend, he fails. And my friend too in a way failed, because his sincere proposal to the customer to just name his fee was accompanied with unspoken expectations. I say ‘in a way failed’ because we do not live in a vacuum of experience and expectations, and I must say that my friend went beyond the call of duty in providing expert and very sincere service to his customer. The service, if the customer wanted to, could have easily been quantified in terms of his profit or escape from losses.

A MECCAN PRAYER ANSWERED. But don’t feel too bad for my friend. This chap is very sincere, and when he accompanied me on my Umrah pilgrimage last March, this was what he asked God in his prayers, “You know, Taufiq” He said. “People ask for all sorts of things when they are here in Mecca. They ask for money, they ask for children, they ask for health and success in their job or business. But this time around (He has been to Mecca many, many times) I asked God simply for Ikhlas. To be able to be sincere with myself, with people around me, and most importantly with God and His Beloved Prophet, Muhammad Habibullah…”

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL. So I guess the episode described above is just one milestone in his journey to becoming Ikhlas and sincere. And as a friend, I am happy he has passed one important station of his path. May God bless him, and may God bless his customer too, without whom this posting wouldn’t even have been realized.

See how things all work out for the better? When you are ikhlas and sincere?

God bless you, sunshine. May you bask in the glory and subtle beauty of Ikhlas-Sincere.

Pax Taufiqa.

Footnote – On this happy ending, I would like to link an old song entitled ‘Ikhlas Tapi Jauh’ (Sincere but Distant) sung by our local stars, Zainal Abidin, Sheila Majid and Zubir Ali. This must have been recorded sometime in the late 80s or early 90s.

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