He is a close childhood friend – Lim Wei Choon. We go way back from the time when we were in our formative years until we graduated from secondary school. However, as fate would have it, we parted ways soon after completing our SPM. I advanced to Form 6 while Lim pursued his studies in the United States. Despite being separated by circumstance, it is impossible to leave behind tons of memories shared as we grew into our teens.
Traveling down memory lane, Lim would visit our family house every ‘Eidul-Fitri’ without fail, especially not to miss out on savoring his favorite ‘Dodol’ made by my late father. At times, he would even partake keenly in ceremonial events held at our house. As much as I enjoyed Lim’s affable visits, for a legitimate reason however, I was not quite as reciprocal. With a few exceptions of birthdays and ‘Chinese New Year’ celebrations, my fear of Lim’s family pet dog, unfortunately, had dissuaded me from being a frequent patron at his home.
Nonetheless, at school, we were points of reference for each other, particularly on our subjects of expertise. Lim – Mathematics. Me – Bahasa Malaysia. Together, we sailed through many adventures; fishing, swimming in cascade, skipping out school just to watch a ‘break-dance’ competition, among others. Bonds were gradually formed, intertwined between the innocence and curiosity of our young minds. A warm reminiscence, that skin color and religious differences was never a barrier to our friendship.
Twenty years passed. I got to know from his sister, while pursuing his career abroad, that Lim had eventually acquired a ‘Green Card’ and became a permanent resident in the United Sates. Apart from the geographical distance, lack of technological means had also played a role in making regular communication between us, that more difficult. Back in those days, internet, e-mails or mobile phones were unheard of and we were not really into writing letters between male friends. Initially, there were occasional postcards as a way of keeping tabs, but as time elapsed, we had since lost contact entirely.
The shocking news was brought about by Lim’s sister one morning, at a local wet market, who found me by sheer accident on an otherwise mundane day. She told me Lim’s returning back to Malaysia. To my absolute astonishment, I was also notified that his name is no longer Lim Wei Choon, but has been ‘Ahmad Zulfakar Lim Abdullah’ ever since 5 years ago. SubhanAllah! Praise and Glory to Allah – What unexpected happiness to find out that my long lost childhood friend had embraced Islam. I was beyond thrilled and simply could not wait to meet him up again, more so now that he is one of the ‘brothers’.
The much anticipated day finally arrived. There was a small celebration at his family house to commemorate his home-coming. It was already evening when I turned up and guests had quietly dissipated.
“Assalamu’alaikum…” His first sentence rolled out of his lips.
There was an unspoken air of difference about him. He looked different. He looked somewhat mellowed and… serene. Assured by the facts and no sooner had I replied his salaam, tears were streaming down our cheeks and we were hugging as though we were lovers who have been too long apart.
“They’ve been friends for a very long time, these two. Way back since they were just little boys.” Lim’s mother interjected, in an attempt to convincingly explain our poignant reunion and emotional display among the remaining guests. I supposed I was too overwhelmed with joy and gratitude for Lim’s submission to Islam… that the tears were a natural physiological expression of what mere words could not possibly describe.
Still reeling from raw emotions, Lim ushered me to a nearby swing in the courtyard of his home so we could hold a more private conversation. The distance and the miles were irrelevant, so did the time Lim spent away from home – his strong command of the Malay language is an obvious testament of that.
“Talha, am I not your best friend?”
“Sure, why do you even need to ask?”
“If you truly meant that, why did you let me suffer?”
“I do not understand. Suffer? What do you mean, Lim?”
“Why don’t you ponder for a moment? We’ve known each other for ages. Your home is just like my second home. But has it ever come across your mind to educate me about the beauty of Islam? Why that I had to be thousands of miles away… in order to discover it? Why not here, in Malaysia – an Islamic country? Don’t you find it ironic, that I became a Muslim at the hands of a former Christian minister?”
I was stunned and rendered speechless. Lim completely caught me off-guard. For a moment of apprehensive silence, he continued.
“If you are truly my best friend, why do you intend only to treat me well in this temporary world? Don’t you even care where I would end up in the hereafter? You actually have the heart to watch your friend suffer in hell?”
“You know, if I have not found Islam and I died in vain, I’d hold every Malay Muslims in our neighborhood accountable. For not reaching out when you are all the forefront ambassadors in spreading the message of Islam. Enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil. You can see around us the effects of inaction, especially to those who are close to you.”
“Do you realize how privileged and blessed you are to be born in a Muslim family? Do you comprehend that Islam is meant for all humankind – not just a religion for an elite few? As Muslims, you are here to present the real, true, good Islam. The Qur’an asks us to join together in this mutual teaching, outreaching to other people who are not born Muslims, like I was.”
With an impassive gaze, my head hunched down, out of pure shame.
An important matter for Muslims to realize is that da’wah is an obligation upon them, as successors of the Prophet of Islam (SAW) righteous message. But from what I observed, the Malay community is seriously lacking in the spirit of ‘jihad’ and the drive to call out people to Islam. How will Allah’s help arrive when the community does not help in Allah’s cause?
I’m not trying to be self-conceited but I feel a deep sense of regret. We have to fittingly express gratitude for the blessings of Islam and Iman as calling people to Allah also means completing our own worship, the reason for which we are created. It is one of the noblest acts that entail a high reward. And further, it is not befitting to call the non-muslims as ‘kufr’ because ‘kufr’ means disobey; unless if you have first fulfilled your responsibilities with knowledge, seriousness and wisdom, but still, they turn away from your call.
I am profoundly mortified with everything that Lim had said to me. It was the cold, hard truth – a reality that had not crossed my mind as I got busy only trying to improve myself. I got blurred in my ultimate vision as one of Allah’s caliphs. Now it brightly dawned on me that calling to the message of Islam is not a choice, but an obligation. If you strive to serve Allah’s religion, Allah, in turn, will help you in this world and in the hereafter. In other words, Allah is the helper of those who work for the cause of Him. He multiplies His rewards in return for His slave’s little efforts.
Later that evening, my spirit renewed. I am committed to be a da’iyaa. Lim, a recent Muslim for only 5 years, had converted more than 20 non-believers including his own brother. Why am I, a Muslim of 40 years (am I really?) has not presented the truth about Islam to even a single non-believer?
May Allah forgive me for I have limited capacity to fully appreciate the extent of His blessings on one who is born into faith and Islam.
*This article is an English translation of ‘Aku, Lim dan Islam’. Original article by taalidi@arjunasetia. Translated by NurJeehan.