Halal Money and Rezeki

I have been going for regular tennis coaching for almost a year now.

My tennis coach is Iranian, Coach Saeed. I call him Coach. He was formerly a national youth tennis coach.

He has a few assistant tennis coaches. One that I work often with is also an Iranian. His name is Omid.

When I started working with Coach almost a year back, all I had in my mind was for a few tweaks and then to be on my way. At our first lesson, after half a basket of balls, he calls me from across the net. I walked up to him there.

‘When is the last time you took a lesson?’

‘Uhm. Probably when I was eighteen, nineteen. Why ah?’

‘Ah okay. How old are you, Mr Fahri?’

‘Forty-five.’

‘I see. Yes, we have some work to do with your stroke.’

I was worried. I wasn’t looking for a long-term relationship; just a short intense affair. But he had a way of putting things. I later discovered that was his charm.

‘Oh. What seems to be the problem, Coach?’

‘You are forty-five years old trying to hit like eighteen-year-old.’

Ouch. I met with Ms Humility plenty quick.

‘You must use a stroke suited to your body now, Mr Fahri. It is no point you go against your body. You just hurt yourself. What I can do is help you hit very good for forty-five-year-old and beyond.’

That was fair, which is why I have been with him for over a year now. His coaching sessions are one of my favourite things about the week. I hope to be coached by him as long as he remains in Malaysia because he tells me he is is going to leave for greener pastures soon.

At the start he told me, ‘Mr Fahri, you have to be patient. You will not see improvements in a month or three months. You will also not see it if you don’t take it seriously. What I will do is systematically improve your strokes. We will go little by little. Maybe not so much your backhand. Don’t worry. You give me one year, I will help improve everything. Trust me and follow my instruction and you will see. Oh, and you need to improve your fitness also.’

I took up the challenge. Got serious. Got fitter. Relatively, of course. Attended my sessions every week as often as I could. Gave a hundred and ten every time. Chased down every ball, even the ones that were out, even the ones just out of reach, even the ones beyond me. I felt like I was eighteen again, although I’m sure I looked like a deluded forty-five. I learned the mechanics of my stroke. Listened carefully to his coaching instructions. And executed every instruction given to me as best I could:

Racket in front of body. Little lean forward. On front feet. Keep racket head up at chest level. Inhale. Once ball leaves racket from the other side, short bounce on feet, shoulder turn. Keep the backswing small. Then move. Big steps to small steps. Breathe. Get behind the ball early. Tempo. Turn shoulders. Keep arm straight and in front. Follow through with hips. More spin. More spin. Go for the upper window at the net, don’t skim it. Exhale through the stroke.

After about ten months in, during a coaching session, after a particularly gruelling hit with Omid, I called time out and panted my guts out on the way to the tired-looking wooden bench beside the court to hydrate myself and recover. On the way there, I saw Omid run-up to Coach excitedly. They talked animatedly to each other, laughed, high-fived then resumed their avid discussion as they strolled to their bench, the coaches bench.

After I recovered my breath, I went over to them.

“Coach, what was all the laughing and high-fiving just now?”

“Oh! Omid said I really make halal money!” he said with a big smile then laughed.

“Yes, I told Coach you have really, really improved since you first came. Today I feel it. Deep shots, so many on the baseline. A lot of spin. Your shots were difficult to take. So I told Coach you really make someone improve. The money he earns is halal. I see it.”

“Oh, that’s interesting.” That was true for me too. That morning, I felt I had moved up a plateau in my game and technique. So I thought it was interesting to hear him say he could feel the improvement.

“You see, Mr Fahri, I only earn halal money. If you give me money, I must give you back something back. For me as a coach, if you don’t improve, then the money you give me, is not halal. I also say halal because I said one year but it is only ten months, and you reached where I want you to be. That is why, Mr Fahri, I am fussy about my students. I only take those serious about their tennis. I don’t like it if you come here, don’t pay attention, don’t take it seriously. That ruins my energy. I don’t like to earn money from that. I prefer to earn halal money. That’s why I only want to work with people with good energy and attitude.”

I found the whole discussion sobering and refreshing. It’s been a long time since I have heard anyone in Malaysia talk about halal money, never mind earning it. The irony of it was that I was hearing it from a foreigner.

In Malaysia, there’s always talk about halal food, halal skincare products, halal loans, halal financing, halal produce, halal restaurants, halal this, halal that.

But the one thing I don’t hear any talk about is halal money and how to earn halal money.

To Coach halal money is money earned by giving or doing something meaningful to or for someone else. My parents taught me that halal money is doing an honest day’s worth of honest work. Tomaytoes, Tomahtoes.

What I find of concern but unsurprising is how our society doesn’t talk about halal money. The corollary of that is there is no discussion about what is haram money. There also seems to be no sense of shame among Malay Muslim leaders that Malaysia is known to be a corrupt country despite touting its Islamic-ness.

I think we can all agree – both Muslims and non-Muslims alike – that a good Muslim won’t take corrupt money or involve himself in corrupt dealings. Just as we would expect of a pious and good Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and so on. Generally, good people don’t engage in acts like that. And one doesn’t need to be pious to be good.

I think we can also agree that earnings from corrupt acts, breach of trust, theft, cheating, etc. are not halal money.

And yet there it is.

It happens. It continues to happen. We read, hear and watch about the unending instances of corruption. At the highest levels. But those are only a fraction of the pile. It happens at all levels, anywhere, anytime. We can feel the potential for it cackle in the air. Public or private, there is little if no distinction. Somebody is always having to pay someone for something. It feels omni-pervasive.

I think a reason that facilitates corruption is language. And one word that facilitates that is the word rezeki. The proverb Rezeki jangan ditolak, Musuh jangan dicari (Don’t refuse fortune, Don’t look for enemies) provides a cultural footing for it. These days I only hear the front part, Rezeki jangan ditolak; rarely, the rest of it.

And now rezeki is used to describe any kind of fortune on the part of the recipient without any moral or ethical consideration of how that fortune or opportunity came to be. Rezeki is used to excuse or justify the taking of bribes, projects, favours, cars, women, and a whole lot of things that are not halal or outright haram. Rezeki is the Abracadabra to the cavern of corruption.

A consideration of rezeki‘s definition will provide clues.

Ar 1. segala sesuatu yg dikurniakan oleh Allah utk keperluan rohani dan jasmani, mis makanan, ilmu dsb; ada nyawa (umur) ada ~ selama masih hidup tentu mendapat makanan; itu bukan ~ saya itu bukan utk saya (makanan dll); memberi ~ a) memberi makanan (nafkah); b) membawa keuntungan (kemujuran); 2. ki pendapatan, penghasilan, pencarian (wang dll utk sara hidup); ke­hilangan ~ kehilangan mata pencarian; men­cari ~ mencari makan, mencari peng­hidupan (dgn berusaha dll); mendapat ~ a) mendapat makanan (penghidupan dll); b) mendapat untung (laba), mujur; putus ~ kehilangan pencarian; 3. peluang utk beroleh makanan dll, keuntungan, perolehan; bukan ~ bukan habuan (untung) seseorang;

Kamus Dewan Isi Keempat

According to the Kamus Dewan Isi Keempat, the Malaysian authority on Bahasa Malaysia, there are three shades of meaning to the word rezeki.

The first defines it as blessings from Allah for our body and soul. which includes food, knowledge, and nature. Things that benefit us personally. Whatever comes under this definition must by definition, be halal. It is an Islamic logical impossibility that Allah would bless someone with something haram.

The second defines it as income, earnings, fortune.

The third defines it as the opportunity to receive a benefit or some fortune. It refers to rezeki as opportunities for profit or acquisition.

These definitions refer to the practical and earthier dimension of the word rezeki. There is no halal/haram requirement to the latter two definitions.

This is why the word rezeki is so useful and appealing. On the one hand, it refers to sacred matters, yet on the other, it refers to matters of sustenance. One word holds two meanings that can be easily conflated. How that conflation happens is down to our respective degrees of intellectual honesty and moral compass bearing.

I reckon the conflation goes two ways.

The positive conflation is where matters of sustenance are intertwined with the sacred so whatever form of sustenance must be in accordance with sacred requirements i.e. halal.

The negative conflation soils the sacred with ‘sustenance’. It happens this way: First, bribes, the fruits of corruption, breach of trust, theft, etc. are received as rezeki as income/fortune or opportunity for profit as found in the second and third definitions. After the haram thing is received the meaning of rezeki switches to the first definition. Now, this haram thing received becomes a blessing from Allah that is good for our body and spirit, which we have to be grateful for (bersyukur).

Those that are postively conflated are genuine and sincere about honest work for honest effort. The negatively conflated are not. They must engage in intellectual dishonesty and mental gymnastics to square the fact that they are Muslim yet taking something they know to be haram.

My sense of it is the negative conflation of rezeki is pervasive in our society. Whenever I hear that word being bandied about, my first instinct is that something corrupt is going down. I may change my mind later. Or be proven right. The word has become defence and excuse for the receipt of immoral fortune and opportunities.

I think to bring to a halt further defilement and to rehabilitate the word, we should always use the word rezeki with the word halal. Rezeki halal. We should keep them together to serve as a reminder that there should only be one kind of rezeki. Rezeki halal. I know it won’t solve the problem but at least it heightens cognitive dissonance when the word is used as a cover for haram money.

And if the word rezeki should arise often in a discussion, we should perhaps inquire of the person using the word whether that rezeki is halal. Those that are halal have no problems talking about it. Those that are not will get offended. But it doesn’t matter either way.

The answer is not important. Neither whether they answer or not.

It is the immediate reaction that’s important.

That would tell us enough of what we need to know about what kind of rezeki it was.

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