In the name of God, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate; blessing and peace be upon Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.
"I have only created Jinns and Men, that they may serve Me." (Zariyat 51:56)
One Sunday morning after 'kuliah subuh' (early morning lesson at masjids), I happened to have the opportunity to discuss 'the meaning of life' with a stranger who from his looks (for example his beard unchecked) made me assumed that he might be 'a thinker or a philosopher'.
Yes, he is 'a thinker by his own standard' because he kept on asking why and why; for example why there is no justice in society and why is that the moral standard of our young generation getting from poor to worst.
In his 'jest' to 'live like a thinker' - always questioning and unhappy about himself and others around him - he jumped from a job to another and nowadays he survived by doing a small business. He said he was happy with this work because 'he was his own-boss as he was free from 'receiving orders from others'.
He claimed to be obsessed 'with thinking' and there were times he felt as though 'his head was about to blow up'. "My mind keep on asking why and why for example lately why more and more Malays had lost confidence that Islam is the answer to all of their problems."
Engaging to 'this self-confessed thinker', I remembered what an 'ustaz' (religious teacher) had told congregators during his 'tazkirah' (lesson) at a masjid near my house recently. He said, in Islam, 'tafakkur' (doing reflection) is an act of 'ibadah' (act of good deeds to Allah SWT) but you do not have to be 'an Aristotle' who during his life time 'did a lot of thinking' but was it in His straight path?
Aristotle, one of the worlds greatest philosopher whose name means 'the best purpose' was born in 384 BCE in Stagira, Chalcidice, about 55 km east of modern-day Thessaloniki. At about the age of 18, Aristotle moved to Athens to continue his education at Plato's Academy. In 343 BCE Aristotle was invited by Philip II of Macedon to become the tutor to his son Alexander (the Great). He gave lessons not only to Alexander, but also to two other future kings: Ptolemy and Cassander.
Aristotle was one of the most revered Western thinkers in early Islamic theology. Most of the still extant works of Aristotle, as well as a number of the original Greek commentaries, were translated into Arabic and studied by Muslim philosophers, scientists and scholars including Avicenna (Ibnu Sina). The Muslims considered Aristotle to be a dogmatic philosopher, the author of a closed system, and believed that Aristotle shared with Plato essential tenets of thought. Some went so far as to credit Aristotle himself with neo-Platonic metaphysical ideas (extract from Wikipedia)
The 'ustaz' gave examples of 'reflections' that are just wasting our time but are common especially among 'veteran men and women'. At old age, many parents are left alone at their house in the kampungs; their children had moved out and starting their own lives in towns and cities.
Many elders would sit near the door or window of their house especially when festivals such as Hari Raya is around the corner, looking out of their house and 'day dreaming', hoping that their sons and daughters and their families would be back during the big day.
Some of us have the 'hobby' of spending a lot of time recollecting our sadness and misfortune in life while some others would day dreaming what they would do if they have this and that...for example in having a lot of money, having power and position and so on.
The 'ustaz' said we are only wasting our time in doing such 'thinking activities'; they are not in line with the teaching of Islam, thus would not be rewarded by Allah SWT. "In Islam, we are encouraged to do a lot of thinking, but the question is what are we going to think about?
"We are not required to be a thinker like Aristotle; Islam as a complete way of life had set the things we should think about or 'tafakkur'. The 'materials' to 'tafakkur' are already available; we are only required to pick it up and do our reflection.
"For example, we have the Qur'an. Read a sentence or sentences from the Qur'an, search for the meaning and then do the 'tafakkur'. For example in Surah LV (The Beneficent), Allah had many, many times asked us; "Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny?" Next, do the thinking...it was a guided one; thus it is unnecessary for us to think about improper things or things of our fancies."
You too could 'tafakkur' over your sins, creation, yourself and to take lessons from the things Allah SWT has created. When the good people are praised in the Qur'an, it is declared that "they always remember Allah while they are standing, sitting, lying on their sides, and they meditate over the creation of the heavens and earth. They say, “O our Lord! You did not create them in vain. You are far from it [from creating useless, meaningless things. Protect us from the torment of Hell." (Surah Ali ‘Imrân, 191)
There are many hadiths that mentioned about the importance of 'tafakkur'. Among others, "A momentary meditation on Allahu Taala's Grandeur, Paradise, and Hell is better than spending a night in worship" and "meditating for a while is more valuable than one year’s (supererogatory) worship."
Regarding 'tafakkur', Imam Shafie said it sharpens one' intelligence while Wahb bin Munabbih said it makes a person knowledgeable and a knowledgeable person, in turn, does good deeds. Bishr-i-Hafi noted that a human being who contemplates Allahu Taala's grandeur cannot be disobedient to Him.
Scholars said 'tafakkur' can be done in four ways that are pondering about the beautiful arts and benefits which manifest on Allahu Taala's creatures causes one to believe in Him and love Him; pondering about the rewards promised by Him for the worships causes one to perform those worships; pondering about the punishments informed by Him causes one to fear Him and thereby inhibits one from committing sins and wronging others; and pondering about one’s having enslaved oneself to one’s nafs and committing sins and living in a state of heedlessness regardless of all the blessings bestowed by Him causes one to have shame towards Allah Taala.
As a conclusion, Islam as a complete way of life provides us with guidance in everything we do (so that we would be in His straight path) including what we should think or reflect about (tafakkul). So you do not need to be 'an Aristotle' to do all the thinking by yourself'!