MY stint in IIUM thus far is no less than business unusual. There are too many tales to tell. For now, I would like to focus on the experience during e Ramadan, my first in this Garden of Knowledge and Virtue as this serene campus is also known as. It was preceded by the World Quran Hour graced by the sultan of Perak.
Knowledge has always been likened to a tree with its many branches representing the many disciplines of knowledge, some bearing fruits and flowers. This metaphor is what defines a university.
The more the branches, the “lusher” the tree, compared to some institutions that prefer to pick and choose what is “marketable” while trimming off the branches that are said to be “irrelevant” to the marketplace.
Such a tree is somewhat “artificial” and imbalanced (read unsustainable), academically speaking. A hefty price that we are beginning to pay as the knowledge purveyors are themselves imbalanced as reflected in the many human-induced crises of today. This is indeed the crux of knowledge-deficit that is being promoted as “world-class” education — one without a soul.
To speak of the soul of education is to recognise what “virtue” is all about. For virtue is the root of the tree, so to speak; the unseen part underneath a tree that gives rise to the whole tree, any tree.
Just like the whole person whom the Quran likened to a “good” tree, and the virtue that is rooted therein. There is no tree without roots (except for “artificial” ones) and in fact the latter determines the quality of the former.
When the roots are left to rot the tree will eventually collapse. Easily uprooted, as warned by the Quran. This means ensuring the growth of the tree of knowledge in a “balanced” way is to tend to its roots foremost.
It is in this sense that Ramadan in IIUM is deeply rooted to provide the much-needed “balance” to the acquired disciplines of knowledge. It is the inspiration that changes knowledge into wisdom; the reflection that brings about courage for transformational changes; and the practice that realises the real meaning of virtues into reality.
This is made possible by nurturing values like humility, patience, tolerance, justice and trustworthiness which are the foundation for a balanced being to be manifested harmoniously as the Ramadan man (Homo ramadanus).
Hence Ramadan is set for the higher purpose of restoring or perfecting the balance in maturing a holistic person — balanced and complete. This acts as the bedrock to move forward beyond the month of Ramadan. In other words, it has to be internalised as a way of daily living in the Garden of Knowledge and Virtue.
For that reason alone it adds deeper dimensions to the practice of mere fasting. Meaning, we are constantly all the time aware of a balanced life that will lead us out of Ramadan until the next one.
These deeper dimensions are spread throughout the garden campus with its international community of 700-odd members from more than 110 countries. The culmination of this came during the congregation for Eidul Fitri prayer at the dawning of Syawal.
They were not limited to the IIUM community, but also from nearby communities and other campuses throughout the length and breadth of the peninsula, renewing acquaintances in the spirit of Syawal. Seeking forgiveness and strengthening fellowship.
It was yet another experience to behold, unmistakenly like that of the Holy City of Makkah where the mix and aura are beyond description except for those who had gone on the holy pilgrimage whose memberships ranged far and wide.
For instance, standing in line with the rest in prayer was the ambassador of Yemen and other dignitaries who preferred to be in the Makkah-like environment. The camaraderie was total and undivided. As though the ummah was actually one, despite the intra-ummah divisions apparent from the 14th OIC Summit held a couple of days before during Ramadan.
For me this first IIUM impression will last for a long time, unmatched by any experience locally. Such is the Ramadan journey in the Garden of Knowledge and Virtue — a well-kept secret that must be shared with all.
The writer, an NST columnist for more than 20 years, is International Islamic University Malaysia rector