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Conversations on Contentment

Conversations on Contentment


I was in Langkawi 2 weeks ago and while I was there, I made it a point to try the famous nasi dagang at Pak Malau’s restaurant on Jalan Makam Mahsuri. I’ve heard so many great things about this place because it’s a combination of good food and amazing scenery so I couldn’t wait to get there. Little did I know that the best part of the restaurant was actually its owners.

As a Malaysian, food is something we take pride in. Malaysians looove their food and I think Malaysia is the best place in the world to try out food because our dishes are a fusion of many different cuisines. Food tastes different in every state so we really are spoilt for choices.

I don’t know about you but I’m a huge fan of nasi dagang! A typical serving of nasi dagang can last me the whole day because it’s so filling. Good food is already a luxury on its own but the experience is made even better when the people serving it are gracious. The waiters were sweet and smiley and the owners were even more amazing.

Contentment Is Gold

When I was paying for my food, I had a really enlightening conversation with Pak Malau. I was surprised when he told me they closed at 2pm which I thought was too early. His response was: “Buat apa nak buat banyak sangat duit? Rezeki dah cukup.” (Why do I need to make so much money? I’ve enough provisions).

This is not the first time I’ve heard such things from people living in small towns or villages but every time I hear it, I can’t help but feel inspired. I find the ‘I have enough I don’t need anymore’ mentality endearing because contentment is a rare jewel.

I know what’s considered ‘cukup rezeki’ is different for every individual and for someone to be able to reach that stage in their life is a HUGE blessing. Being content with what you have shows that you’re most likely not burdened by any outstanding debts or difficult financial issues, something that not everyone can avoid. Most of all, contentment is a sign you’re not chained to your desires.

I’ve so much admiration for Pak Malau because it’s not easy to put a cap on wealth. It’s actually really hard to look at what we have and be genuinely content. It’s far too easy to make money and only want more as soon as you’ve reached your target.

Having ‘enough’ for every person is different because we all have different ideas of what enough looks like based on what we are used to and what we strive to have. For some people, for as long as they can’t afford things they like e.g. pretty clothes, then they do not have enough. For others, as long as they can pay their rent and have 3 meals a day, then they’re all set.

To the person who’s grown up in a wooden kampung house his whole life, upgrading to a small semi-detached house in a big city is a huge achievement. For someone who’s never had a car, being able to afford any car is a big deal. Whereas for someone who has the lifestyle of someone from Crazy Rich Asians, moving to a semi-detached house could be a huge downgrade and a massive compromise on their standards of living.

Rebellion Against Desires

I read in ‘The Myth of The Lazy Native’ that colonialists who came to our part of the world mistook the contentment of the Malays, Filipinos and Javanese as laziness. The reality was: the people in this part of the world were indifferent to the wealth that colonialists promised and showed little cooperation—this did not sit well with colonial powers who came to exploit.

Being content was an act of rebellion back then and it still is now. The rise of the minimalist movement (aka KonMari) shows that many people are craving simplicity and the joy of not only having less but wanting less. If you dig deeper into the spiritual aspect of it, it just proves that having more doesn’t equate to being happier. Sometimes having more also means having more worries.

Of course, things have changed since the colonial era. Many among us do aspire to be rich and wealth in itself is not evil—what we do with it is what makes it good or evil. We need wealth to support charitable causes. We need wealth to build a nation. Wealth can be a source of both good and evil.

“Wealth is like a serpent. In it contains both poison and medicine.”
— Imam al-Ghazali

Wealth is needed for many things but getting rich shouldn’t be our sole purpose in life—wealth needs a noble cause it can be channeled to. According to Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad: “The message of Islam is that the pursuit of money for its own sake is unnatural, inhumane and will lead us to catastrophe.”

During our time in Langkawi, my cousin reminded me that wealth is supposed to bring you closer to Allāh. When you make money it’s supposed to make you grateful for His bounties and drive you to share it with others. It is an overly materialistic, not to mention, simplistic view, to distinguish the poor and rich based on material wealth alone. From an Islamic perspective: true wealth surpasses material matter.

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