PAKET UMROH BULAN FEBRUARI MARET APRIL MEI 2018




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Ibadah haji merupakan salah satu rukun Islam yang lima dan diwajibkan bagi orang yang mampu. Ibadah ini dikaitkan dengan kemampuan karena haji merupakan sebuah perjalanan ibadah yang butuh pengorbanan besar berupa kemampuan materi dan kekuatan fisik. Bila sebuah ibadah dikaitkan langsung dengan kemampuan, berarti menunjukkan kesempurnaan hikmah Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala dalam meletakkan ibadah tersebut. Orang yang beriman akan menerima ketentuan ibadah tersebut tanpa berat hati. Karena mereka mengetahui bahwa tidak ada satupun bentuk syariat yang diletakkan oleh Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala melainkan maslahatnya kembali bagi hamba. Tidak terkait sedikitpun dengan kebutuhan Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala terhadap mereka. Di sisi lain, dikaitkannya ibadah haji ini dengan kemampuan hamba menunjukkan kasih sayang Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala yang tinggi terhadap mereka. Semuanya ini telah Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala tegaskan di dalam firman-Nya:

لاَ يُكَلِّفُ اللهُ نَفْسًا إِلاَّ وُسْعَهَا

“Allah tidak membebani seseorang melainkan menurut kesanggupannya.” (Al-Baqarah: 286)

مَا يُرِيْدُ اللهُ لِيَجْعَلَ عَلَيْكُمْ مِنْ حَرَجٍ

“Allah tidak menginginkan bagi kalian sesuatu yang memberatkan kalian.” (Al-Ma`idah: 6)

يُرِيْدُ اللهُ بِكُمُ الْيُسْرَ وَلاَ يُرِيْدُ بِكُمُ الْعُسْرَ

“Allah menginginkan kemudahan buat kalian dan tidak menginginkan kesulitan.” (Al-Baqarah: 185)

وَمَا جَعَلَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِي الدِّيْنِ مِنْ حَرَجٍ

“Dan Allah tidak menjadikan atas kalian dalam agama ini kesukaran.” (Al-Hajj: 78)
Diriwayatkan dari Abu Hurairah radhiyallahu 'anhu, dia berkata:

خَطَبَنَا رَسُوْلُ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَقَالَ: أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ قَدْ فَرَضَ اللهُ عَلَيْكُمُ الْحَجَّ فَحُجُّوا. فَقَالَ رَجُلٌ: أَكُلَّ عَامٍ يَا رَسُوْلَ اللهِ؟ فَسَكَتَ حَتَّى قَالَهَا ثَلاَثًا، فَقَالَ رَسُوْلُ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: لَوْ قُلْتُ نَعَمْ لَوَجَبَتْ، وَلَمَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ. ثُمَّ قَالَ: ذَرُوْنِي مَا تَرَكْتُكُمْ فَإِنَّمَا هَلَكَ مَنْ كَانَ قَبْلَكُمْ بِكَثْرَةِ سُؤَالِهِمْ وَاخْتِلاَفِهِمْ عَلَى أَنْبِيَائِهِمْ فَإِذَا أَمَرْتُكُمْ بِشَيْءٍ فَأْتُوا مِنْهُ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ وَإِذَا نَهَيْتُكُمْ عَنْ شَيْءٍ فَدَعُوْهُ

Rasulullah Shallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam berkhutbah di hadapan kami, beliau berkata: “Wahai sekalian manusia, sungguh Allah telah mewajibkan bagi kalian haji maka berhajilah kalian!” Seseorang berkata: “Apakah setiap tahun, ya Rasulullah?” Beliau terdiam sehingga orang tersebut mengulangi ucapannya tiga kali. Lalu Rasulullah Shallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam bersabda: “Kalau aku katakan ya, niscaya akan wajib bagi kalian dan kalian tidak akan sanggup.” Kemudian beliau berkata: “Biarkanlah apa yang aku tinggalkan kepada kalian. Sesungguhnya orang sebelum kalian telah binasa karena mereka banyak bertanya yang tidak diperlukan dan menyelisihi nabi-nabi mereka. Jika aku memerintahkan sesuatu kepada kalian maka lakukanlah sesuai dengan kesanggupan kalian. Dan bila aku melarang kalian dari sesuatu maka tinggalkanlah.”1)

Diriwayatkan pula dari Abu Hurairah radhiyallahu 'anhu bahwa Nabi Shallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam bersabda:

إِنَّ الدِّيْنَ يُسْرٌ وَلَنْ يُشَادَّ الدِّيْنَ أَحَدٌ إِلاَّ غَلَبَهُ فَسَدِّدُوا وَقَارِبُوا وَأَبْشِرُوا وَاسْتَعِيْنُوا بِالْغَدْوَةِ وَالرَّوْحَةِ وَشَيْءٍ مِنَ الدُّلْجَةِ

“Sesungguhnya agama ini mudah dan tidak ada seorangpun yang memberatkan diri padanya melainkan dia tidak akan sanggup. Berusahalah untuk tepat, mendekatlah, dan bergembiralah. Dan gunakanwaktu pagi dan petang serta sebagian dari waktu malam.”2)

Ibnul Munayyir berkata: “Di dalam hadits ini terdapat salah satu tanda kenabian. Dan kita telah menyaksikan, juga telah disaksikan pula oleh orang-orang sebelum kita, bahwa setiap orang yang berdalam-dalam menyelami agama akan tidak sanggup. Dan bukan berarti tidak boleh mencari yang lebih sempurna dalam ibadah, karena ini termasuk perkara yang terpuji. Yang dilarang adalah berlebih-lebihan yang akan menyebabkan kebosanan, atau berlebih-lebihan dalam menjalankan amalan sunnah sehingga meninggalkan yang lebih utama, atau mengeluarkan kewajiban dari waktunya, seperti seseorang yang semalam suntuk untuk qiyamul lail sehingga dia terlalaikan dari Shalat Subuh secara berjamaah atau sampai keluar dari waktu yang dipilih atau sampai terbit matahari yang akhirnya keluar dari waktu yang diwajibkan.” (Lihat Fathul Bari, 1/118)

Sikap Terpuji Orang yang Beriman
Orang berimanlah yang paling bergembira dengan semua bentuk ibadah yang diwajibkan oleh Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala. Merekalah yang memiliki kesiapan untuk menjalankannya. Mereka juga memiliki keberanian untuk menghadapi segala kemungkinan yang akan terjadi dalam ketaatan kepada Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala. Mereka tetap tegar dan bersemangat, sekalipun anjuran Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala dan Rasul-Nya itu dianggap kecil dan sepele oleh kebanyakan orang. Sikap inilah yang telah digambarkan oleh Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala di dalam firman-Nya:

إِنَّمَا كَانَ قَوْلَ الْمُؤْمِنِيْنَ إِذَا دُعُوا إِلَى اللهِ وَرَسُوْلِهِ لِيَحْكُمَ بَيْنَهُمْ أَنْ يَقُوْلُوا سَمِعْنَا وَأَطَعْنَا

“Sesungguhnya ucapan orang-orang yang beriman bila mereka diseru kepada Allah dan Rasul-Nya untuk menghukumi di antara mereka, mereka mengatakan: ‘Kami mendengar dan kami taat’.” (An-Nur: 51)

وَمَا كَانَ لِمُؤْمِنٍ وَلاَ مُؤْمِنَةٍ إِذَا قَضَى اللهُ وَرَسُوْلُهُ أَمْرًا أَنْ يَكُوْنَ لَهُمُ الْخِيَرَةُ مِنْ أَمْرِهِمْ

“Dan tidaklah patut bagi laki-laki yang mukmin dan tidak (pula) bagi perempuan yang mukmin, apabila Allah dan Rasul-Nya telah menetapkan suatu ketetapan, akan ada bagi mereka pilihan (yang lain) tentang urusan mereka.” (Al-Ahzab: 36)

فَلاَ وَرَبِّكَ لاَ يُؤْمِنُوْنَ حَتَّى يُحَكِّمُوْكَ فِيْمَا شَجَرَ بَيْنَهُمْ ثُمَّ لاَ يَجِدُوا فِي أَنْفُسِهِمْ حَرَجًا مِمَّا قَضَيْتَ وَيُسَلِّمُوا تَسْلِيْمًا

“Maka demi Rabbmu, mereka tidak akan beriman sehingga mereka menjadikanmu sebagai hakim dalam apa yang mereka perselisihkan, kemudian mereka tidak mendapatkan rasa berat pada diri-diri mereka (untuk menerima) apa yang kamu putuskan dan mereka menerima dengan sebenar-benarnya.” (An-Nisa`: 65)

Bingkisan Berharga bagi para Hujjaj (Jamaah Haji)

Salah satu perintah syariat adalah menunaikan ibadah haji. Pelaksanaan ibadah ini memiliki amalan-amalan yang berbeda dengan ibadah-ibadah lainnya. Amalan yang sangat membutuhkan keikhlasan niat yang tinggi, kejujuran iman, ketabahan jiwa dan ketundukan kepada Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala yang sempurna, kekuatan material dan spiritual. Hal ini terbukti dari awal perintah memakai pakaian ihram sampai akhir pelaksanaan ibadah tersebut.

Ada beberapa bingkisan berharga untuk saudaraku yang hendak menunaikan ibadah haji.
Pertama, Memperbaiki niat dan menjaga keikhlasan dalam pelaksanaan ibadah haji.
Keikhlasan adalah sebuah amalan hati yang sangat erat hubungannya dengan kemurniaan aqidah dan tauhid seseorang. Ketauhidan yang benar akan membuahkan keikhlasan yang murni dan hakiki. Keikhlasan yang murni merupakan perwujudan ketulusan persaksian hamba terhadap kalimat Laa ilaha illallah, tidak ada sesembahan yang benar melainkan Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala.

Seseorang harus membangun semua ibadahnya di atas aqidah yang benar. Karena aqidah yang benar merupakan penentu diterimanya amalan seseorang. Berdasarkan hal inilah, Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala menjadikan aqidah dan tauhid sebagai rukun Islam pertama melalui lisan Rasul-Nya. Dalam hadits Ibnu ‘Umar radhiyallahu 'anhuma, Rasulullah Shallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam bersabda:

بُنِيَ اْلإِسْلاَمُ عَلَى خَمْسٍ شَهَادَةِ أَنْ لاَ إِلهَ إِلاَّ اللهُ وَأَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَسُوْلُ اللهِ وَإِقَامِ الصَّلاَةِ وَإِيْتَاءِ الزَّكَاةِ وَالْحَجِّ وَصَوْمِ رَمَضَانَ

“Islam itu dibangun di atas lima dasar yaitu mempersaksikan bahwa tidak ada sesembahan yang benar melainkan Allah dan Muhammad adalah utusan-Nya, mendirikan shalat, menunaikan zakat, haji dan puasa pada bulan Ramadhan.”3
Jibril berkata dalam hadits ‘Umar radhiyallahu 'anhu:

يَا مُحَمَّدُ، أَخْبِرْنِي عَنِ اْلإِسْلاَمِ. فَقَالَ رَسُوْلُ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: اْلإِسْلاَمُ أَنْ تَشْهَدَ أَنْ لاَ إِلهَ إِلاَّ اللهُ وَأَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَسُوْلُ اللهِ -صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ- وَتُقِيْمَ الصَّلاَةَ وَتُؤْتِيَ الزَّكَاةَ وَتَصُوْمَ رَمَضَانَ وَتَحُجَّ الْبَيْتَ إِنِ اسْتَطَعْتَ إِلَيْهِ سَبِيْلاً

“Wahai Muhammad, beritahukan kepadaku tentang Islam!” Beliau menjawab: “Engkau mempersaksikan bahwa tidak ada sesembahan yang benar melainkan Allah dan bahwa Muhammad adalah utusan Allah, mendirikan shalat, menunaikan zakat, puasa dan haji ke Baitullah bila engkau mampu menempuh perjalanan ke sana.”4
Bila aqidah seseorang menyelisihi aqidah yang diajarkan oleh Al-Qur`an dan As-Sunnah, tentu akan merusak niatnya. Atau niatnya akan tercampuri dengan niatan yang lain. Bahkan tidak menutup kemungkinan, dia berangkat menunaikan ibadah haji dibarengi dengan niat-niat yang mengandung kesyirikan kepada Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala, seperti niat meminta kepada Rasulullah Shallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam di makam beliau, atau di sisi kuburan-kuburan yang menurut penilaian banyak pihak bahwa tempat tersebut berbarakah dan keramat. Atau berniat meminta keberkahan hidup, kekayaan, naik pangkat, laris dalam berniaga, lulus dalam ujian, meminta harta benda, dan segala yang berbau keuntungan duniawi, kepada selain Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala.

Membangun ibadah haji di atas kemurnian aqidah akan berbuah nilai positif di dunia setelah melakukan ibadah tersebut, dan di akhirat karena mendapatkan haji mabrur yang diterima. Berbeda dengan orang yang membangun ibadah hajinya di atas kerusakan aqidah, seperti:

a. Aqidah Sufiyyah yang pada ujungnya adalah kufur kepada Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala, sebagaimana ucapan seorang pentolan Sufiyyah, Ibnu ‘Arabi:
Ar-Rabb adalah hamba dan hamba adalah Rabb
Aduhai kalau demikian siapa yang akan melaksanakan beban (syariat)
Dalam kesempatan lain dia mengucapkan:
Tiadalah anjing dan babi melainkan tuhan kita
b. Aqidah Syi’ah dengan berbagai sempalannya yang mengaku memuliakan ahlu bait Rasulullah Shallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam, padahal mereka jauh dari hal itu dan justru mencaci maki para shahabat beliau.
c. Aqidah Jahmiyyah yang mengingkari nama dan sifat-sifat Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala.
d. Aqidah Mu’tazilah yang menuhankan akal dan mengingkari sifat Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala.
e. Aqidah Asy’ariyyah yang menafikan sebahagian sifat-sifat Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala.
dan berbagai bentuk aqidah rusak lainnya.

Niat merupakan asas pertama dan utama diterimanya amal. Sehingga bila niat telah rusak maka akan merusak yang lain. Yang paling berbahaya sebagai perusak niat adalah riya` dan sum’ah, yaitu memperdengarkan amalan-amalan atau perjalanan yang penuh kenangan dan peristiwa aneh dengan tujuan mendapatkan pujian. Betapa banyak orang yang tidak mendapatkan haji yang mabrur karena memiliki niat yang rusak. Misalnya ingin menjadi orang terhormat karena bergelar haji di depan namanya, disanjung, dipuji, disebut pak haji, dan sebagainya.
Kewajiban mengikhlaskan niat ini telah dijelaskan oleh Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala dan Rasul-Nya:

وَمَا أُمِرُوا إِلاَّ لِيَعْبُدُوا اللهَ مُخْلِصِيْنَ لَهُ الدِّيْنَ

“Dan tidaklah mereka diperintahkan melainkan agar mereka beribadah kepada Allah dengan mengikhlaskan baginya agama.” (Al-Bayyinah: 5)

إِنَّمَا اْلأَعْمَالُ بِالنِّيَّةِ وَإِنَّمَا لاِمْرِئٍ مَا نَوَى فَمَنْ كَانَتْ هِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى اللهِ وَرَسُوْلِهِ فَهِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى اللهِ وَرَسُوْلِهِ وَمَنْ كَانَتْ هِجْرَتُهُ لِدُنْيَا يُصِيْبُهَا أَوِ امْرَأَةٍ يَتَزَوَّجُهَا فَهِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى مَا هَاجَرَ إِلَيْهِ

“Sesungguhnya amalan itu sah dengan niat. Dan setiap orang akan mendapatkan apa yang dia niatkan. Maka barangsiapa yang hijrahnya kepada Allah dan Rasul-Nya, maka dia telah hijrah kepada Allah dan Rasul-Nya. Dan barangsiapa yang hijrah untuk dunia yang ingin diperoleh atau wanita yang ingin dinikahinya maka dia telah berhijrah kepada apa yang dia telah niatkan.”5
Setiap amalan tergantung niatnya. Dan niat tersebut kembali kepada keikhlasan, yaitu niat yang satu untuk Dzat yang satu, yaitu Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala. (Fathul Bari, 1/14)
Hadits di atas menjelaskan tentang kedudukan niat sebagai landasan diterimanya amal seseorang. Oleh karena itu, banyak komentar para ulama tentang kedudukan hadits niat ini. Contohnya Al-Imam Asy-Syafi’i mengatakan: “Hadits ini masuk dalam 70 bab dalam bidang ilmu.”

Abu Abdillah (Al-Imam Ahmad) mengatakan: “Tidak ada hadits Rasulullah Shallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam yang lebih padat, lebih kaya, dan lebih banyak faedahnya daripada hadits ini (yakni hadits tentang niat).”
Ibnu Mahdi mengatakan: “Hadits ini masuk pada 30 bab dalam bidang ilmu.”
Beliau rahimahullah juga mengatakan: “Sepantasnya hadits ini diletakkan dalam setiap bab ilmu.” (Fathul Bari, 1/13)

شَرَعَ لَكُمْ مِنَ الدِّيْنِ مَا وَصَّى بِهِ نُوْحًا

“Allah telah mensyariatkan bagi kalian agama yang telah Dia wasiatkan kepada Nuh.” (Asy-Syura: 13)
Abul ‘Aliyah rahimahullah berkata: “Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala mewasiatkan kepada mereka agar ikhlas dalam beribadah kepada-Nya.” (Fathul Bari, 1/13)
Ibnu Rajab menjelaskan: “Setiap amalan yang tidak diniatkan untuk Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala maka amalan tersebut adalah batil, tidak memiliki buah di dunia dan di akhirat.” (Jami’ Al-’Ulum Wal Hikam hal. 11)

Kedua, Mencontoh Rasulullah Shallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam dalam setiap pelaksanaan ibadah haji
Mencontoh Rasulullah Shallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam dalam pelaksanaan ibadah haji merupakan syarat kedua diterimanya amalan haji seseorang setelah syarat ikhlas. Mulai awal pelaksanaan haji sampai akhirnya, tidak diperbolehkan mengada-adakan sesuatu sedikitpun. Bila ada amalan yang tidak sesuai dengan tuntunan Rasulullah Shallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam, niscaya tidak akan diterima oleh Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala. Hal ini berdasarkan hadits Rasulullah Shallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam:

مَنْ أَحْدَثَ فِي أَمْرِنَا هَذَا مَا لَيْسَ مِنْهُ فَهُوَ رَدٌّ -وَفِي رِوَايَةٍ لِمُسْلِمٍ- مَنْ عَمِلَ عَمَلاً لَيْسَ عَلَيْهِ أَمْرُنَا فَهُوَ رَدٌّ

“Barangsiapa yang mengada-ada dalam urusan kami yang tidak ada ajarannya dari kami maka amalan tersebut tertolak.”
Dalam riwayat Muslim disebutkan: “Barangsiapa yang melakukan amalan yang tidak ada tuntunannya dari kami maka amalan tersebut tertolak.”6
Sekecil dan seringan apapun, amalan ibadah haji tersebut harus sesuai dengan tuntunan Rasulullah Shallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam. Dalam hal ini, segenap kaum muslimin tidak boleh berpedoman dengan pengajaran dan bimbingan orang tua dahulu, atau guru-guru kita, namun harus berpedoman dengan dalil-dalil.

Ibnu Rajab rahimahullah menjelaskan: “Semua amalan yang dilakukan harus di bawah ketentuan hukum-hukum syariat. Hukum syariat menjadi hakim terhadap semua amalan, baik dalam hal perintah maupun larangan. Sehingga barangsiapa yang amalannya berjalan di bawah ketentuan syariat dan sesuai dengannya maka diterima. Dan bila keluar dari hukum syariat maka amalan tersebut tertolak.” (Jami’ Al-’Ulum Wal Hikam hal. 83)

Haji Mabrur Diraih dengan Kedua Syarat di Atas
Dengan kedua syarat di atas, seseorang akan bisa meraih keutamaan haji mabrur yaitu haji yang diterima di sisi Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala, menurut salah satu pendapat ulama. Tanda diterimanya ibadah haji adalah dia pulang dalam keadaan lebih baik dari sebelumnya dan tidak kembali kepada perbuatan maksiat. Ada yang berpendapat bahwa yang dimaksud adalah haji yang tidak dijangkiti penyakit riya`. Dan ada pula yang berpendapat maksudnya yaitu haji yang tidak diiringi kemaksiatan setelahnya.
Imam An-Nawawi rahimahullah menguatkan pendapat ini. Dan yang paling masyhur adalah pendapat bahwa haji mabrur adalah haji yang tidak dicampuri dengan kemaksiatan. (Syarh Muslim, 5/119)
Para hujjaj sangat mengidamkan keutamaan ini. Namun di antara mereka ada yang tidak memerhatikan kiat yang akan mengantarkan dirinya untuk mendapatkannya. Bila seseorang tidak membangun ibadah hajinya di atas kedua landasan di atas, maka dia tidak akan mendapatkannya. Hal itu merupakan sesuatu yang pasti berdasarkan dalil-dalil di atas. Tentang haji mabrur, telah disebutkan oleh Rasulullah Shallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam dalam banyak sabdanya. Di antaranya:
Diriwayatkan dari Abu Hurairah radhiyallahu 'anhu, dia berkata:

أَنَّ رَسُوْلَ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ سُئِلَ: أَيُّ الْعَمَلِ أَفْضَلُ؟ فَقَالَ: إِيْمَانٌ بِاللهِ وَرَسُوْلِهِ. قِيْلَ: ثُمَّ مَاذَا؟ قَالَ: الْجِهَادُ فِي سَبِيْلِ اللهِ. قِيْلَ: ثُمَّ مَاذَا؟ قَالَ: حَجٌّ مَبْرُوْرٌ

Bahwasanya Rasulullah Shallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam ditanya tentang amalan yang paling utama lalu beliau menjawab: “Iman kepada Allah dan Rasul-Nya.” Ditanyakan kepada beliau: “Kemudian apa?” Beliau berkata: “Berjihad di jalan Allah.” Ditanyakan lagi kepada beliau: “Kemudian apa?” Beliau berkata: “Haji yang mabrur.”7
Diriwayatkan dari ‘Aisyah Ummul Mukminin radhiyallahu 'anha, ia berkata:

يَا رَسُوْلَ اللهِ، نَرَى الْجِهَادَ أَفْضَلَ الْعَمَلِ، أَفَلاَ نُجَاهِدُ؟ قَالَ: لاَ، لَكِنَّ أَفْضَلَ الْجِهَادِ حَجٌّ مَبْرُوْرٌ

“Ya Rasulullah, kami berpendapat bahwa jihad adalah amalan yang paling utama. Tidakkah kami ikut berjihad?” Beliau berkata: “Tidak. Akan tetapi jihad yang paling utama (bagi wanita) adalah haji mabrur.”
Dalam riwayat Al-Imam An-Nasa`i disebutkan dengan lafadz:

قُلْتُ يَا رَسُوْلَ اللهِ، أَلاَ نَخْرُجُ فَنُجَاهِدَ مَعَكَ فَإِنِّي لاَ أَرَى عَمَلاً فِي الْقُرْآنِ أَفْضَلَ مِنَ الْجِهَادِ. قَالَ: لاَ، وَلَكِنَّ أَحْسَنَ الْجِهَادِ وَأَجْمَلَهُ حَجُّ الْبَيْتِ حَجٌّ مَبْرُوْرٌ

Aku berkata: “Ya Rasulullah, tidakkah kami keluar ikut berjihad bersamamu karena aku tidak melihat di dalam Al-Qur`an ada amalan yang paling utama daripada jihad?” Beliau bersabda: “Tidak. Akan tetapi sebaik-baik jihad dan yang paling indah adalah haji ke Baitullah, yaitu haji yang mabrur.” (Dishahihkan Al-Albani dalam Shahih An-Nasa`i no. 2628)
Diriwayatkan dari Abu Hurairah radhiyallahu 'anhu, bahwa Rasululah Shallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam bersabda:

الْعُمْرَةُ إِلَى الْعُمْرَةِ كَفَّارَةٌ لِمَا بَيْنَهُمَا وَالْحَجُّ الْمَبْرُورُ لَيْسَ لَهُ جَزَاءٌ إِلاَّ الْجَنَّةُ

“Umrah yang satu ke umrah berikutnya merupakan penghapus dosa di antara keduanya, dan haji yang mabrur tidak ada balasannya melainkan surga.”8
Demikianlah beberapa dalil yang menunjukkan keutamaan haji yang mabrur dan tidak ada balasan bagi haji yang mabrur melainkan surga. Al-Imam An-Nawawi menjelaskan: “Pelaku haji tersebut tidak hanya terhapus dosa-dosanya, bahkan dia mesti masuk ke dalam surga.” (Syarh Muslim, 5/119)
Demikianlah kedudukan dua syarat diterimanya setiap amalan hamba, yaitu ikhlas dan mencontoh Rasulullah Shallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam. Sehingga yang dituntut dari seorang hamba dalam ibadahnya adalah bagaimana dia memperbaiki ibadahnya, bukan hanya bagaimana memperbanyaknya. Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala berfirman:

الَّذِي خَلَقَ الْمَوْتَ وَالْحَيَاةَ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلاً

“Allah yang telah menciptakan mati dan hidup untuk menguji kalian siapa yang paling baik amalannya.” (Al-Mulk: 2)
Ibnu Katsir menjelaskan: “Makna ayat ini adalah Dialah yang telah menjadikan makhluk dari tidak ada menjadi ada, untuk menguji mereka siapa yang paling baik amalnya.” Muhammad bin ‘Ajlan berkata: “Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala tidak mengatakan yang paling banyak amalannya.” (Tafsir Ibnu Katsir, 4/414)

Ketiga, Iman yang benar kepada Allah
Beriman kepada Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala merupakan salah satu rukun iman yang enam dan merupakan intisari keimanan terhadap rukun iman yang lain. Bila keimanan seseorang kepada Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala tidak benar, maka akan menjadi barometer kepincangan imannya terhadap rukun iman yang lain.

Keimanan kepada Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala mencakup banyak perkara, di antaranya:

1. Meyakini bahwa Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala adalah Dzat yang berhak untuk disembah, dan segala bentuk penyembahan serta pengagungan terhadap selain-Nya adalah batil.

ذلِكَ بِأَنَّ اللهَ هُوَ الْحَقُّ وَأَنَّ مَا يَدْعُوْنَ مِنْ دُوْنِهِ هُوَ الْبَاطِلُ وَأَنَّ اللهَ هُوَ الْعَلِيُّ الْكَبِيْرُ

“Demikianlah bahwa Allah adalah Al-Haq (untuk disembah) dan apa yang mereka sembah selainnya adalah batil dan Allah Maha Kaya dan Maha Besar.” (Al-Hajj: 62)
Pengagungan terhadap selain Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala banyak bentuknya. Di antaranya mengagungkan kuburan-kuburan tertentu, orang-orang tertentu, tempat-tempat yang dikeramatkan, pohon-pohon, batu-batu, jimat-jimat, jin-jin, dan sebagainya. Semuanya akan merusak keimanan seseorang kepada Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala dan akan mengarah kepada tercabutnya keimanan dari diri mereka.


2. Mengimani segala apa yang diwajibkan oleh Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala kepada hamba-hamba-Nya berupa pelaksanaan rukun Islam yang lima secara lahiriah dan kewajiban lainnya yang telah dibebankan Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala kepada setiap hamba. Di antara lima rukun Islam, yang paling besar dan paling utama adalah persaksian terhadap dua kalimat syahadat. Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala berfirman:

فَاعْلَمْ أَنَّهُ لاَ إِلهَ إِلاَّ اللهُ

“Maka ketahuilah bahwa tidak ada sesembahan yang benar melainkan Allah.” (Muhammad: 19)
Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala berfirman pula:

شَهِدَ اللهُ أَنَّهُ لاَ إِلهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ وَالْمَلاَئِكَةُ وَأُولُو الْعِلْمِ قَائِمًا بِالْقِسْطِ لاَ إِلهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ الْعَزِيْزُ الْحَكِيْمُ

“Dan Allah telah bersaksi bahwa tidak ada sesembahan yang benar melainkan Dia dan para malaikat serta orang-orang yang berilmu ikut mempersaksikan dengan penuh keadilan bahwa tidak ada sesembahan yang benar melainkan Allah dan Dia Maha Mulia dan Maha Bijaksana.” (Ali ‘Imran: 18)
3. Mengimani bahwa Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala yang menciptakan dan mengatur segala urusan alam ini dan memantau mereka dengan ilmu serta kebijaksanaan. Dia yang memiliki dunia dan akhirat. Tidak ada pencipta selain-Nya dan tidak ada yang sanggup mengatur urusan makhluk ini kecuali Dia. Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala telah mengutus para nabi dan menurunkan kitab-kitab untuk kemaslahatan hamba dan untuk menyeru mereka kepada jalan menuju keberhasilan dan keselamatan hidup di dunia dan akhirat.
Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala berfirman:

وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ اللَّيْلُ وَالنَّهَارُ وَالشَّمْسُ وَالْقَمَرُ لاَ تَسْجُدُوا لِلشَّمْسِ وَلاَ لِلْقَمَرِ وَاسْجُدُوا لِلّهِ الَّذِي خَلَقَهُنَّ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ إِيَّاهُ تَعْبُدُوْنَ

“Dan termasuk tanda-tanda kebesaran Allah adalah adanya malam dan siang, matahari dan bulan. (Oleh karena itu) janganlah kalian sujud kepada matahari dan bulan, namun sujudlah kalian kepada Allah yang telah menciptakannya jika kalian hanya beribadah kepada-Nya.” (Fushshilat: 37)
Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala berfirman:

إِنَّ رَبَّكُمُ اللهُ الَّذِي خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَاْلأَرْضَ فِي سِتَّةِ أَيَّامٍ ثُمَّ اسْتَوَى عَلَى الْعَرْشِ يُغْشِي اللَّيْلَ النَّهَارَ يَطْلُبُهُ حَثِيْثًا وَالشَّمْسَ وَالْقَمَرَ وَالنُّجُوْمَ مُسَخَّرَاتٍ بِأَمْرِهِ أَلاَ لَهُ الْخَلْقُ وَاْلأَمْرُ تَبَارَكَ اللهُ رَبُّ الْعَالَمِيْنَ

“Sesungguhnya Allah telah menciptakan langit-langit dan bumi dalam enam hari kemudian Dia beristiwa` di atas ‘Arsy. Allah menutup siang dengan malam yang terjadi dengan cepat (dan Dialah yang telah menciptakan) matahari, bulan, dan bintang-bintang yang semuanya tunduk di bawah perintah-Nya, ketahuilah hak Allah untuk mencipta dan memerintah, dan Maha suci Allah Rabb semesta alam.” (Al-A’raf: 54)

4. Mengimani nama-nama dan sifat-sifat Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala yang baik dan tinggi, yang dijelaskan dalam Al-Kitab dan As-Sunnah, tanpa memalingkan dan menyelewengkan maknanya sedikitpun dari apa yang dimaukan oleh Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala dan Rasul-Nya, serta tanpa menyerupakan-Nya dengan sifat-sifat makhluk.

وَلِلّهِ اْلأَسْمَاءُ الْحُسْنَى فَادْعُوْهُ بِهَا وَذَرُوا الَّذِيْنَ يُلْحِدُوْنَ فِي أَسْمَائِهِ سَيُجْزَوْنَ مَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُوْنَ

“Dan Allah memiliki nama-nama yang baik maka berdoalah kalian dengannya dan biarkanlah orang-orang yang menyeleweng dari nama-nama Allah dan mereka pasti akan dibalas atas apa yang telah mereka perbuat.” (Al-A’raf: 180)

وَلَهُ الْمَثَلُ اْلأَعْلَى فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَاْلأَرْضِ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيْزُ الْحَكِيْمُ

“Dan bagi Allah perumpamaan yang tinggi di langit-langit dan di bumi, dan Dia Maha Mulia dan Maha Bijaksana.” (Ar-Rum: 27)

لَيْسَ كَمِثْلِهِ شَيْءٌ وَهُوَ السَّمِيْعُ الْبَصِيْرُ

“Dan tidak ada sesuatupun yang serupa dengan Allah dan Dia Maha Mendengar lagi Maha Melihat.” (Asy-Syura: 11)
Larangan berbicara tentang Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala tanpa ilmu telah diperingatkan oleh-Nya di dalam firman-Nya:

وَلاَ تَقْفُ مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ إِنَّ السَّمْعَ وَالْبَصَرَ وَالْفُؤَادَ كُلُّ أُولَئِكَ كَانَ عَنْهُ مَسْئُوْلاً

“Dan janganlah kamu mengatakan apa yang kamu tidak memiliki ilmu padanya. Sesungguhnya pendengaran, penglihatan, dan hati, semuanya akan dimintai pertanggungjawaban.” (Al-Isra`: 36)

قُلْ إِنَّمَا حَرَّمَ رَبِّيَ الْفَوَاحِشَ مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَمَا بَطَنَ وَاْلإِثْمَ وَالْبَغْيَ بِغَيْرِ الْحَقِّ وَأَنْ تُشْرِكُوا بِاللهِ مَا لَمْ يُنَزِّلْ بِهِ سُلْطَانًا وَأَنْ تَقُوْلُوا عَلَى اللهِ مَا لاَ تَعْلَمُوْنَ

“Katakan: ‘Sesungguhnya Rabbku telah mengharamkan kekejian yang nampak maupun yang tidak nampak, mengharamkan dosa, perbuatan dzalim tanpa alasan yang benar dan mengharamkan kalian menyekutu-kan Allah dengan sesuatu yang tidak pernah Allah turunkan keterangan tentangnya, dan mengharamkan berkata tentang Allah tanpa dasar ilmu.” (Al-A’raf: 33)

Demikianlah beberapa kiat untuk memperbaiki keimanan kita kepada Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala, agar semua amal yang kita kerjakan dibangun di atas keimanan kepada-Nya. Bila ibadah haji seseorang dibangun di atas keimanan kepada-Nya tentu semua niatan akan diarahkan kepada-Nya. Dia tentunya tidak akan keluar dari tuntunan Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala dan Rasul-Nya dalam pelaksanaan haji tersebut, sehingga bisa mendapatkan haji mabrur di sisi Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala. Demikianlah buah keimanan kepada Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala.
Wallahu a‘lam.

1 Diriwayatkan oleh Al-Imam Al-Bukhari no. 6744 dan Al-Imam Muslim no. 2380
2 Diriwayatkan oleh Al-Imam Al-Bukhari no. 38
3 Diriwayatkan oleh Al-Imam Al-Bukhari no. 7 dan Al-Imam Muslim no. 19, 20, 21, 22.
4 Diriwayatkan oleh Al-Imam Muslim no. 9
5 Diriwayatkan oleh Al-Imam Al-Bukhari no. 1 dan Al-Imam Muslim no. 3530
6 Diriwayatkan oleh Al-Imam Al-Bukhari no. 2499 dan Al-Muslim no. 3242
7 Diriwayatkan oleh Al-Imam Al-Bukhari no. 25
8 Diriwayatkan oleh Al-Imam Al-Buhari no. 1650 dan Al-Imam Muslim no. 2403

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PERBEKALAN UNTUK JAMAAH HAJI
Pencopet yang biasa beraksi di atas kereta telah berhasil diringkus oleh petugas keamanan Stasiun Depok Baru . Pelaku juga sempat merobek tas korban dan mengambil laptop serta HP BlackBerry saat kereta dalam keadaan sesak penumpang. Setelah didata di stasiun, tersangka telah diserahkan ke Polres Depok guna untuk proses penyidikan lebih lanjut. Informasi yang telah dihimpun, siang itu KRL hendak tiba di Stasiun Depok Baru. Tiba-tiba terdengar suara ribut ada orang yang kecopetan. Melihat hal itu, petugas keamanan stasiun telah mendekat dan mendapati penumpang menunjuk seorang pria yang diduga pencopet. Pria yang diketahui bernama Agus Suryadi yang berusia 34 tahun , ini pun telah berhasil ditangkap. Kepada petugas keamanan ia mengaku wartawan salah satu surat kabar nasional. Namun setelah diinterogasi dan dipertemukan dengan korban, Aris Saputra, ia pun tak bisa mengelak dan mengakui perbuatannya. “Pelaku juga merupakan pemain lama bersama komplotannya,” kata Danru Pengamanan Khusus KCJ Stasiun Depok Baru, Yucki. PENCOPET DI ATAS KERETA DITANGKAP

Gempa bumi dengan kekuatan 5,2 skala richter (SR) telah mengguncang wilayah Maluku Tengah, Jumat (14/3). Gempa terjadi pada pukul 10.22 WIB.

Lokasi gempa telah terjadi di 2.84 LS - 129.81 BT. Gempa ini dengan kedalaman 10 Km.

Pusat gempa berada pada 76 km Timur Laut, Maluku Tengah. Belum ada informasi apakah ada kerusakan atau tidak akibat gempa ini.

Gempa ini tidak menimbulkan tsunami

Maluku Tengah diguncang gempa 5,2 SR

MAGELANG, Saco- Indonesia.com - Kota Magelang terpilih menjadi Rumah Kegiatan Sosialisasi Regional I untuk pengembangan produk unggulan desa dengan pendekatan one village one product (OVOP) se-Jawa dan Sumatera. Kegiatan ini dijadwalkan berlangsung pada Jumat (17/5/2013) - Sabtu (18/5/2013).

Kegiata berskala nasional itu digelar di Atria Hotel & Conference Jalan Jenderal Sudirman Kota Magelang. Rencananya bakal hadir Menteri Koperasi & UKM Syarief Hasan. Juga, Gubernur Jateng Bibit Waluyo serta sekitar 110 kepala dinas yang membawahi koperasi dan UKM se-Jawa & Sumatera.

"Ini ada event tahunan dan Kota Magelang dipercaya menjadi tuan rumah untuk kali pertama," ujar Kepala Diskoperindag Kota Magelang, Tony A Prijono, Kamis (16/5/2013). Jawa Tengah adalah salah satu peraih penghargaan dari Presiden  terkait pembinaan koperasi dan UKM sehingga mendapat mandat penyelenggaraan acara ini, yang kemudian mendaulat Kota Gethuk ini sebagai tuan rumah kegiatan.

Dalam dua hari agenda kegiatan, akan ada beragam aktivitas. Di antaranya adalah seminar tentang strategi pengembangan OVOP di Indonesia. Materi ini akan diisi Deputi Bidang Pemberdayaan UKMK Kemenkop & UKM, I Wayan Dipta. "Lalu ada juga pemaparan soal peranan daerah dalam mengembangkan produk unggulan dan forum berbagi informasi seputar pengembangan OVOP di tiap daerah. Termasuk dari Kota Magelang yang akan berbagi cara mengembangkan produk unggulannya," paparnya.

Toni menambahkan, event ini akan menjadi kesempatan baik bagi Kota Magelang untuk mempromosikan potensi daerah terutama produk unggulan berupa tahu dan konveksi. Selain juga bisa menyerap ilmu dari daerah lain soal cara mengembangkan produk unggulan. Setidaknya melalui kegiatan ini ada dampak positif bagi masyarakat Magelang baik dari segi wisata, okupansi hotel, peningkatan PAD, hingga kuliner Magelang yang ikut terangkat

"Kita nanti akan tampilkan produk unggulan yang masuk OVOP, antara lain produk makanan dari olahan tahu serta produk konveksi berupa baju wanita, kerudung, baju anak- anak bordir dan lain sebagainya. Namun kita juga akan memamerkan produk unggulan khas Kota Magelang meskipun tidak masuk OVOP, yaitu batik magelangan," imbuh mantan sekretaris DPRD Kota Magelang itu.

Pemerintah pusat telah mencanangkan program OVOP sejak 2011. Tujuannya jelas agar tiap desa atau daerah memiliki produk unggulan yang dikembangkan dengan berbasis koperasi. Toni menyebutkan, ada beberapa kriteria produk itu bisa dikatakan unggulan. Di antaranya produk unggulan yang telah dikembangkan secara turun menurun, lalu menjadi khas atau unik dari daerah itu, berbasis pada SDA lokal, dan memiliki peluang pasar yang luas.

Sekda Kota Magelang, Sugiharto, menambahkan kegiatan level nasional ini juga dapat menunjukkan kepada masyarakat luas bahwa meskipun Kota Magelang adalah kota kecil namun memiliki potensi dan memiliki daya tarik tersendiri. "Artinya, kota ini sudah mulai banyak diminati instansi atau orang di luar (untuk) menjadi pusat kegiatan. Kegiatan Kemenkop dan UKM ini jadi contoh bagus dan kesempatan kita menunjukan pada semua bahwa visi sebagai kota jasa mulai terwujud," tuturnya.

 
Editor :Liwon Maulana(galipa)
Sumber:Kompas.com
Kota Magelang Tuan Rumah OVOP Nasional

Saco-Indonesia.com - Di saat ini, ancaman terorisme tidak hanya bisa terjadi di tempat ibadah atau pusat keramaian saja. Lewat komputer, teroris pun bisa mengancam ketenteraman kita.

Seperti yang dilansir The Verge (14/3), sebuah studi yang dilakukan oleh Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) menyatakan bahwa teroris bisa saja melumpuhkan aliran listrik nasional di Amerika Serikat. Hebatnya, aksi itu tidak harus dilakukan dengan cara fisik, melainkan hanya dengan sambungan internet.

Dalam sebuah skenario, dijelaskan bagaimana teroris bisa masuk ke sistem listrik Amerika yang sudah tersambung internet. Dengan sekali ketuk, sembilan kunci listrik di seluruh negara bisa di-offline-kan hingga berbulan-bulan.

Sekali saja serangan itu terjadi, maka bisa saja Amerika tak akan mendapatkan listrik selama 18 bulan lebih. Tentu bisa dibayangkan akan seperti apa kehidupan tanpa listrik selama itu.

Sistem listrik nasional Amerika sendiri memang rentan terkena bahaya dalam beberapa hal. Banyak laporan menunjukkan bahwa keamanan fisik untuk melindungi hal ini masih kurang.

Di San Jose misalnya, sistem itu masih dilindungi dengan kawat besi saja. Padahal, telah terjadi aksi penyerangan di sistem listrik California meski pengamanannya lebih ketat.

Sumber:merdeka.com

Editor Maulana Lee

Oleh Teroris bisa lumpuhkan listrik Amerika lewat internet

Though Robin and Joan Rolfs owned two rare talking dolls manufactured by Thomas Edison’s phonograph company in 1890, they did not dare play the wax cylinder records tucked inside each one.

The Rolfses, longtime collectors of Edison phonographs, knew that if they turned the cranks on the dolls’ backs, the steel phonograph needle might damage or destroy the grooves of the hollow, ring-shaped cylinder. And so for years, the dolls sat side by side inside a display cabinet, bearers of a message from the dawn of sound recording that nobody could hear.

In 1890, Edison’s dolls were a flop; production lasted only six weeks. Children found them difficult to operate and more scary than cuddly. The recordings inside, which featured snippets of nursery rhymes, wore out quickly.

Yet sound historians say the cylinders were the first entertainment records ever made, and the young girls hired to recite the rhymes were the world’s first recording artists.

Year after year, the Rolfses asked experts if there might be a safe way to play the recordings. Then a government laboratory developed a method to play fragile records without touching them.

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The technique relies on a microscope to create images of the grooves in exquisite detail. A computer approximates — with great accuracy — the sounds that would have been created by a needle moving through those grooves.

In 2014, the technology was made available for the first time outside the laboratory.

“The fear all along is that we don’t want to damage these records. We don’t want to put a stylus on them,” said Jerry Fabris, the curator of the Thomas Edison Historical Park in West Orange, N.J. “Now we have the technology to play them safely.”

Last month, the Historical Park posted online three never-before-heard Edison doll recordings, including the two from the Rolfses’ collection. “There are probably more out there, and we’re hoping people will now get them digitized,” Mr. Fabris said.

The technology, which is known as Irene (Image, Reconstruct, Erase Noise, Etc.), was developed by the particle physicist Carl Haber and the engineer Earl Cornell at Lawrence Berkeley. Irene extracts sound from cylinder and disk records. It can also reconstruct audio from recordings so badly damaged they were deemed unplayable.

“We are now hearing sounds from history that I did not expect to hear in my lifetime,” Mr. Fabris said.

The Rolfses said they were not sure what to expect in August when they carefully packed their two Edison doll cylinders, still attached to their motors, and drove from their home in Hortonville, Wis., to the National Document Conservation Center in Andover, Mass. The center had recently acquired Irene technology.

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Cylinders carry sound in a spiral groove cut by a phonograph recording needle that vibrates up and down, creating a surface made of tiny hills and valleys. In the Irene set-up, a microscope perched above the shaft takes thousands of high-resolution images of small sections of the grooves.

Stitched together, the images provide a topographic map of the cylinder’s surface, charting changes in depth as small as one five-hundredth the thickness of a human hair. Pitch, volume and timbre are all encoded in the hills and valleys and the speed at which the record is played.

At the conservation center, the preservation specialist Mason Vander Lugt attached one of the cylinders to the end of a rotating shaft. Huddled around a computer screen, the Rolfses first saw the wiggly waveform generated by Irene. Then came the digital audio. The words were at first indistinct, but as Mr. Lugt filtered out more of the noise, the rhyme became clearer.

“That was the Eureka moment,” Mr. Rolfs said.

In 1890, a girl in Edison’s laboratory had recited:

There was a little girl,

And she had a little curl

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Right in the middle of her forehead.

When she was good,

She was very, very good.

But when she was bad, she was horrid.

Recently, the conservation center turned up another surprise.

In 2010, the Woody Guthrie Foundation received 18 oversize phonograph disks from an anonymous donor. No one knew if any of the dirt-stained recordings featured Guthrie, but Tiffany Colannino, then the foundation’s archivist, had stored them unplayed until she heard about Irene.

Last fall, the center extracted audio from one of the records, labeled “Jam Session 9” and emailed the digital file to Ms. Colannino.

“I was just sitting in my dining room, and the next thing I know, I’m hearing Woody,” she said. In between solo performances of “Ladies Auxiliary,” “Jesus Christ,” and “Dead or Alive,” Guthrie tells jokes, offers some back story, and makes the audience laugh. “It is quintessential Guthrie,” Ms. Colannino said.

The Rolfses’ dolls are back in the display cabinet in Wisconsin. But with audio stored on several computers, they now have a permanent voice.

Ghostly Voices From Thomas Edison’s Dolls Can Now Be Heard

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United’s first-class and business fliers get Rhapsody, its high-minded in-flight magazine, seen here at its office in Brooklyn. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

Last summer at a writers’ workshop in Oregon, the novelists Anthony Doerr, Karen Russell and Elissa Schappell were chatting over cocktails when they realized they had all published work in the same magazine. It wasn’t one of the usual literary outlets, like Tin House, The Paris Review or The New Yorker. It was Rhapsody, an in-flight magazine for United Airlines.

It seemed like a weird coincidence. Then again, considering Rhapsody’s growing roster of A-list fiction writers, maybe not. Since its first issue hit plane cabins a year and a half ago, Rhapsody has published original works by literary stars like Joyce Carol Oates, Rick Moody, Amy Bloom, Emma Straub and Mr. Doerr, who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction two weeks ago.

As airlines try to distinguish their high-end service with luxuries like private sleeping chambers, showers, butler service and meals from five-star chefs, United Airlines is offering a loftier, more cerebral amenity to its first-class and business-class passengers: elegant prose by prominent novelists. There are no airport maps or disheartening lists of in-flight meal and entertainment options in Rhapsody. Instead, the magazine has published ruminative first-person travel accounts, cultural dispatches and probing essays about flight by more than 30 literary fiction writers.

 

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Sean Manning, executive editor of Rhapsody, which publishes works by the likes of Joyce Carol Oates, Amy Bloom and Anthony Doerr, who won a Pulitzer Prize. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

 

An airline might seem like an odd literary patron. But as publishers and writers look for new ways to reach readers in a shaky retail climate, many have formed corporate alliances with transit companies, including American Airlines, JetBlue and Amtrak, that provide a captive audience.

Mark Krolick, United Airlines’ managing director of marketing and product development, said the quality of the writing in Rhapsody brings a patina of sophistication to its first-class service, along with other opulent touches like mood lighting, soft music and a branded scent.

“The high-end leisure or business-class traveler has higher expectations, even in the entertainment we provide,” he said.

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Some of Rhapsody’s contributing writers say they were lured by the promise of free airfare and luxury accommodations provided by United, as well as exposure to an elite audience of some two million first-class and business-class travelers.

“It’s not your normal Park Slope Community Bookstore types who read Rhapsody,” Mr. Moody, author of the 1994 novel “The Ice Storm,” who wrote an introspective, philosophical piece about traveling to the Aran Islands of Ireland for Rhapsody, said in an email. “I’m not sure I myself am in that Rhapsody demographic, but I would like them to buy my books one day.”

In addition to offering travel perks, the magazine pays well and gives writers freedom, within reason, to choose their subject matter and write with style. Certain genres of flight stories are off limits, naturally: no plane crashes or woeful tales of lost luggage or rude flight attendants, and nothing too risqué.

“We’re not going to have someone write about joining the mile-high club,” said Jordan Heller, the editor in chief of Rhapsody. “Despite those restrictions, we’ve managed to come up with a lot of high-minded literary content.”

Guiding writers toward the right idea occasionally requires some gentle prodding. When Rhapsody’s executive editor asked Ms. Russell to contribute an essay about a memorable flight experience, she first pitched a story about the time she was chaperoning a group of teenagers on a trip to Europe, and their delayed plane sat at the airport in New York for several hours while other passengers got progressively drunker.

“He pointed out that disaster flights are not what people want to read about when they’re in transit, and very diplomatically suggested that maybe people want to read something that casts air travel in a more positive light,” said Ms. Russell, whose novel “Swamplandia!” was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize.

She turned in a nostalgia-tinged essay about her first flight on a trip to Disney World when she was 6. “The Magic Kingdom was an anticlimax,” she wrote. “What ride could compare to that first flight?”

Ms. Oates also wrote about her first flight, in a tiny yellow propeller plane piloted by her father. The novelist Joyce Maynard told of the constant disappointment of never seeing her books in airport bookstores and the thrill of finally spotting a fellow plane passenger reading her novel “Labor Day.” Emily St. John Mandel, who was a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction last year, wrote about agonizing over which books to bring on a long flight.

“There’s nobody that’s looked down their noses at us as an in-flight magazine,” said Sean Manning, the magazine’s executive editor. “As big as these people are in the literary world, there’s still this untapped audience for them of luxury travelers.”

United is one of a handful of companies showcasing work by literary writers as a way to elevate their brands and engage customers. Chipotle has printed original work from writers like Toni Morrison, Jeffrey Eugenides and Barbara Kingsolver on its disposable cups and paper bags. The eyeglass company Warby Parker hosts parties for authors and sells books from 14 independent publishers in its stores.

JetBlue offers around 40 e-books from HarperCollins and Penguin Random House on its free wireless network, allowing passengers to read free samples and buy and download books. JetBlue will start offering 11 digital titles from Simon & Schuster soon. Amtrak recently forged an alliance with Penguin Random House to provide free digital samples from 28 popular titles, which passengers can buy and download over Amtrak’s admittedly spotty wireless service.

Amtrak is becoming an incubator for literary talent in its own right. Last year, it started a residency program, offering writers a free long-distance train trip and complimentary food. More than 16,000 writers applied and 24 made the cut.

Like Amtrak, Rhapsody has found that writers are eager to get onboard. On a rainy spring afternoon, Rhapsody’s editorial staff sat around a conference table discussing the June issue, which will feature an essay by the novelist Hannah Pittard and an unpublished short story by the late Elmore Leonard.

“Do you have that photo of Elmore Leonard? Can I see it?” Mr. Heller, the editor in chief, asked Rhapsody’s design director, Christos Hannides. Mr. Hannides slid it across the table and noted that they also had a photograph of cowboy spurs. “It’s very simple; it won’t take away from the literature,” he said.

Rhapsody’s office, an open space with exposed pipes and a vaulted brick ceiling, sits in Dumbo at the epicenter of literary Brooklyn, in the same converted tea warehouse as the literary journal N+1 and the digital publisher Atavist. Two of the magazine’s seven staff members hold graduate degrees in creative writing. Mr. Manning, the executive editor, has published a memoir and edited five literary anthologies.

Mr. Manning said Rhapsody was conceived from the start as a place for literary novelists to write with voice and style, and nobody had been put off that their work would live in plane cabins and airport lounges.

Still, some contributors say they wish the magazine were more widely circulated.

“I would love it if I could read it,” said Ms. Schappell, a Brooklyn-based novelist who wrote a feature story for Rhapsody’s inaugural issue. “But I never fly first class.”

Rhapsody, a Lofty Literary Journal, Perused at 39,000 Feet

Even as a high school student, Dave Goldberg was urging female classmates to speak up. As a young dot-com executive, he had one girlfriend after another, but fell hard for a driven friend named Sheryl Sandberg, pining after her for years. After they wed, Mr. Goldberg pushed her to negotiate hard for high compensation and arranged his schedule so that he could be home with their children when she was traveling for work.

Mr. Goldberg, who died unexpectedly on Friday, was a genial, 47-year-old Silicon Valley entrepreneur who built his latest company, SurveyMonkey, from a modest enterprise to one recently valued by investors at $2 billion. But he was also perhaps the signature male feminist of his era: the first major chief executive in memory to spur his wife to become as successful in business as he was, and an essential figure in “Lean In,” Ms. Sandberg’s blockbuster guide to female achievement.

Over the weekend, even strangers were shocked at his death, both because of his relatively young age and because they knew of him as the living, breathing, car-pooling center of a new philosophy of two-career marriage.

“They were very much the role models for what this next generation wants to grapple with,” said Debora L. Spar, the president of Barnard College. In a 2011 commencement speech there, Ms. Sandberg told the graduates that whom they married would be their most important career decision.

In the play “The Heidi Chronicles,” revived on Broadway this spring, a male character who is the founder of a media company says that “I don’t want to come home to an A-plus,” explaining that his ambitions require him to marry an unthreatening helpmeet. Mr. Goldberg grew up to hold the opposite view, starting with his upbringing in progressive Minneapolis circles where “there was woman power in every aspect of our lives,” Jeffrey Dachis, a childhood friend, said in an interview.

The Goldberg parents read “The Feminine Mystique” together — in fact, Mr. Goldberg’s father introduced it to his wife, according to Ms. Sandberg’s book. In 1976, Paula Goldberg helped found a nonprofit to aid children with disabilities. Her husband, Mel, a law professor who taught at night, made the family breakfast at home.

Later, when Dave Goldberg was in high school and his prom date, Jill Chessen, stayed silent in a politics class, he chastised her afterward. He said, “You need to speak up,” Ms. Chessen recalled in an interview. “They need to hear your voice.”

Years later, when Karin Gilford, an early employee at Launch Media, Mr. Goldberg’s digital music company, became a mother, he knew exactly what to do. He kept giving her challenging assignments, she recalled, but also let her work from home one day a week. After Yahoo acquired Launch, Mr. Goldberg became known for distributing roses to all the women in the office on Valentine’s Day.

Ms. Sandberg, who often describes herself as bossy-in-a-good-way, enchanted him when they became friendly in the mid-1990s. He “was smitten with her,” Ms. Chessen remembered. Ms. Sandberg was dating someone else, but Mr. Goldberg still hung around, even helping her and her then-boyfriend move, recalled Bob Roback, a friend and co-founder of Launch. When they finally married in 2004, friends remember thinking how similar the two were, and that the qualities that might have made Ms. Sandberg intimidating to some men drew Mr. Goldberg to her even more.

Over the next decade, Mr. Goldberg and Ms. Sandberg pioneered new ways of capturing information online, had a son and then a daughter, became immensely wealthy, and hashed out their who-does-what-in-this-marriage issues. Mr. Goldberg’s commute from the Bay Area to Los Angeles became a strain, so he relocated, later joking that he “lost the coin flip” of where they would live. He paid the bills, she planned the birthday parties, and both often left their offices at 5:30 so they could eat dinner with their children before resuming work afterward.

Friends in Silicon Valley say they were careful to conduct their careers separately, politely refusing when outsiders would ask one about the other’s work: Ms. Sandberg’s role building Facebook into an information and advertising powerhouse, and Mr. Goldberg at SurveyMonkey, which made polling faster and cheaper. But privately, their work was intertwined. He often began statements to his team with the phrase “Well, Sheryl said” sharing her business advice. He counseled her, too, starting with her salary negotiations with Mark Zuckerberg.

“I wanted Mark to really feel he stretched to get Sheryl, because she was worth it,” Mr. Goldberg explained in a 2013 “60 Minutes” interview, his Minnesota accent and his smile intact as he offered a rare peek of the intersection of marriage and money at the top of corporate life.

 

 

While his wife grew increasingly outspoken about women’s advancement, Mr. Goldberg quietly advised the men in the office on family and partnership matters, an associate said. Six out of 16 members of SurveyMonkey’s management team are female, an almost unheard-of ratio among Silicon Valley “unicorns,” or companies valued at over $1 billion.

When Mellody Hobson, a friend and finance executive, wrote a chapter of “Lean In” about women of color for the college edition of the book, Mr. Goldberg gave her feedback on the draft, a clue to his deep involvement. He joked with Ms. Hobson that she was too long-winded, like Ms. Sandberg, but aside from that, he said he loved the chapter, she said in an interview.

By then, Mr. Goldberg was a figure of fascination who inspired a “where can I get one of those?” reaction among many of the women who had read the best seller “Lean In.” Some lamented that Ms. Sandberg’s advice hinged too much on marrying a Dave Goldberg, who was humble enough to plan around his wife, attentive enough to worry about which shoes his young daughter would wear, and rich enough to help pay for the help that made the family’s balancing act manageable.

Now that he is gone, and Ms. Sandberg goes from being half of a celebrated partnership to perhaps the business world’s most prominent single mother, the pages of “Lean In” carry a new sting of loss.

“We are never at 50-50 at any given moment — perfect equality is hard to define or sustain — but we allow the pendulum to swing back and forth between us,” she wrote in 2013, adding that they were looking forward to raising teenagers together.

“Fortunately, I have Dave to figure it out with me,” she wrote.

Dave Goldberg Was Lifelong Women’s Advocate

Late in April, after Native American actors walked off in disgust from the set of Adam Sandler’s latest film, a western sendup that its distributor, Netflix, has defended as being equally offensive to all, a glow of pride spread through several Native American communities.

Tantoo Cardinal, a Canadian indigenous actress who played Black Shawl in “Dances With Wolves,” recalled thinking to herself, “It’s come.” Larry Sellers, who starred as Cloud Dancing in the 1990s television show “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” thought, “It’s about time.” Jesse Wente, who is Ojibwe and directs film programming at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, found himself encouraged and surprised. There are so few film roles for indigenous actors, he said, that walking off the set of a major production showed real mettle.

But what didn’t surprise Mr. Wente was the content of the script. According to the actors who walked off the set, the film, titled “The Ridiculous Six,” included a Native American woman who passes out and is revived after white men douse her with alcohol, and another woman squatting to urinate while lighting a peace pipe. “There’s enough history at this point to have set some expectations around these sort of Hollywood depictions,” Mr. Wente said.

The walkout prompted a rhetorical “What do you expect from an Adam Sandler film?,” and a Netflix spokesman said that in the movie, blacks, Mexicans and whites were lampooned as well. But Native American actors and critics said a broader issue was at stake. While mainstream portrayals of native peoples have, Mr. Wente said, become “incrementally better” over the decades, he and others say, they remain far from accurate and reflect a lack of opportunities for Native American performers. What’s more, as Native Americans hunger for representation on screen, critics say the absence of three-dimensional portrayals has very real off-screen consequences.

“Our people are still healing from historical trauma,” said Loren Anthony, one of the actors who walked out. “Our youth are still trying to figure out who they are, where they fit in this society. Kids are killing themselves. They’re not proud of who they are.” They also don’t, he added, see themselves on prime time television or the big screen. Netflix noted while about five people walked off the “The Ridiculous Six” set, 100 or so Native American actors and extras stayed.

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But in interviews, nearly a dozen Native American actors and film industry experts said that Mr. Sandler’s humor perpetuated decades-old negative stereotypes. Mr. Anthony said such depictions helped feed the despondency many Native Americans feel, with deadly results: Native Americans have the highest suicide rate out of all the country’s ethnicities.

The on-screen problem is twofold, Mr. Anthony and others said: There’s a paucity of roles for Native Americans — according to the Screen Actors Guild in 2008 they accounted for 0.3 percent of all on-screen parts (those figures have yet to be updated), compared to about 2 percent of the general population — and Native American actors are often perceived in a narrow way.

In his Peabody Award-winning documentary “Reel Injun,” the Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond explored Hollywood depictions of Native Americans over the years, and found they fell into a few stereotypical categories: the Noble Savage, the Drunk Indian, the Mystic, the Indian Princess, the backward tribal people futilely fighting John Wayne and manifest destiny. While the 1990 film “Dances With Wolves” won praise for depicting Native Americans as fully fleshed out human beings, not all indigenous people embraced it. It was still told, critics said, from the colonialists’ point of view. In an interview, John Trudell, a Santee Sioux writer, actor (“Thunderheart”) and the former chairman of the American Indian Movement, described the film as “a story of two white people.”

“God bless ‘Dances with Wolves,’ ” Michael Horse, who played Deputy Hawk in “Twin Peaks,” said sarcastically. “Even ‘Avatar.’ Someone’s got to come save the tribal people.”

Dan Spilo, a partner at Industry Entertainment who represents Adam Beach, one of today’s most prominent Native American actors, said while typecasting dogs many minorities, it is especially intractable when it comes to Native Americans. Casting directors, he said, rarely cast them as police officers, doctors or lawyers. “There’s the belief that the Native American character should be on reservations or riding a horse,” he said.

“We don’t see ourselves,” Mr. Horse said. “We’re still an antiquated culture to them, and to the rest of the world.”

Ms. Cardinal said she was once turned down for the role of the wife of a child-abusing cop because the filmmakers felt that casting her would somehow be “too political.”

Another sore point is the long run of white actors playing American Indians, among them Burt Lancaster, Rock Hudson, Audrey Hepburn and, more recently, Johnny Depp, whose depiction of Tonto in the 2013 film “Lone Ranger,” was viewed as racist by detractors. There are, of course, exceptions. The former A&E series “Longmire,” which, as it happens, will now be on Netflix, was roundly praised for its depiction of life on a Northern Cheyenne reservation, with Lou Diamond Phillips, who is of Cherokee descent, playing a Northern Cheyenne man.

Others also point to the success of Mr. Beach, who played a Mohawk detective in “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and landed a starring role in the forthcoming D C Comics picture “Suicide Squad.” Mr. Beach said he had come across insulting scripts backed by people who don’t see anything wrong with them.

“I’d rather starve than do something that is offensive to my ancestral roots,” Mr. Beach said. “But I think there will always be attempts to drawn on the weakness of native people’s struggles. The savage Indian will always be the savage Indian. The white man will always be smarter and more cunning. The cavalry will always win.”

The solution, Mr. Wente, Mr. Trudell and others said, lies in getting more stories written by and starring Native Americans. But Mr. Wente noted that while independent indigenous film has blossomed in the last two decades, mainstream depictions have yet to catch up. “You have to stop expecting for Hollywood to correct it, because there seems to be no ability or desire to correct it,” Mr. Wente said.

There have been calls to boycott Netflix but, writing for Indian Country Today Media Network, which first broke news of the walk off, the filmmaker Brian Young noted that the distributor also offered a number of films by or about Native Americans.

The furor around “The Ridiculous Six” may drive more people to see it. Then one of the questions that Mr. Trudell, echoing others, had about the film will be answered: “Who the hell laughs at this stuff?”

Native American Actors Work to Overcome a Long-Documented Bias

THE WRITERS ASHLEY AND JAQUAVIS COLEMAN know the value of a good curtain-raiser. The couple have co-authored dozens of novels, and they like to start them with a bang: a headlong action sequence, a blast of violence or sex that rocks readers back on their heels. But the Colemans concede they would be hard-pressed to dream up anything more gripping than their own real-life opening scene.

In the summer of 2001, JaQuavis Coleman was a 16-year-old foster child in Flint, Mich., the former auto-manufacturing mecca that had devolved, in the wake of General Motors’ plant closures, into one of the country’s most dangerous cities, with a decimated economy and a violent crime rate more than three times the national average. When JaQuavis was 8, social services had removed him from his mother’s home. He spent years bouncing between foster families. At 16, JaQuavis was also a businessman: a crack dealer with a network of street-corner peddlers in his employ.

One day that summer, JaQuavis met a fellow dealer in a parking lot on Flint’s west side. He was there to make a bulk sale of a quarter-brick, or “nine-piece” — a nine-ounce parcel of cocaine, with a street value of about $11,000. In the middle of the transaction, JaQuavis heard the telltale chirp of a walkie-talkie. His customer, he now realized, was an undercover policeman. JaQuavis jumped into his car and spun out onto the road, with two unmarked police cars in pursuit. He didn’t want to get into a high-speed chase, so he whipped his car into a church parking lot and made a run for it, darting into an alleyway behind a row of small houses, where he tossed the quarter-brick into some bushes. When JaQuavis reached the small residential street on the other side of the houses, he was greeted by the police, who handcuffed him and went to search behind the houses where, they told him, they were certain he had ditched the drugs. JaQuavis had been dealing since he was 12, had amassed more than $100,000 and had never been arrested. Now, he thought: It’s over.

But when the police looked in the bushes, they couldn’t find any cocaine. They interrogated JaQuavis, who denied having ever possessed or sold drugs. They combed the backyard alley some more. After an hour of fruitless efforts, the police were forced to unlock the handcuffs and release their suspect.

JaQuavis was baffled by the turn of events until the next day, when he received a phone call. The previous afternoon, a 15-year-old girl had been sitting in her home on the west side of Flint when she heard sirens. She looked out of the window of her bedroom, and watched a young man throw a package in the bushes behind her house. She recognized him. He was a high school classmate — a handsome, charismatic boy whom she had admired from afar. The girl crept outside and grabbed the bundle, which she hid in her basement. “I have something that belongs to you,” Ashley Snell told JaQuavis Coleman when she reached him by phone. “You wanna come over here and pick it up?”

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Three of the nearly 50 works of urban fiction published by the Colemans over the last decade, often featuring drug deals, violence, sex and a brash kind of feminism.Credit Marko Metzinger

In the Colemans’ first novel, “Dirty Money” (2005), they told a version of this story. The outline was the same: the drug deal gone bad, the dope chucked in the bushes, the fateful phone call. To the extent that the authors took poetic license, it was to tone down the meet-cute improbability of the true-life events. In “Dirty Money,” the girl, Anari, and the crack dealer, Maurice, circle each other warily for a year or so before coupling up. But the facts of Ashley and JaQuavis’s romance outstripped pulp fiction. They fell in love more or less at first sight, moved into their own apartment while still in high school and were married in 2008. “We were together from the day we met,” Ashley says. “I don’t think we’ve spent more than a week apart in total over the past 14 years.”

That partnership turned out to be creative and entrepreneurial as well as romantic. Over the past decade, the Colemans have published nearly 50 books, sometimes as solo writers, sometimes under pseudonyms, but usually as collaborators with a byline that has become a trusted brand: “Ashley & JaQuavis.” They are marquee stars of urban fiction, or street lit, a genre whose inner-city settings and lurid mix of crime, sex and sensationalism have earned it comparisons to gangsta rap. The emergence of street lit is one of the big stories in recent American publishing, a juggernaut that has generated huge sales by catering to a readership — young, black and, for the most part, female — that historically has been ill-served by the book business. But the genre is also widely maligned. Street lit is subject to a kind of triple snobbery: scorned by literati who look down on genre fiction generally, ignored by a white publishing establishment that remains largely indifferent to black books and disparaged by African-American intellectuals for poor writing, coarse values and trafficking in racial stereotypes.

But if a certain kind of cultural prestige is shut off to the Colemans, they have reaped other rewards. They’ve built a large and loyal fan base, which gobbles up the new Ashley & JaQuavis titles that arrive every few months. Many of those books are sold at street-corner stands and other off-the-grid venues in African-American neighborhoods, a literary gray market that doesn’t register a blip on best-seller tallies. Yet the Colemans’ most popular series now regularly crack the trade fiction best-seller lists of The New York Times and Publishers Weekly. For years, the pair had no literary agent; they sold hundreds of thousands of books without banking a penny in royalties. Still, they have earned millions of dollars, almost exclusively from cash-for-manuscript deals negotiated directly with independent publishing houses. In short, though little known outside of the world of urban fiction, the Colemans are one of America’s most successful literary couples, a distinction they’ve achieved, they insist, because of their work’s gritty authenticity and their devotion to a primal literary virtue: the power of the ripping yarn.

“When you read our books, you’re gonna realize: ‘Ashley & JaQuavis are storytellers,’ ” says Ashley. “Our tales will get your heart pounding.”

THE COLEMANS’ HOME BASE — the cottage from which they operate their cottage industry — is a spacious four-bedroom house in a genteel suburb about 35 miles north of downtown Detroit. The house is plush, but when I visited this past winter, it was sparsely appointed. The couple had just recently moved in, and had only had time to fully furnish the bedroom of their 4-year-old son, Quaye.

In conversation, Ashley and JaQuavis exude both modesty and bravado: gratitude for their good fortune and bootstrappers’ pride in having made their own luck. They talk a lot about their time in the trenches, the years they spent as a drug dealer and “ride-or-die girl” tandem. In Flint they learned to “grind hard.” Writing, they say, is merely a more elevated kind of grind.

“Instead of hitting the block like we used to, we hit the laptops,” says Ashley. “I know what every word is worth. So while I’m writing, I’m like: ‘Okay, there’s a hundred dollars. There’s a thousand dollars. There’s five thousand dollars.’ ”

They maintain a rigorous regimen. They each try to write 5,000 words per day, five days a week. The writers stagger their shifts: JaQuavis goes to bed at 7 p.m. and wakes up early, around 3 or 4 in the morning, to work while his wife and child sleep. Ashley writes during the day, often in libraries or at Starbucks.

They divide the labor in other ways. Chapters are divvied up more or less equally, with tasks assigned according to individual strengths. (JaQuavis typically handles character development. Ashley loves writing murder scenes.) The results are stitched together, with no editorial interference from one author in the other’s text. The real work, they contend, is the brainstorming. The Colemans spend weeks mapping out their plot-driven books — long conversations that turn into elaborate diagrams on dry-erase boards. “JaQuavis and I are so close, it makes the process real easy,” says Ashley. “Sometimes when I’m thinking of something, a plot point, he’ll say it out loud, and I’m like: ‘Wait — did I say that?’ ”

Their collaboration developed by accident, and on the fly. Both were bookish teenagers. Ashley read lots of Judy Blume and John Grisham; JaQuavis liked Shakespeare, Richard Wright and “Atlas Shrugged.” (Their first official date was at a Borders bookstore, where Ashley bought “The Coldest Winter Ever,” the Sister Souljah novel often credited with kick-starting the contemporary street-lit movement.) In 2003, Ashley, then 17, was forced to terminate an ectopic pregnancy. She was bedridden for three weeks, and to provide distraction and boost her spirits, JaQuavis challenged his girlfriend to a writing contest. “She just wasn’t talking. She was laying in bed. I said, ‘You know what? I bet you I could write a better book than you.’ My wife is real competitive. So I said, ‘Yo, all right, $500 bet.’ And I saw her eyes spark, like, ‘What?! You can’t write no better book than me!’ So I wrote about three chapters. She wrote about three chapters. Two days later, we switched.”

The result, hammered out in a few days, would become “Dirty Money.” Two years later, when Ashley and JaQuavis were students at Ferris State University in Western Michigan, they sold the manuscript to Urban Books, a street-lit imprint founded by the best-selling author Carl Weber. At the time, JaQuavis was still making his living selling drugs. When Ashley got the phone call informing her that their book had been bought, she assumed they’d hit it big, and flushed more than $10,000 worth of cocaine down the toilet. Their advance was a mere $4,000.

Photo
The roots of street lit, found in the midcentury detective novels of Chester Himes and the ‘60s and ‘70s “ghetto fiction” of Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines.Credit Marko Metzinger

Those advances would soon increase, eventually reaching five and six figures. The Colemans built their career, JaQuavis says, in a manner that made sense to him as a veteran dope peddler: by flooding the street with product. From the start, they were prolific, churning out books at a rate of four or five a year. Their novels made their way into stores; the now-defunct chain Waldenbooks, which had stores in urban areas typically bypassed by booksellers, was a major engine of the street-lit market. But Ashley and JaQuavis took advantage of distribution channels established by pioneering urban fiction authors such as Teri Woods and Vickie Stringer, and a network of street-corner tables, magazine stands, corner shops and bodegas. Like rappers who establish their bona fides with gray-market mixtapes, street-lit authors use this system to circumnavigate industry gatekeepers, bringing their work straight to the genre’s core readership. But urban fiction has other aficionados, in less likely places. “Our books are so popular in the prison system,” JaQuavis says. “We’re banned in certain penitentiaries. Inmates fight over the books — there are incidents, you know? I have loved ones in jail, and they’re like: ‘Yo, your books can’t come in here. It’s against the rules.’ ”

The appeal of the Colemans’ work is not hard to fathom. The books are formulaic and taut; they deliver the expected goods efficiently and exuberantly. The titles telegraph the contents: “Diary of a Street Diva,” “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,” “Murderville.” The novels serve up a stream of explicit sex and violence in a slangy, tangy, profane voice. In Ashley & JaQuavis’s books people don’t get killed: they get “popped,” “laid out,” get their “cap twisted back.” The smut is constant, with emphasis on the earthy, sticky, olfactory particulars. Romance novel clichés — shuddering orgasms, heroic carnal feats, superlative sexual skill sets — are rendered in the Colemans’ punchy patois.

Subtlety, in other words, isn’t Ashley & JaQuavis’s forte. But their books do have a grainy specificity. In “The Cartel” (2008), the first novel in the Colemans’ best-selling saga of a Miami drug syndicate, they catch the sights and smells of a crack workshop in a housing project: the nostril-stinging scent of cocaine and baking soda bubbling on stovetops; the teams of women, stripped naked except for hospital masks so they can’t pilfer the merchandise, “cutting up the cooked coke on the round wood table.” The subject matter is dark, but the Colemans’ tone is not quite noir. Even in the grimmest scenes, the mood is high-spirited, with the writers palpably relishing the lewd and gory details: the bodies writhing in boudoirs and crumpling under volleys of bullets, the geysers of blood and other bodily fluids.

The luridness of street lit has made it a flashpoint, inciting controversy reminiscent of the hip-hop culture wars of the 1980s and ’90s. But the street-lit debate touches deeper historical roots, reviving decades-old arguments in black literary circles about the mandate to uplift the race and present wholesome images of African-Americans. In 1928, W. E. B. Du Bois slammed the “licentiousness” of “Home to Harlem,” Claude McKay’s rollicking novel of Harlem nightlife. McKay’s book, Du Bois wrote, “for the most part nauseates me, and after the dirtier parts of its filth I feel distinctly like taking a bath.” Similar sentiments have greeted 21st-century street lit. In a 2006 New York Times Op-Ed essay, the journalist and author Nick Chiles decried “the sexualization and degradation of black fiction.” African-American bookstores, Chiles complained, are “overrun with novels that . . . appeal exclusively to our most prurient natures — as if these nasty books were pairing off back in the stockrooms like little paperback rabbits and churning out even more graphic offspring that make Ralph Ellison books cringe into a dusty corner.”

Copulating paperbacks aside, it’s clear that the street-lit debate is about more than literature, touching on questions of paternalism versus populism, and on middle-class anxieties about the black underclass. “It’s part and parcel of black elites’ efforts to define not only a literary tradition, but a racial politics,” said Kinohi Nishikawa, an assistant professor of English and African-American Studies at Princeton University. “There has always been a sense that because African-Americans’ opportunities to represent themselves are so limited in the first place, any hint of criminality or salaciousness would necessarily be a knock on the entire racial politics. One of the pressing debates about African-American literature today is: If we can’t include writers like Ashley & JaQuavis, to what extent is the foundation of our thinking about black literature faulty? Is it just a literature for elites? Or can it be inclusive, bringing urban fiction under the purview of our umbrella term ‘African-American literature’?”

Defenders of street lit note that the genre has a pedigree: a tradition of black pulp fiction that stretches from Chester Himes, the midcentury author of hardboiled Harlem detective stories, to the 1960s and ’70s “ghetto fiction” of Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines, to the current wave of urban fiction authors. Others argue for street lit as a social good, noting that it attracts a large audience that might otherwise never read at all. Scholars like Nishikawa link street lit to recent studies showing increased reading among African-Americans. A 2014 Pew Research Center report found that a greater percentage of black Americans are book readers than whites or Latinos.

For their part, the Colemans place their work in the broader black literary tradition. “You have Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, James Baldwin — all of these traditional black writers, who wrote about the struggles of racism, injustice, inequality,” says Ashley. “We’re writing about the struggle as it happens now. It’s just a different struggle. I’m telling my story. I’m telling the struggle of a black girl from Flint, Michigan, who grew up on welfare.”

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The Colemans in their new four-bedroom house in the northern suburbs of Detroit.Credit Courtesy of Ashley and JaQuavis Coleman

Perhaps there is a high-minded case to be made for street lit. But the virtues of Ashley & JaQuavis’s work are more basic. Their novels do lack literary polish. The writing is not graceful; there are passages of clunky exposition and sex scenes that induce guffaws and eye rolls. But the pleasure quotient is high. The books flaunt a garish brand of feminism, with women characters cast not just as vixens, but also as gangsters — cold-blooded killers, “murder mamas.” The stories are exceptionally well-plotted. “The Cartel” opens by introducing its hero, the crime boss Carter Diamond; on page 9, a gunshot spatters Diamond’s brain across the interior of a police cruiser. The book then flashes back seven years and begins to hurtle forward again — a bullet train, whizzing readers through shifting alliances, romantic entanglements and betrayals, kidnappings, shootouts with Haitian and Dominican gangsters, and a cliffhanger closing scene that leaves the novel’s heroine tied to a chair in a basement, gruesomely tortured to the edge of death. Ashley & JaQuavis’s books are not Ralph Ellison, certainly, but they build up quite a head of steam. They move.

The Colemans are moving themselves these days. They recently signed a deal with St. Martin’s Press, which will bring out the next installment in the “Cartel” series as well as new solo series by both writers. The St. Martin’s deal is both lucrative and legitimizing — a validation of Ashley and JaQuavis’s work by one of publishing’s most venerable houses. The Colemans’ ambitions have grown, as well. A recent trilogy, “Murderville,” tackles human trafficking and the blood-diamond industry in West Africa, with storylines that sweep from Sierra Leone to Mexico to Los Angeles. Increasingly, Ashley & JaQuavis are leaning on research — traveling to far-flung settings and hitting the books in the libraries — and spending less time mining their own rough-and-tumble past.

But Flint remains a source of inspiration. One evening not long ago, JaQuavis led me on a tour of his hometown: a popular roadside bar; the parking lot where he met the undercover cop for the ill-fated drug deal; Ashley’s old house, the site of his almost-arrest. He took me to a ramshackle vehicle repair shop on Flint’s west side, where he worked as a kid, washing cars. He showed me a bathroom at the rear of the garage, where, at age 12, he sneaked away to inspect the first “boulder” of crack that he ever sold. A spray-painted sign on the garage wall, which JaQuavis remembered from his time at the car wash, offered words of warning:

WHAT EVERY YOUNG MAN SHOULD KNOW
ABOUT USING A GUN:
MURDER . . . 30 Years
ARMED ROBBERY . . . 15 Years
ASSAULT . . . 15 Years
RAPE . . . 20 Years
POSSESSION . . . 5 Years
JACKING . . . 20 YEARS

“We still love Flint, Michigan,” JaQuavis says. “It’s so seedy, so treacherous. But there’s some heart in this city. This is where it all started, selling books out the box. In the days when we would get those little $40,000 advances, they’d send us a couple boxes of books for free. We would hit the streets to sell our books, right out of the car trunk. It was a hustle. It still is.”

One old neighborhood asset that the Colemans have not shaken off is swagger. “My wife is the best female writer in the game,” JaQuavis told me. “I believe I’m the best male writer in the game. I’m sleeping next to the best writer in the world. And she’s doing the same.”

 
From T Magazine: Street Lit’s Power Couple

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The live music at the Vice Media party on Friday shook the room. Shane Smith, Vice’s chief executive, was standing near the stage — with a drink in his hand, pants sagging, tattoos showing — watching the rapper-cum-chef Action Bronson make pizzas.

The event was an after-party, a happy-hour bacchanal for the hundreds of guests who had come for Vice’s annual presentation to advertisers and agencies that afternoon, part of the annual frenzy for ad dollars called the Digital Content NewFronts. Mr. Smith had spoken there for all of five minutes before running a slam-bang highlight reel of the company’s shows that had titles like “Weediquette” and “Gaycation.”

In the last year, Vice has secured $500 million in financing and signed deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars with established media companies like HBO that are eager to engage the young viewers Vice attracts. Vice said it was now worth at least $4 billion, with nearly $1 billion in projected revenue for 2015. It is a long way from Vice’s humble start as a free magazine in 1994.

Photo
 
At the Vice after-party, the rapper Action Bronson, a host of a Vice show, made a pizza. Credit Jesse Dittmar for The New York Times

But even as cash flows freely in Vice’s direction, the company is trying to keep its brash, insurgent image. At the party on Friday, it plied guests with beers and cocktails. Its apparently unrehearsed presentation to advertisers was peppered with expletives. At one point, the director Spike Jonze, a longtime Vice collaborator, asked on stage if Mr. Smith had been drinking.

“My assistant tried to cut me off,” Mr. Smith replied. “I’m on buzz control.”

Now, Vice is on the verge of getting its own cable channel, which would give the company a traditional outlet for its slate of non-news programming. If all goes as planned, A&E Networks, the television group owned by Hearst and Disney, will turn over its History Channel spinoff, H2, to Vice.

The deal’s announcement was expected last week, but not all of A&E’s distribution partners — the cable and satellite TV companies that carry the network’s channels — have signed off on the change, according to a person familiar with the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks were private.

A cable channel would be a further step in a transformation for Vice, from bad-boy digital upstart to mainstream media company.

Keen for the core audience of young men who come to Vice, media giants like 21st Century Fox, Time Warner and Disney all showed interest in the company last year. Vice ultimately secured $500 million in financing from A&E Networks and Technology Crossover Ventures, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm that has invested in Facebook and Netflix.

Those investments valued Vice at more than $2.5 billion. (In 2013, Fox bought a 5 percent stake for $70 million.)

Then in March, HBO announced that it had signed a multiyear deal to broadcast a daily half-hour Vice newscast. Vice already produces a weekly newsmagazine show, called “Vice,” for the network. That show will extend its run through 2018, with an increase to 35 episodes a year, from 14.

Michael Lombardo, HBO’s president for programming, said when the deal was announced that it was “certainly one of our biggest investments with hours on the air.”

Vice, based in Brooklyn, also recently signed a multiyear $100 million deal with Rogers Communications, a Canadian media conglomerate, to produce original content for TV, smartphone and desktop viewers.

Vice’s finances are private, but according to an internal document reviewed by The New York Times and verified by a person familiar with the company’s financials, the company is on track to make about $915 million in revenue this year.

Photo
 
Vice showed a highlight reel of its TV series at the NewFronts last week in New York. Credit Jesse Dittmar for The New York Times

It brought in $545 million in a strong first quarter, which included portions of the new HBO deal and the Rogers deal, according to the document. More of its revenue now comes from these types of content partnerships, compared with the branded content deals that made up much of its revenue a year ago, the company said.

Mr. Smith said the company was worth at least $4 billion. If the valuation gets much higher, he said he would consider taking the company public.

“I don’t care about money; we have plenty of money,” Mr. Smith, who is Vice’s biggest shareholder, said in an interview after the presentation on Friday. “I care about strategic deals.”

In the United States, Vice Media had 35.2 million unique visitors across its sites in March, according to comScore.

The third season of Vice’s weekly HBO show has averaged 1.8 million viewers per episode, including reruns, through April 12, according to Brad Adgate, the director of research at Horizon Media. (Vice said the show attracted three million weekly viewers when repeat broadcasts, online and on-demand viewings were included.)

For years, Mr. Smith has criticized traditional TV, calling it slow and unable to draw younger viewers. But if all the deals Vice has struck are to work out, Mr. Smith may have to play more by the rules of traditional media. James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s son and a member of Vice’s board, was at the company’s presentation on Friday, as were other top media executives.

“They know they need people like me to help them, but they can’t get out of their own way,” Mr. Smith said in the interview Friday. “My only real frustration is we’re used to being incredibly dynamic, and they’re not incredibly dynamic.”

With its own television channel in the United States, Vice would have something it has long coveted even as traditional media companies are looking beyond TV. Last year, Vice’s deal with Time Warner failed in part because the two companies could not agree on how much control Vice would have over a 24-hour television network.

Vice said it intended to fill its new channel with non-news programming. The company plans to have sports shows, fashion shows, food shows and the “Gaycation” travel show with the actress Ellen Page. It is also in talks with Kanye West about a show.

It remains to be seen whether Vice’s audience will watch a traditional cable channel. Still, Vice has effectively presold all of the ad spots to two of the biggest advertising agencies for the first three years, Mr. Smith said.

In the meantime, Mr. Smith is enjoying Vice’s newfound role as a potential savior of traditional media companies.

“I’m a C.E.O. of a content company,” Mr. Smith said before he caught a flight to Las Vegas for the boxing match on Saturday between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. “If it stops being fun, then why are you doing it?”

As Vice Moves More to TV, It Tries to Keep Brash Voice
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