Holy men, holy women 10
MAY 11 — There was something to be said about undertaking a sabbatical to devote oneself to prayer. Be it in a congregation or alone, when one submits to God, his or her supplications are felt to be more effective, stronger.
If before, a Muslim prayed in the privacy of his/her home or the office surau, and felt rushed, when he/she prayed during a religious retreat, it is as if everything resonated even more.
“Allahuakhbar,” the imam said. Allah is great.
“Allahuakhbar,” the jemaah repeated.
It is during the final prostration, the sujud, that a Muslim after reciting short supplications, begged, asked for forgiveness, to be healed, to be rich, anything his/her heart desired. That is the one private time between him/her and Allah.
After Isya prayers, Tok M and I went for a walk. Tok M wanted to go to the co-op to get some food. The commune was a self sustaining eco-system; it had its own bakery, grocer, boutiques which sold modest clothes. One of the shops we dropped by sold eyedrops made of the Zamzam water and honey.
“Dik tak nak beli?” the proprietor asked.
“Eee, cukup la dengan zikir Ya Shakuur 41 kali,” I said. Ya Shakuur was one of the 99 names of Allah, and it was said that reciting it 41 times would help with any eye problems. The idea of dropping foreign matter into my eye was quite frightening.
Tok M pointed out a hotel on the commune’s grounds. That’s for married couples who come to visit relatives here, she said. The commune was only open to widows or divorcees, widowers and male orphans.
The hotel was white, and devoid of human presence. Beneath it were a few offices, one of which was a homeopathy centre. They too were empty.
We were welcomed by a woman into her home. Tok M and she began a lively banter of the latest goings-on in the commune. Oh, this had to be a halal version of Desperate Housewives.
One tenant had become soloq — years of tasawwuf and soul cleansing had made her “... not right in the head...” while another tenant, oh hush, this was not gossip, we must learn from other people’s mistakes so as to not repeat such behaviour, had been abandoned by her children, the women chattered.
The latter had taken to slander and malice because of her unhappiness, picking fights with the other women. Even worse, it’s been whispered that she may be ushered out of the commune because her behaviour was improper! The two old women shook their heads. While they caught up with each other, I thought of the Isya khutbah. The imam had warned the female congregation to not marry a womaniser, or a man with a colourful sexual history. These men were liars! It was best to marry a virgin or a man with very few partners.
I could see his point. How many was too many? We’re so sexualised that it would seem that to not have the numbers would make one a rather puerile partner. No wonder we are riddled by performance anxiety when we meet a potential partner whose past rivals a bordello.
I looked at Tok M and her friend, still gabbing away about their errant friend. The commune was indeed an attractive option for them. There was no guarantee that one’s family and friends would care for them in old age.
At the commune, there was always someone warmly greeting you with a salam, and knocking on your door to make sure you were still alive. If you were ill, there was a van to take you to the hospital.
The topic had changed. They were sighing over their children’s attire when they visited their mothers. Jeans were frowned upon, so their sons were quite fed up. A young visitor was once offered a kain pelikat when he came to visit, in torn jeans.
My days at the pondok begin before sunrise. We rush to the mosque at about 5 in the morning, to perform pre-Subuh prayers, such as Tahjuud. That particular morning was a bit more relaxed; there was a Maulud procession the night before, and everyone had participated.
But before anything else, there was the morning nap after dawn prayers, to prepare them for the activities which will run from Zohor to late night. For each prayer time, again, there was that rush to the mosque.
It wasn’t just piety that drove them there for if they went early, they’d be able to get their favourite praying spots — beneath the fan; right up in front, so as to be able to hear the imam speak; near the pillar.
The Maulud procession that we all participated in the night before was an interesting one. A group of men holding drums led the procession around the village, and at each corner, there were families handing out gifts of prayer books, cakes and drinks.
We met a few cul-de-sacs, so every time the procession had to backtrack, the women scuttled to the side hurriedly, to allow the men to pass first, and they followed later.
Tok M and I were in her house, resting, when she peered through the window and leapt to her feet.
“Spot check! Spot check!”
I stared at her. What did she mean?
She tugged at my leggings. “Eeee seluar macam tu kena bukak! Nanti Ustazah marah! Kat sini tak boleh pakai seluar ke tights!” (“The tight pants you’re wearing has to go! The Ustazah will be angry! Here you can’t wear pants or tights!”)
“Tapi… kita dalam rumah!” I protested.
It didn’t matter, Tok M squawked. It had to be taken off. She threw a petticoat at me. I ran around the room looking for something skirt-like, and was quite irritated. We were in the confines of Tok M’s home; surely the leggings I wore, which were right up to my ankles were proper attire? And we were at home!
The door opened, and the Ustazah poked her head in. I was brought back to my days as a student in a residential school, when seniors and wardens popped in as and when they felt like to make sure we prayed, and cleaned the dorm.
Tok M was covered from top to toe, all set for a wedding, while I decided the best thing for me to wear was my telekung.
The Ustazah beamed at us. We smiled back. She left.
Tok M justified the spot check. We Muslims tend to be careless, so we need constant reminders of proper behaviour.
Even in your own home? I asked.
Yes. Syaitan is always around to provoke us, so Muslims need a holy person, a person of iman to check on us, she replied.
Oh my, was all I could say.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.