Ibrahim Libya: Who was he really?
FEB 1 — Excerpt from Memali incident chapter:
Mak Su’s brother, Pak Andah, popped by for tea. There were always people coming in and out of the house for a chat or a meal.
Mak Su was a generous host; it was tea after hot tea, and goreng pisang, ondeh-ondeh, fried rice — there was always something to serve guests. People in her house meant blessings and she loved a good chat.
Pak Andah frowned as he thought of who I should meet. “Well. There’s Ustaz Marzuki and Ustaz Hilmi… they are satu gang… you must also talk to Cikgu Non, but I tell you, all these people you’ll have to talk to, they come from different camps!
Ibrahim Libya’s wife… I don’t know. Frankly, I think she “ikut rentak, dia tengok siapa yang datang”, so her story may alter somewhat. If you see her with one of the ustaz it’s one version, if it’s another person you’re with, it’s another version!”
“Then I’ll see her with Mak Su,” I said.
“Now that’s going to be interesting: What version will she come up with?”
Ustaz Marzuki was the first person I was to meet. He was the current headmaster of the madrasah Ibrahim Libya nee Mahmood had founded: Madrasa Islahiah Diniah Kampung Memali. The school was painted a cheerful yellow and green, and classes were being held when we arrived.
Ustaz Marzuki was nursing a bad cough and cold when we met him in the office. In between gasps for air, he coughed. The coughs grew more and more violent.
“The medicine (cough) the doctor gave doesn’t work (cough),” he apologised.
It was when he racked up his phlegm that I opened my bag and reached for my stash of medicine. I gave him my Rhinocort, Polaramine pills and menthol crystals. Damned if I allowed the old man to cough and keel over dead on me during an interview.
“Do these work?”
He grabbed the Rhinocort and sprayed the medication into his nose. After a few seconds, be looked at me, eyes wide. “It really does work!”
Marzuki wasn’t there when everything happened. He was younger than Ibrahim, but they knew each other. When “… the tragedy happened, I was on my way back to Memali, because I was on a school break, I was teaching in another district and wanted to come home for a while… we are related somewhat, but I don’t know the details.”
Ibrahim Libya wasn’t a tall man but he was “…tegap…”. He liked young people and children, but he was firm. What was haram, was haram, and he saw the world in black and white. There was no grey with him. He originated from Kampung Carok Putih, but settled down in Memali.
He was also a very frustrated man. See, Marzuki told me, Ibrahim had studied abroad in Muslim countries that saw and witnessed true Islamic renaissance. When he came back and served the government, he was disillusioned by what he saw.
Ibrahim worked for Pusat Islam, and the prime minister of Malaysia then was Dr Mahathir Mohammed (now a Tun). His dream was to spread the message of Islam, and working in Pusat Islam did not give him the freedom to preach and do what he wanted.
Malaysia was supposedly a Muslim country, but the way people conducted their lives was not. What was the use of professing to be a Muslim then? He tried to change things in KL, but he gave up after a while. He quit his job and came back to Memali. People didn’t want to be true Muslims. Even his colleagues who once welcomed him turned against him, because they felt that he was too radical.
“I was in my 30s, and teaching. I came back every weekend and when there were long holidays. I was still a bachelor… sapa la nak sangat kat kita…” he laughed quietly.
His friend Ibrahim and his family had come home to Memali in 1978. “Honestly, he wasn’t a politician or political. But he was passionate about Islam, and the deterioration of Muslim life in Malaysia. And he also observed the kids around the village, and their hopelessness and unemployment. Orang Memali bukan kaya. Life before and now is the same. Nothing has changed.” Ibrahim really started preaching about 1982.
Like many ustazs in kampungs and cities in Malaysia, Ibrahim started his new career as the village preacher. He talked about fardh ain (the basics of Islam and the practises of Islamic faith). He dazzled the village folk with tales of Islamic history.
“This was all a misunderstanding, I think. There was another ustaz in Baling who was sort of popular, but arwah (deceased) Ibrahim Libya’s popularity eclipsed his. And that ustaz just happened to be an Umno man. This whole thing was politicised! You know, rivalry. At least this is my observation. One’s an Umno member, the other represented PAS. Arwah wasn’t a violent man. I think it was jealousy. He could talk, and he had such a huge following among the young. And he was a joker. He’d joke with everyone, men, women. So, I think the other guy must have complained to the Umno head of Baling then, and all this happened.”
There was a lot of mud slinging involved, claims that Ibrahim Libya was a fanatic. People from far and wide heard about Ibrahim, and sometimes about 1,000 people attended his ceramah.
Marzuki was away in another district teaching when the incident happened. “Why don’t we continue later? The children have finished class, so let’s take a look around the school for now.”
Like all children everywhere, the madrasah students were not shy about posing for the camera. Laughter, conversation bubbled in the courtyard. Teachers could be heard, reminding their students of homework. They were no different from other schoolchildren.
“Ibrahim founded the school,” Marzuki said.
By then, Ibrahim’s fame had reached the authorities. Slowly, the villagers saw an additional one or two policemen coming to the village. Nothing happened, but the people of Memali sensed something was amiss. The police were silent observers at first, and about a month before November 19, 1985, there was a big ceramah which attracted many people. There were more policemen surrounding the kampong. There were roadblocks.
“One time a van full of villagers carrying their cangkul, axes, was stopped by the police. Didn’t help that the villagers were fed-up of the police! The police asked the villagers to explain themselves. Orang kampong explained that they were going to the fields to farm, to the kebun. They were let go by the police. However the hatred towards the police grew. There was also a lot of anti-Umno sentiment. Imagine, orang korek tanah nak buat bendang, and they said kita buat kubur nak bunuh orang. The stories!” They picked on the villagers.
There were no real, true skirmishes between the two factions. However, there were people who were responsible for the made-up stories.
“And then... that happened.”
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.