The Traditional Way
I was born to a Muslim family and raised as a Muslim in a traditional “Malay Muslim” way in Kg. Krubong, Melaka. In those days, we learned to recite the Qur’an and basic Islamic teachings from our parents or the Imam or one of the selected individuals . Later we had Sekolah Agama Rakyat, which was held in the evening at Sekolah Kebangsaan Krubong – a typical set up for rural communities. The mosque also served as a place to learn basic knowledge to facilitate our lives as Muslims.
Between then and now, there have been changes, some of which giving positive impacts, some unfortunately the opposite. Though today’s mosques are more beautiful and better equipped, their roles in the society do not change that much. In some aspects, it is worst than before. For example, as kids we used to go to the mosque, joined the congregations and of course played a lot. Now, with exception to some places in the suburb of major cities, mosques are basically for prayer and daily “kuliah maghrib” and weekend “kuliah subuh”. Some localities started to offer “kuliah dhuha in the weekend. These are not without difficulties as the mosques are regulated by the authorities. Due to differences in opinions, respected scholars might be barred from delivering lectures in some states. Situations are worst if there are factions within the communities that frequent the mosques – most of the time driven by political ideals. The authorities would somehow try to ensure that the management committees would be among those aligned to the ruling party, regardless of whether or not they are favored by the community.
Running a mosque
I have served as the chairman of a mosque management committee twice – once in England and another in Johor. Both cases were challenging, each having its own uniqueness. In England, we had to manage the variety of nationalities and hence differences in culture and characters. As a leader, you have to be flexible, yet firm in order to establish a good atmosphere for all. In my second experience, it was totally different. We had a friendly Muslim community consisting of only Malays, most of whom were local Johorians, coming from various nearby towns. Despite their differences in political opinions, we got along very well. So, it was relatively easier compared to many other places. The challenge was in juggling between the needs of the community and the restrictions set by the authority. Like it or not, many difficult decisions had to be made. Quite often, we had police detectives on stand-by at the mosque while listening to some of our invited scholars. After a while, we got used to it and accepted the fact that they were doing their job. Later, we became friends.
It was much easier to organize events in England, and the authorities were always helpful. We were also invited to fill in some sessions of religious studies in schools and the school children regularly visited our mosque to see how the Muslim pray etc. I was once filmed in an interview about the role of mosque in Muslim community as part of a school project. Quite a number of British citizens declared their “syahadah” in our mosque. In each occasion, I would assign one of the volunteers to coach them in adjusting their life as a new Muslim. Among the many volunteers, I really appreciate Brother Mohamad Al-Ghamdi who was always ready to help. He had a self-prepared kits with drawings about solat, ablutions etc as teaching aids and was passionate in what he was doing, willing to listen to any question and answering them attentively with passion and care. We held public lectures, exhibitions and many activities as part of our efforts to introduce Islam to the community. Our activities captured the attention of a local TV station and the mosque appeared in a TV documentary. It was all positive, nothing less.
A recent visit to Singapore
Recently I visited Masjid Kg. Siglap in Singapore. The mosque that was originally built on the sea side by the fishermen community was moved twice before occupying the current location, some time more than 100 years ago. I arrived at the mosque at about ‘asar prayer time, and the mosque was lively, with some people waiting for prayer in the mosque and some chatting in the waiting areas. After the Asar prayer, a short briefing was given by Hj. Nailul Hafiz, the Chairman of the Mosque Management Board, who happens to have roots in Kg. Krubong (surprise, another anak Krubong in action !). He is also the Chairman of Darul Qur’an Singapura. His presentation was an eye opener, not that I didn’t know about their set up, but it came with nostalgic sentiments, revealing how they had to put lots of efforts to establish what they have today – a mosque that serve as a community center as well as a place to learn the Qur’an. May Allah rewards them all.
As a community center, the mosque has a kindergarten running on the upper floors of the multi-storey building with ground floor areas serving as a relaxing reception area where people can spend their time chatting or discussing, while waiting for their kids. Alternatively, they can also attend some of the classes offered to fill up their time.
The mosque is also the home of Darul-Qur’an Singapura, which started as a quranic study circle, turned into more serious and organised classes, later became Darul Qur’an of Kg. Siglap that offered classes for memorization, recitation and learning of the Qur’an, which was in turn adopted by MUIS as Darul Qur’an of Singapore.
The approach was well-received by the public and soon after, this success story was mimicked by other mosques. Over the years, a number of other centers were established for learning of hadith, fiqh and so on. Each mosque had specialized on one aspect of knowledge, smartly coordinated by MUIS. The mosques were also made “youth friendly” . Many of these mosques have an officer working full-time to plan, design and implement various programs to inculcate good values and knowledge to the younger generations. They also work closely with NGO’s such as Perdaus, Pergas and Darul Arqam. May Allah reward them for their creative efforts.
Interestingly, when I asked them about the views of their governments on these activities, their respond were also positive. Well, if a community is knowledgeable, they would be more rational in thinking and actions, thus contributing to better living.
Sometimes I wonder, can all these be implemented in Malaysia? I doubt it would be easy. It is possible though, but not without lots of sweat and tears. Why? Only Malaysians would understand. This brings me to one of my favorite question, “which is easy – practicing and spreading Islam in Muslim majority or Muslim minority communities?”