As I’m sure is universal among muslim communities, Ramadan represents the high water mark of religious devotion, the time when the greatest number of people turn up for daily prayers. That’s followed by a Eid crash, when numbers plummet back down to, or even below, average levels, as everyone becomes distracted with the holidays. In a bid to remind the neighborhood that the musallah was still open for business, our musallah hosted a Majlis Silaturrahim or Hari Ramah-tamah, a glorified block party the week following Hari Raya. The overt agenda was to welcome new residents to the neighborhood, of which there are many since new homes are still being built in our area, and to recognize members of the community who helped to enliven the musallah during the fasting month.

If you’ve ever been involved in neighborhood politics, then you’ll know that it is extremely hard to motivate people to break from their routine to actively support neighborhood initiatives. Even ensuring a decent turnout is no easy feat. The sure-fire way to get the neighborhood to turn out is to pander to their children, and that’s exactly what we did. Two elderly ladies from the sisters committee rounded up a group of young kids and spent a week’s worth of afternoons teaching them a selection of nasheeds. Sure enough, turnout was high that night, with mothers with kids in the show forming a solid block in the ladies’ section. That evening, after the opening speeches from the e-board dignitaries, the kids took the stage for their performance. It was karaoke’d, but at least it wasn’t lip synched; you could still hear the kids singing. My two eldest were in the show, so of course I was entertained. They sang the lovely Sepohon Kayu, as well as some other songs I didn’t recognize.
Sepohon Kayu is a lovely song, and one that I had been meaning to translate for a long time. I suppose this is my chance.

Sepohon Kayu

A solitary tree lush with leaves
Hanging low and heavy with flowers and fruit
If one lives a life of a thousand years
Without prayer what would it all mean?

Sepohon kayu, daunnya rimbun
Lebat bunganya serta buahnya
Walaupun hidup seribu tahun
Kalau tak sembahyang apa gunanya

We go off to work day by day
In order that we have homes of our own
If one lives a life of a thousand years
Without prayer what would it all mean?

Kami bekerja sehari-hari
Untuk belanja rumah sendiri
Walaupun hidup seribu tahun
Kalau tak sembahyang apa gunanya

We pray to God the daily prayers
While keeping the Prophet’s holy way
So that we may find the good pleasure of God
We work all day with happy hearts

Kami sembahyang fardu sembahyang
Sunatpun ada bukan sembarang
Supaya Allah menjadi sayang
Kami bekerja hatilah riang

We offer up the five daily prayers
Through night and day we surely pray
We are orphans in the life of the grave
Tortured, tormented, all alone

Kami sembahyang limalah waktu
Siang dan malam sudahlah tentu
Hidup dikubur yatim piatu
Tinggalah seorang dipukul dipalu

Beaten and chastised day by day
Only then does he begin to realise
A meaningless life in this world
Leads to utter loss in the life to come

Dipukul dipalu sehari-hari
Barulah dia sedarkan diri
Hidup didunia tiada berarti
Akhirat disana sangatlah rugi

I’ve taken a bit of license with the translation to come up with something that approximates the rhythm of the original. I think with a little pushing and pulling you could sing my English lyrics to the same tune.

Anyway, that was followed by a much more talented presentation by Kumpulan Muhibbah, an aspiring teenage nasheed group from Kuching. They came in matching outfits and with a complement of quality instruments, including a set of congos. I missed taking pictures of most of the performance since I had to take a little one back to the house for bedtime. Still, they were more than happy to pose for a photo after the show. The last event of the evening was the giving of small gifts to recognize those involved in the Ramadan meals and in the reciting of Quran during the holy month. Alhamdulillah, our musallah was able to khatam Quran during Ramadan, with an average of 10 men and boys and 5 women separately reciting a juz each night. My son was lucky enough to score a new pencil box despite only coming with me a couple times. It was a pleasant enough evening, and I met some people from the neighborhood who I hadn’t seen before. In that sense the evening was successful. But sad to say, since the event it has gone back to just the regulars for the daily five again.

Published by bingregory

Official organ of an American Muslim in Malaysian Borneo, featuring plants, pantuns and pictures from the Malay archipelago. Oversharing since 2002.

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  1. Sad to say indeed, though it sounds like a nice time for all while it was going on. And since Christmas will soon be here in the US, it will be a lot like your description, very loving and together up to and during the holiday, but then back to the same old self-absorbed grind.

    Sad to say…

    Ya Haqq!

  2. These pictures could have been taken at our Masjid. Especially the ones with the sisters. What did you mean by the brothers and sisters Khatam the Qur’an at your Musallah? Here during the tarawih we did that at the Masjid. Some of us Khatam the Qur’an individually as well during the month; but this was done on our own time, not necessarily always at the Masjid. I didnt quite understand. Were they reciting every day at the Masjid until they completed the Qur’an, at a special session?

  3. Yes, they were sitting together after Tarawih (we pray 20 with just juz amma surahs), one circle on the men’s side, one circle on the women’s side. One person would take turns reading a page or two, and then pass to the next. Everyone follows along and the member with the best tajwid points out errors. The intention is to improve everyone’s recitation, inshallah.

    Do you mean that the imam recites a juz every night during the tarawih salat? Some masajid in Kuching do that, and that’s great, but I personally never preferred it that way – I lose my khushu’…

  4. Speaking of khatam Quran, it’s been a culture (or maybe used to be) of the Malays. And it’s kind of embarrassing when someone asks you “When did u khatam the Quran?” and you answer “I never did”. We have to, at least once, finish reciting the whole 30 juz before baligh (puberty?), after which many of us just keep the Quran until it’s wrapped with spider’w web waiting for Ramadhan to come before we open it again. Thursday nights, most of us just recite the Yasin and/or al-Kahfi. Recite only… not really trying to explore the tafsir. Hehe that was what I did from 2001 to 2004. Astaghfirullah.. Please forgive me, God.

    Anyways, I was gonna talk about the Khatam Quran ceremony, usually in kampung, kids would have had their khatam Quran ceremony by the age of 13. I finished reciting the whole Quran at age 13, though, and my ceremony was done when I was… 20! haha together with my two younger brothers’.

    My mom made us a new pair of peach baju Melayu Teluk Belanga each. Two months earlier, she taught us ‘barzanji’ (also called ‘rawi’). It’s a long poem in Arabic telling the stories of the Prophet, weaved with prayers in between the lines, praising God, the Prophet, and the Companions.

    On the ceremony day, we recited only the ‘ayat lazim’ in the 30th juzuk, after each surah, we recited the tasbih. After the last surah, we recited the special prayer for khatam al-Quran, almost like singing a nasheed. Then we continued with ‘barzanji’, since there were 3 of us, we recited 3 chapters only in 2 different styles – after the 1st chapter, we did the ‘marhaban’ – everyone stood up and singing, praising the Prophet.

    Of course there were bunga rampai, bunga manggar, bunga telur and the kompang group, almost like a wedding ceremony with relatives and neighbors and friends (including Chinese/non-muslim friends of my father’s) present – but there were no brides. Outside our house, my father rented tends for the guests. There was a big speaker standing in our yard so whatever we recited could be heard by the guests. There was no chance for mistakes.

    Nasi tomato with ‘ayam masak merah’ and ‘acar buah’ + ‘sirap bandung ais krim soda’ were served. Did I forget to mention the ‘pelamin’ (dais)?

    It was really a great event in my life. The first big event was my circumcision ceremony. Next is my wedding (don’t know yet when it will be) and/or my death ceremony. Heh…

  5. That song really does bring back memories. If by any chance you want to listen to it online, that nasheed sang by Nadamurni can be dloaded here:

    A whole compilation of nasheeds by the same group can be found here:

    I really liked their Munajat album especially the nasheed with the same name… and also “Sunnah Berjuang I & II”..

    Just wanted to share with you if perchance you’re interested!

  6. That was a great album. My wife had an old cassette tape of Munajat – actually she still has it, but now we don’t have a cassette player anywhere. I feel silly to buy one just for a doomed collection of aging cassettes. Nice to get it in digital form.

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