Neighbor Day at the Surau

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.