Madrasah al-Kamaliyya

My in-laws are from a small isolated village mostly preoccupied with growing coconuts. It has only between 50-60 homes, two small stores selling basic necessities like sugar, rice and fermented shrimp paste, a primary school …and three mosques. One of them is Madrasah al-Kamaliyya, a surau lying about 150 meters from my mother-in-law’s house.

Madrasah al-Kamaliyya was built in the 1920’s. It is built essentially the same as a traditional Malay house, entirely of timber on stilts, with the prayer area one full floor above the ground. It was not uncommon for homes in those days to be built entirely without nails, as was the home my late father-in-law built. Instead, the posts and beams are assembled using a mortise-and-tenon system, with the beams leveled and tightened in place by wooden wedges. The forests of Malaysia and Indonesia have some of the best timber in the world for building, and the Malays certainly make good use of it.

The design of the surau does have some differences with a house. It has two stairways leading to the prayer hall. During a mixed gathering, men and women would use separate entrances. The two flights of stairs are on either side of the ablution pool. The stairs are withdrawn under the building, such that they enter the prayer hall in the middle. This allows women and men to both enter without disturbing each other’s sections. In a home, there would be a single stairway that would enter the living room in the front of the house. If there was a second stairway, it would be to the kitchen, around the side or back.

Unlike Surau Darul Rahman and most other modern suraus, this one was built directly by the villagers of the area without government funds. I don’t really know how this affects the nature of the waqaf; I imagine it is still held by or at least under the oversight of the religious department – maybe someone can inform me. But it is a source of pride for the village that it was built entirely by their fathers’ and grandfathers’ hands.

The village is not as heavily populated now as it was twenty years ago, with many of the young people migrating to the big cities. The bulk of the population now are older couples without children at home (not unlike the American farming heartland). Maybe because of this, the surau is not as actively used as a madrasah as it may once have been, resulting in the library deteriorating sadly.

Another element of the surau that has not aged well are the drums. There is a double-headed goat-hide drum, and an all-wooden drum that is a hollowed out log with a long narrow opening along one side. In the days before amplified speakers, these drums, or beduk, would be struck prior to calling the azan, since their sound would carry farther through the jungle and plantations than the human voice could. The drums at the Masjid Jamek Jawiyyah are still struck even now. The drums of the surau, unfortunately, have become unserviceable. The wooden log has cracked. The uncle I spoke with the day I took these photos said that there’s only one man he knows of who is skilled in making and repairing these drums, and he lives a great distance away. So the drums have been moved to below the stairs until someone is able to have them repaired. They used to hang in the prayer hall.

Madrasah al-Kamaliyya was the first surau I prayed at in Malaysia, and it remains the one most dear to me. I was struck with wonder the first time I prayed there, when, after the salat, the imam and the whole congregation recited an awrad that was virtually identical with the one I had learned from the Tariqat Naqshbandi Haqqani. I was later to learn that many of the elders who founded the community a hundred years ago were followers of Naqshbandi Tariqat, albeit from a different branch. Others held bayats with other orders. The righteous practices that they taught their children have persisted within the surau although they themselves have passed on.

Mawlid ar-Rasul: Surau Darul Rahman

Darul Rahman

Prophet Muhammad’s birth was commemorated last wednesday night throughout the muslim world. The tiny corner of it that I inhabit was no exception. Surau Darul Rahman held an evening of learning and celebration. I feel extremely fortunate to live two blocks from our neighborhood surau.

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A surau is a prayer hall just like a masjid except that it does not hold the Friday congregational prayer. Our surau could probably hold about 200 people maximum. It is a fairly new building, about 10 years old, built around the same time that my subdivision was developed. Prior to that, the area only had a few clusters of kampung-style homes sprinkled through the woods at fairly low density. Like most suraus and masjids throughout the country, ours was built in part by government funds and its activities are nominally overseen by the religious department. Often, large planned unit developments will include a surau as part of the basic infrastructure, just like pocket parks.

You may wonder why there is no dome. Well, the traditional masajid of Malaysia were built of timber and had no dome but rather a set of square tiered roofs. The grand masjids with huge domes that have been built in recent times are often gorgeous but are not really classically malay in form. I’m not saying our humble surau was built with a hipped roof as some kind of architectural statement: it’s a fairly homely building really. It’s just that the dome is not a necessary part of mosque-building around here. But I digress.

For this special night, a guest was invited to come and speak after maghrib prayers. Our guest was an ustaz from Indonesia who has been teaching Arabic and Religion at a religious school in Kuching for the last ten years. He came to us from the pesantren of East Java, an area reknowned throughout the nusantara for the high level of scholarship they maintain and the da’is they have produced. He gave a wonderful talk, touching briefly on the the fatwa of Sayyid Muhammad Alawi Al-Maliki concerning mawlid from which he read for us excerpts in Arabic and translated on the fly into Malay. There is great good in gathering together, beautifying the masjid, remembering the Prophet and praising him to the best of our ability, though we can hardly praise him as he deserves to be praised. Our only transgression, as the ustaz reminded us, is that we don’t do it everyday.

Following the cerama, the congregation broke for a meal, to be followed by zikr and nasheed. Some of us ran off with the ustaz instead to another gathering, where we recited the Ratib al-Haddad and the Mawlid Diba’i late into the evening until our throats were raw. I can’t find translations of the Mawlid Diba’i anywhere online, but you can listen to it here.

“Falaw anna sa’ayna kulla heenin/
‘Alal ahdaqi la fawqan naja’ib/
Wa law anna ‘amilna kulla yawmin/
Li Ahmada mawlidan qad kana wajib”

“And verily though we rushed to do it at every moment/
We could see around us nothing more noble/
And verily, even if we did it every day/
For Ahmad celebrating his birth is nigh unto obligatory”

[Forgive my poor Arabic. It’s just me and Hans Wehr working alone. Corrections welcome.]

[My coverage of Mawlid Nabi, Kuching 2003 is here]

Accommodations

Santubong

I just got back from a lovely holiday at the Santubong Family Resort. It was my first real excursion out of Kuching since I got here. We took the chance to go, since Monday and Tuesday were State holidays in honor of Gawai Day.

Gawai Day is the biggest holiday of the year for the native tribes. Nobody I asked seemed to know exactly what was involved in the holiday though, aside from people returning to their villages to be with their families. The holiday calendar here has a great deal of variety in it from state to state, depending on which ethnic groups are more numerous. Sabah and Sarawak have Good Friday off due to all the Christians, Sarawak has Gawai Day, Perak and Penang have Thaipussam for all the Tamils. Each state with a monarchy also has a holiday for the birthday of the King. It all evens out in the end, it seems. At my last job in the states, employees had an official “floating holiday” that they could use to observe whatever holiday of theirs wasn’t honored by the calendar. That was pretty good, though I could use at least one more of those. I’ve been told that Sri Lanka wins for having the most national holidays a year. Sri Lanka observes all the high Hindu Holidays, both Eids and Mawlid Nabi, and all the Buddhist holidays, including every full moon! That’s a gauranteed holiday once a month. Now who’s going to complain about that?

Santubong was great. From our balcony we could see Mt. Santubong and the South China Sea. A ten-minute walk led to a gorgeous sandy beach. The sea was as warm as bath water, and gentle. The sun is too fierce to go in the middle of the day, but morning and late afternoon is great. The kids loved it, especially after I assured my five-year old that there were no crocodiles. All the crocodiles are over in the Sarawak River, but that’s a topic for another post. As a muslim, it’s the little things that made the trip so pleasant. Nobody complains if you jump in the pool with shirt and pants on (issue discussed here). Every hotel room has the direction of prayer marked in a corner of the ceiling. Forgot your prayer rug? No problem, housekeeping has complimentary ones for you. The complimentary breakfast buffet? Halal corned beef. Man, I haven’t had corned beef in ages! Of course, the hotel is a little pricey to make a regular thing out of it. But it turns out, Kuching is only about a half an hour drive from the sea, easily close enough for a day trip. Now I just have to find a public beach.

Mawlid Parade

12 Rabi’ul Awwal, the day our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saws) was born, is a national holiday in Malaysia as it is in every muslim country on earth except one. In the city of Kuching, Sarawak, to where I had just moved from America, there was to be a large parade that morning as there is every year. It was held at the Padang Merdeka or Independence Square, the parade ground in the heart of Kuching’s historic district. Padang Merdeka is ringed by huge spreading shade trees that are reminiscent of our American Elms. A stage had been erected to allow government ministers to speak to the crowds.

My son and I arrived too early, and so we had to stand for a good deal of speechifying from the assembled dignitaries. Although politicians’ speeches are much the same the world over, it was nonetheless impressive to see them gather at such an occasion to praise Allah’s Praised One. Not catching much of the speech, we wandered through the crowd. All the contingents preparing to march stood with their banners and decorations. Many were splendidly dressed in loud colorful matching uniforms of pinks, reds, blues, and greens. Many gentlemen were wearing songkit, a fancy sarong woven with gold or silver threads that is worn over Baju Melayu on formal occasions. So many different patterns were on display! My son caught sight of a neighborhood friend and was soon weaving in and out of the colorful throngs, giving chase to his friends.

The day started to drizzle as the speeches ended and the various contingents from the public schools, villages, neighborhood mosques and government offices began to march. Soon the air was filled with sounds of praise for RasulAllah. The gathering gloom of rainclouds was enlivened by the colorful uniforms, and the nasheed and salawat sung out accompanied by kompang. The kompang is a hand drum about the size of a tambourine. It is always played as a group, with one half playing half the rhythm, the other half, the other. The full rhythm is heard as one when played well in unison. The love and devotion of the crowd was evident as they marched on, singing and drumming even as the rains thickened. Although our city is not a big one, I had the distinct feeling while standing there that, just as in salat, I was joining together with our muslim brothers and sisters around the world to please Allah (swt). Does not Allah (swt) say, “Verily, Allah and His angels are sending prayers upon the Prophet; O you who believe, send prayers upon him and blessings of peace.”

Soon it began to pour, and, stowing my camera, my son and I dashed back to our parking garage. From the top level of the garage, we could see that the paraders had stuck to their route despite the downpour, and we soon heard them approaching the end of the route far below.

Following the parade, many people would retire back to more private gatherings in people’s homes, where the evening would be spent commemorating Prophet Muhammad’s life through recitation of the Mawlid Diba’i or the Mawlid Barzanji, interspersed with nasheed. We carry love for the Prophet, the Best of Creation, in our hearts throughout the year. How fitting it is to gather together and reaffirm our love publicly at every possible opportunity, not least on the blessed day of his birth!

“Khayral barriyah, nathrah illayah/

Ma anta illa kanzul attiyah”

[Revised and Updated, 17/2/2007]

Rabi’ al-Awwal

We are now in the first week of the blessed month of Rabi’ al-Awwal, the month that Allah Almighty sent the Beloved, Our Master Muhammad , the Best of Creation, the Seal of the Prophets. His birth, or Mawlid, is celebrated on the 12th of Rabi’ al-Awwal, and is an official holiday in every muslim country in the world, with one exception. Stay tuned for pictures from the celebration here in Kuching next week.

[Update: Within a half hour of posting, I recieved an email containing a short condemnation of Mawlid by Shaykh Al-Munajjad. I appreciate the brother for visiting the site and taking the time to write, but I was unimpressed with the fatwa. It begins by saying that the practive is bid’a, innovation, and ends with that ever-so-abused hadith that every new thing is an innovation and every innovation is in the fire, and there is not much in between. That is the one-two punch that the wahhabis have used to condemn countless good deeds, but it is soundly refuted here by the Imam Ahmed Raza Academy. Other notable shuyukh endorsing the celebration of mawlid in their fatwas are Sh. Yusuf Qardawi, Imam Ibn Kathir, and Imam As-Suyuti. There is even more, including the great merits of the Mawlid, at Mawlid.net. The site has Malay and Indonesian translations available.]

Umm il-Mu’mineen

Here is an image of the mosque qubbah and grave of Sayyidatina Khadija, the Mother of the Muslims, the First Believer. When the Prophet received the first revelation from Archangel Gabriel in the cave, he was overwhelmed and terrified by it. He fled the cave to his home, shivering and trembling. It was Sayyidatina Khadija who comforted him and covered him with a blanket. It was she who assured him he was not mad or possessed, and she was the first to embrace Islam.

The mosque qubbah and her grave stood in Mecca, until they were demolished by the Saudi regime in 1343 AH, under the direction of the followers of Ibn Abdul Wahhab. May Allah have mercy on us.

Thanks to Lan for the image.

Mawlid from Malaysia

Mawlid in Malaysia

I was browsing through my site stats and noticed that somebody had found my site by googling for “Nasheed and Mawlid from Malaysia”. Now that is a visitor I don’t want to disappoint! So I’ve collected what I could find on the subject:

Alhamdulillah, recitation of praise on the Prophet (saws) is regularly practiced in Malaysia, on the traditionally observed day of his birth, 12 Rabi ul-Awwal, as it is in all muslim countries except one; and at any other happy occassion, such as the shaving of the newborn child’s head. If we have cause for happiness, is it not fitting to praise God and His Messenger for it? There are many books of songs, poetry and supplication that are widely read throughout the muslim world wherever the bid’a-shouters haven’t penetrated too deeply. Among the more famous are Mawlid Diba’i, Mawlid Barzanji, Dala’il Khayrat and Qasidah Burdah. There are of course more. It hasn’t always been easy getting copies of these works in the US, but thankfully they are becoming more and more available.

A wonderful CD of Mawlid Diba’i was produced by the Mawlid Project in Malaysia. It is available for sale here. It originally was available with a book of translation and Arabic for a higher price, but I think now only CDs are left. The production quality is very good.

A recitation of Dala’il Khayrat on cassette is available here. I had the privilege to hear the Shaykh recite, and it was by far the most powerful recitation of Qur’an I have heard. The cassettes, unfortunately, are recited in a more dry and unemotional style. So for a non-Arabic speaker like myself, it was less captivating. An English translation of the Dala’il is available from Shaykha Aisha Bewley’s website. I have not yet found Dala’il Khayrat in print, though I’ve been told it exists.

The Qasidah Al-Burda of Imam Busiri is being released as a 3-CD box set with a book. Produced by Hamza Yusuf, with calligraphy by Muhammad Zakariyya. [!] I can’t wait to get a copy, but I haven’t seen it for sale in the US yet, only in UK. Soon InshaAllah. An appreciation of the Qasidah, as well as selective translations from other qasaaid, is available at Iqra Islamic Publications, a very nice website of the ba’alawi tariqa.

Br. Muhammad Sajad Noshahi’s Homepage, Dedicated to the importance of Dala’il ul Khayrat, Qasidah Burdah & Salawat ala Rasul, has a terrific listing of audio sources. Now that I’ve found his site, I don’t think I have any more to write. It looks like he’s got it all in there. Thank you Br. Sajad!