Seeking thought and civilisation

Tunku Abidin Muhriz
The Malay Mail Online
February 7, 2014

FEB 7 — Normally, I return to Negri Sembilan on Fridays, but sometimes I will stay in Kuala Lumpur and perform my prayers at the mosque named after the second of the Rightly Guided Caliphs in Damansara Heights, where there are familiar faces from the homes and offices nearby. On occasions, I go to the National Mosque (where the Heroes’ Mausoleum is located) or the Federal Territory Mosque.

Many mosques in our country and the world have been memorable, but if I had to choose my top three (apart from the Masjid Al-Haram in Makkah and the Masjid Al-Nabawi in Madinah which I went to during umrah in 1997), they would be Masjid Tengku Tengah Zaharah near Kuala Terengganu, the Gallipolli Mosque outside Sydney and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, each for different reasons. Special mention must be made of the Mezquita in Cordoba and the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul: both former places of worship embody more history and culture than most cities on the planet. Perhaps more tangibly through buildings such as these, rather than through books and lectures, does the historical diversity and complexity in Muslim civilisations really impress.

Still, within the small geographical area of the Luak Tanah Mengandung around Seri Menanti in Negri Sembilan, each prayer experience is different. Even though the Friday khutbah might be standardised statewide, as a worshipper your thoughts are affected by the location, decor and assiduousness of upkeep of the mosque, the melodies used by the bilals and imams in their recitations, and interactions with others in the congregation.

Thus Masjid Tuanku Muhriz in Bandar Seri Jempol, Masjid Yamtuan Raden in Kuala Pilah and Masjid Tuan Tulis in Tanjong Ipoh have their own unique feel to them.

A couple of weeks ago, however, upon a friend’s recommendation, I attended Friday prayers at the mosque of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC), located in the Kuala Lumpur campus of the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) in Taman Duta.

Coincidentally, there was a book sale that day: I bought The Correct Date of the Terengganu Inscription by Syed Muhammad Naguib al-Attas, which I had long been looking for, and I was given a free copy of Islam and Democracy in Malaysia edited by Ibrahim Zein.

Inside the prayer hall, it was apparent that the congregation was international. While T-shirts and jeans alongside baju Melayu are a common sight in urban mosques, here there were a greater variety of garments and headgear than normal.

The melody used for the azan was not one usually heard in Malaysia, and then the khutbah began, entirely in English, on the subject of hadith denial. It seemed that the khutbah has been prepared personally by the speaker rather than being issued by a federal or state authority, which must be rare in Malaysia, and after the prayers the do’a did not feature the usual mention of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong either.

The following Friday coincided with the first day of Chinese New Year, and I was at Masjid Negeri in Seremban. The khutbah began by quoting verses and hadith to expound the idea that Muslims can appreciate the festivals of other cultures within a society, explicitly including Chinese New Year (though it didn’t point out that there are more Muslims in China than there are Malaysians of any religion).

It continued by recalling the spirit of Merdeka and quoted the poet Usman Awang on the importance of unity for all, rather than any particular group. The accompanying slide presentation included pictures of Muslims and non-Muslims at open houses together, which might normally seem clichéd, but this was the first time I had seen such images in a mosque during Friday prayers. As I left, I remarked to the imam and mentri besar what a good khutbah it was. Judging from reports that evening, however, many mosques in Kuala Lumpur used a khutbah that made no reference to Chinese New Year.

I had hoped to return to ISTAC next weekend for a forum featuring Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol, but it has been cancelled without any reason. The same event will now be hosted by Global Movement of the Moderates, which under the stewardship of Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah is fruitfully demonstrating that thought and civilisation are beneficial for the country.

In the free book from Istac I found this: “It also champions trustworthy government, protection of minority rights, balanced development, freedom and independence and mastery of knowledge.”

‘It’ here being ‘Islam Hadhari’ — but that was a whole two prime ministerial slogans ago.

  1. #1 by sheriff singh on Saturday, 8 February 2014 - 11:02 am

    ‘Islam Hadhari’ was really badly thought out and delivered. Some personalities did say it was very vague, ill-defined and confusing (like the 1Malaysian thingy) that no one really could pin-point and describe what it really was all about despite its touted noble objectives. Pak Lah must be very disappointed and frustrated that he got no where with his idea which very quickly died and forgotten after much money and effort was spent on it (like the dead 1Malaysia thingy). Goes to show the people were not really committed to these nebulous things. Our leaders are just not in touch with the realities on the ground and what needs to be done / addressed, or they are just impotent to do anything except tokkok.

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