Thursday, June 26, 2014

A 'cowboy surau' in Gambang?

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful; blessings and peace be upon Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.


The Declining Day (Al-'Asr)
1. By the declining day,
2. Lo! Man is in a state of loss,
3. Save those who believe and do good works, and exhort 
one another to truth and exhort one another to endurance.

MY family and I arrived at Bukit Gambang Resort City which is about 35 kilometers from Kuantan at about 4.30 pm on Friday, 6th June. As we moved to our hotel's room, the call of prayers (azan) was on air.

The 'azan' for the Asar prayer was clear; I guessed there must be a masjid nearby. But as I had performed my Zuhur (afternoon) and Asar' (late afternoon) prayers earlier (jamak takdim), I planned to look for that masjid later on for my Maghrib (dusk) prayers.

In the hotel room, I watched TV and soon dozed off; I only woke up at around 7.00 pm. I quickly took my bath, wore my 'baju Melayu' and 'sarong'; and with a son dashed to the car park. The call of prayers was on air; but I failed to locate the masjid.

I then drove along the Maran-Kuantan trunk road; moving closer and closer to Gambang. It was only near the Gambang Junction of Segamat-East Coast Highway-Kuantan-Maran which was about 10 kilometers away, that I managed to find a masjid. Later on, I was informed that it was Masjid Jamek Gambang.

After performing our Maghrib-Isyak 'jamak takdim' prayers at the masjid, we went back but before entering the main gate of the Bukit Gambang Resort City, I decided to check on a housing estate just across the road; who know I could locate a masjid there so that it would be easy for me to perform my Subuh (dawn) prayer the next day.

At the first corner of the road to the housing estate which later on I got to know as Taman Gambang Damai, I noticed in the dark a canopy tent and near it were two high structures with their tops having loud speakers; and upon focusing a banner placed on a fence with the headlights of my car, I read the words on it slowly - 'SURAU AL-IJTIHAD'. 

Subhanallah (Glorious is God) what we have here; 'I stumbled upon a surau in the darkness of the night!' I can't believe my eyes, a canopy surau with its wall from canvas in Malaysia whats more in a modern housing estate facing a five star resort (in my opinion) where perhaps 'the rich and famous' stayed!

But, Alhamdulillah (All praise is due to Allah), at last I had found 'the masjid' with its azan I heard from the hotel I was putting up for the night, but as I had already performed my Isyak prayers, I left the area. Before leaving, I could see a few men, some in their 'baju Melayu' and 'kopiah' (skullcap) sitting on chairs placed inside the tent - perhaps they were waiting the time to perform their Isyak prayers. Well, goodbye 'Surau Al-Ijtihad', insya-Allah (God Willing) I will come again tomorrow...

At 5.20 am the next day I was the second person to be there. A man who latter on I identified as the surau's muezzin was reading the Qur'an. As I was like a 'rusa masuk kampung' (first timer at the surau) my eyes 'scanned' the tent and the things inside it. Subhanallah, there were racks of Qur'an and other reading materials, two huge standing fans at the corners and a small table and chair, perhaps for the 'ustazs' during 'tazkirah' (lessons).

At 5.30 am,  the man rose up, reached for the mike and made the call of prayers. For the Subuh mass prayers, less than 10 men performed it. 

Later on while chatting with some congregators, I was introduced to Surau Al-Ijtihad's Chairman, Zulli Muhamad, 50, who said the tent or canopy surau or 'surau koboi' (cowboy surau) which was called by the locals, had been in operation since September 2013.

"Well, Ramadan is around the corner. So this is the first time we are going to perform our Ramadan activities such as performing 'solat tarawih' in the tent. Prior to this, our surau had been in the form of a rented house and an unused premise left by our 'taman' developer since 2009," said Zulli.

Mentioning performing solat in tents, it was a well known fact that some public authorities in Kelantan had been in the past erected scores of tents in cities such as Kota Bharu during Ramadan so that people could conveniently say their 'tarawih prayers' but congregators in Surau Al-Ijtihad were subjected to the heat and dust, rain and shine, day after day and night after night and as the days had turned into weeks, months and  they would celebrate its first anniversary in a few months time, 'they are still with their surau'.

In Surau Al-Ijtihad, there is no toilet facility, only a tap provided for congregators to take ablution. Electricity was drawn from Zulli's house which was located some 50 meters away from the surau. At any one time the surau could accommodate some 50 congregators.

Why congregators had to suffer and faced this hardship in modern Malaysia? This is not gypsy or Bedouin land or their way of life where they prefer staying in tents and in the open; but this surau is in Gambang which is not far away from the expensive East Coast Highway and from the modern state capital of Kuantan. So what's the problem?

Zulli explained that 'their real surau of RM1 million' is under construction in the same housing estate but some specifications were not met; thus its building was delayed. "I would like to thank the 'Pejabat Agama Islam Daerah Maran' (the Maran District Religious Office) especially its 'Qadhi' for his concern, but sadly we have not been receiving strong recommendation from official authorities.

He said the surau should have been built much earlier because the housing estate was opened about five years ago. "There was no proper surau, so at first we used to pray at an unused building at the construction site, then it was a rented house but we were forced out when the owner wanted it back and now it is that tent surau.

"Other than for daily prayers, we decided to used the surau for Friday prayers as this area has a large population of  more than 1,000 people - nowadays many of them have to go to Masjid Matrikulasi some five kilometers away and Masjid Jamek Gambang, about 10 kilometers away," said Zulli.

Surau Al-Ijtihad is a sad tale in a up-coming hi-tech area of Gambang (or Kuantan) which also happens to house several prestigious landmarks and institutions such as the Bukit Gambang Resort City, the campus of Kolej Matrikulasi UIAM and University Malaysia Pahang (UMP). 

Perhaps this is 'the real picture of a modern Malaysian story' - 'antara dua darjat manusia' (between two classes of human beings). 

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