Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Collapse Of The Surau

If you had come to my birthplace by bus a few years ago, you would have gotten near the market and proceeded westward along the main road for about a kilometer and then you would have come to the road to my village.

At a small intersection, the fifth from the market, you would have turned right. At the end of the road you would have seen an old surau  with a fish pond in front of it, the water flowing from four bathing fountains. On the left of the surau you would have seen an old man sitting there,behaving like old men do and showing his devotion to Allah.

He had been the custodian of the surau for years. People referred to him as Grandpa.

As custodian, he received no salary.

He lived on the alms that he got every Friday.

Every six months he got fourth of the profits from the sale of the goldfish in the pond and once a year people came to give him fitrah.

It was not so much as a custodian that he was known, however, but as a knife sharpener, as he was really good at that. People brought their knives to him and yet he never asked anything in return.

The women who came to him with their knives or scissors to be sharpened would give some spicy food.

The men would give him cigaraettes and sometimes money.

What he received most, however, were thanks and smiles.

Grandpa is no longer with us.

He died.

And so the surau sits there without Grandpa.

Children now use it as a place to play and sometimes women who run out of firewood rip board from the walls or the floor at night.

If you visit the place today, all you will see is holiness on the verge of collapse. And that collapse is fast approaching, as fast as the children running around inside the building and the women ripping out the boards.

Saddest of all is the indifference of the people who simply don't want to take the responsibility of preserving the surau. 

The cause of the collapse is a story no one can deny. It goes as follows.

Grandpa Shocked

As I often done before, I went to see Grandpa one day to have a knife sharpened. He usually received me happily as I often gave him money, but this time he looked depressed.

He was sitting right at the corner of the surau resting his chin on the palm of his hand with his elbow on one knee.

He stared straight ahead, as if something were disturbing him.

A milk containing coconut oil, a fine whetstone, a leather strap, and an old razor were lying at his feet.

I'd never seen him so sad before, and never had my greetings been received so gloomily. I sat down next to him, and picking up the razor, I asked, "Whose knife, Grandpa?"

"Adjo Sidi's."

"Adjo Sidi?"

He did not answer.

Then I remembered Adjo Sidi, the yarn spinner.

I hadn't seen him for a long time. I would have liked to meet him again. I enjoyed hearing his tall tales.

Adjo Sidi could hold people spellbound with his nonsense for an entire day. But this hardly ever happened anymore because was so busy with his work. His success as a yarn spinner  was due mainly to the fact that the characters in his stories were the butts of jokes and that the stories became a local tradition.

There were always people in the village whose personalities mirrored those in the stories.

One day he told us a story about a frog, and it so happened that was someone resembling this frog  in the village who was hankering to become a leader. From that moment on we called him the Frog leader.

Suddenly my mind went back to Grandpa and Adjo Sidi's visit.

Was it possible that Adjo Sidi had made fun of him?

Was that what had made him so dejected?

I was curious.

Then I asked him again. "What did he say, Grandpa?"


"Adjo Sidi."

"Uncouth, he is." he replied wearily.


"I hope this razor I've sharpened will slit his throat."

"You are angry?"

"Angry? I would be, if I were still young, but I'm old now. Old people restrain their passion. I haven't been mad for a long time. I've been afraid it'd ruin my faith,my religion. I've been doing good deeds so long, praying and placing my trust in Allah. I've surrendered myself to Him for a long time. And Allah loves people who are patient and trusting."

My conjecture that Adjo Sidi had told a story that had upset Grandpa prompted me to ask him again.

"What did he say, Grandpa?"

But he was just silent. Perhaps it was hard for him to talk about it. My persistence finally made him question me.

"You know me don't you? I've been here since you were a child. Since I was a young man, right? You know everything I've done,don't you? Am I accursed? Has Allah cursed all that I've done?"

I didn't have to respond because I knew that once he opened his mouth, he wouldn't stop.

"I've been here since I was young, haven't I? I never had a wife or children,no family like other people, you know that. I don't take care of myself. I don't care to be rich, to build a house. I devote all my life to Allah. I never cause trouble. Reluctant to kill even a fly."

"But now I'm considered a cursed man. Fit only for hell. Do you think that Allah would be angry at what I do? Would He curse me if all that I do in life is serve Him? I never think of what will happen to me tomorrow, because I'm convince that Allah exists and that He is forgiving to those who place their trust in Him. I wake up early. I do holy things. I strike the drum to awaken people from their sleep so they can worship Him. I pray all the time, day and night, morning and afternoon."

"I mention His name always. I adore Him. I read His book. Alhamdulillah is the word I utter when I receive His blessing. Astaghfirullah when I'm startled or surprised. Masyaallah when I'm amazed. What's a wrong with all this? But now he says I am cursed....."

When he paused, I interrupted him with a question. "Did he say that, Grandpa?"

"He didn't say it outright, but that's what he meant."

I saw tears well up in his eyes. I felt sorry for him. In my heart I reproached Adjo Sidi. But I wondered what he had really said that hurt Grandpa so much. So great was my curiosity that couldn't help asking him again.

Finally, he gave in.

Adjo Sidi's Tales

"Once upon a time." said Grandpa, repeating Adjo Sidi's story.

"In the world hereafter, Allah was examining people who had returned to Him. The angles were on duty were on duty at His side. In their hands were lists of sins and rewards for human beings. There were many people to be examined."

"It was understandable since there were wars everywhere. Among those to be examined was a man known on earth as Haji Saleh. He smiled continuously because he was sure that he would be sent to heaven. He stood with his chest puffed out and arms akimbo...his nose in the air."

"When he saw people being sent to hell, his lips twisted in derision. And seeing people on their way to heaven, he waved his hand as if to say "I'll see you later."

"The long queues seemed to have no end. As the front of the line moved, the back filled in. And Allah examined the waiting people with all His might. Finally Haji Saleh's turn came. Smiling proudly, he knelt before Allah. Then Allah put forward His first question:


"I am Saleh. But because I have been to Mecca, I am called Haji Saleh."

"I did not ask for names. Names for me are insignificant. Names are only for you on earth."

"Yes, my Lord."

"What did you do on earth?"

"I worshiped you always, my Allah."

"Anything else?"

"Every day, every night, indeed all the time, I mentioned Your name."

"Anything else?"

"I followed Your instructions. I never did anything sinful, although the earth was full of sins spread by the cursed devils."

"Anything else?"

" Yes, my Lord, there was nothing I did but pray and kneel before You, mentioning Your name. Even when I was ill, Your name was all my lips uttered. I prayed that the generosity of Your heart would convince Your people."

"Anything else?"

Haji Saleh could think of nothing else to say. He had told  Him everything he did. However, he realized that Allah's question was not a casual one.

There must be something else he had not mentioned.

But to the best of his knowledge, he had told everything. he did not know what else to say.

He was silent and bowed his head.

The fire of the hell suddenly blew its slow heat all over his body. He cried, but each tear drop was dried by the hot air of hell.

"Anything else?" Allah asked.

"I have told you everything, O Allah the Almighty, the Merciful, the Just, and the All-Knowing." Haji Saleh, who was now frightened, tried the tactic of humbling himself and exalting Allah, hoping that He would be more gentle and would not pursue this line of questioning.

But Allah asked again.

"There is nothing else?"

"Oh, oh, yes my lord. I always read Your book..."

"Anything else?"

"I have told you everything, Oh, my Allah. But if there is anything left out, I am thankful it proves that You are the Omniscient."

"Are you sure there is nothing else you did on earth except the things you have just told Me?"

"That was all, my Allah."

"Get in there!"

And the angels took hold of his ears and quickly dragged Haji Saleh to hell. He did not know why. He did not understand what Allah expected of him, and yet he believed that Allah could do wrong.

How stunned Haji Saleh was when he saw that many of his earth friends were roasting in hell, groaning with pain. He became more perplexed when he realized that all the people he recognized in hell were no less religious than he was. There was even one man who had been to Mecca fourteen times and gained the title of Sheikh. Haji Saleh approached them and asked why they were in hell. But like Haji Saleh, they did not know either.

"What's happening to our Allah? asked Haji Saleh later.

"Weren't we supposed to be constantly pious, firm in our belief? And we were! But now we have been thrown into hell."

"Yes, we agree with you. Look at those people! They're all from our country, and they were no less faithful in their religion."

"This is really an injustice."

"Indeed injustice," echoed the people.

"If so, we must request evidence of our guilt. We must remind Allah just in case He inadvertently made a mistake when He put us in hell.

 "Right. Right. Right." Haji Saleh's idea was applauded.

"What if Allah is not willing to acknowledge His mistake?" a high-pitched voice asked from the crowd.

"We protest. We make a resolution," said Haji Saleh.

"Shall we stage a revolution, too?" asked another voice, apparently someone who was a leader of a revolutionary movement.

"That depends on circumstances," replied Haji Saleh.

"What's important now is that we must stage a demonstration in order to meet with Allah."

"Wonderful. On earth we achieved a lot just by having demonstrations," one voice put in.

"Agreed. Agreed. Agreed." They applauded noisily and then departed.

When they came before Him, Allah asked: "What can I do for you?"

As leader and spokesman, Haji Saleh stepped forward. With trembling voice and beautiful rhythm, he began his speech.

"Oh, Allah, our Great Lord, We who are now in front of You are Your most devout followers, faithfully worshiping You. We are the people who always mention Your name, adore Your greatness, tell of Your justice, etc. We know Your book backward and forward. We read it and miss nothing. But Almighty Lord, when You summoned us to come here, You then sent us to hell. Before anything terrible happens, on behalf of the people who love You, we ask that the punishment You have meted out to us be reconsidered, and that we be placed in heaven in accordance with the promise in Your book...."

"Where did you all live on earth?" asked Allah.

"We are Your followers who lived in Indonesia, Lord...."

"Oh, in that country with fertile land?"

"Yes, that's right, Lord."

"The soil is extremely rich, full of metal, oil, and other minerals, isn't it?"

"Yes. Yes. Yes. That's our country."

"The country that was enslaved for a long time?"

"Yes, Allah. The colonialist was indeed accursed."

"And the products of your land, it was they who scraped and took to their own country, is that correct?"

"Correct, my Lord. We have nothing left. They were indeed cursed."

"The country that is constantly troubled, where you are always fighting each other while someone else steals the products of your land. Is that true?"

"Yes, Allah. But wordly things are not our concern. What is important for us is to kneel and worship you...."

"You do not mind being perpetually poor, do you?"

"True. Not at all, Allah."

"Because of your not minding it, your children and grandchildren will also remain poor, right?"

"Although our descendants are poor, they all read the holy books. They learn Your books by heart."

"Just as with you, none of what they read goes into their hearts, isn't that right?"

"No, it is in their hearts."

"If that is the case, why did you allow yourselves to be poor and all your children and grandchildren to suffer, while letting others take away your wealth for their own children? And you prefer to fight each other, deceiving and hurting each other. I gave you an extremely rich country, but you are lazy. You prefer to pray, because praying does not take sweat or hard work. You all know that I asked you to do good deeds besides carrying out the religious practices."

"How can you do good deeds if you are poor? You think that I am fond of adoration, wanting only worship, so you did nothing but adore and worship me. No. You must all be sent to hell. Here, angels, drive these people back to hell. Put them at the very bottom..... "

Everyone grew pale, not daring to say another word. Now they understood the course of action on earth that Allah approved. Haji Saleh still wanted to know if what he had done was right or wrong. but he lacked the courage to ask Allah, so he just asked the angels who were herding them along.

"In your opinion, is it wrong if on earth we worship Allah?"

"No. What was wrong with you was that you were too selfish. You were afraid of ending up in hell, so you did nothing but pray. But in so doing you forgot your own people, forgot the welfare of your family, and they ended up neglected."

"That was your big mistake; too egotistical, even while knowing very well that you had friends and relatives who depended on you, you did not care for them at all."

That was Adjo Sidi's story that I heard from Grandpa. The story that made Grandpa so miserable.

Sad Ending

The next morning, when I was about to go down from the house for a bath, my wife asked if I would not go to pay my last respects.

"Who died?" I asked. startled.



"Yes, early this morning he was found dead in his surau in a very terrifying condition. He had slashed his throat with a razor ...."

"My God. Adjo Sidi's work ... ," I said, running as fast as I could and leaving my stunned wife behind. I went to Adjo Sidi's house, but only his wife was there. I asked her where Adjo Sidi was.

"He's gone," she said. "Didn't he know that Grandpa died?"

"Yes. And he asked me to buy a seven-layer cloth for Grandpa."

"And now....."

I was at a loss. hearing about this whole thing, which was due to Adjo Sidi's irresponsible act. "And now where is he?"


"Work?" My voice was an empty echo.

"Yes. He went to work."

Written by A.A Navis
This story taken from the seven short Islamic stories from Indonesia entitled "In The Surau"

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