‘Legendary Qariah’, Faridah Mat Saman.

Given the unofficial title of qari’ah lagenda or a ‘legendary female Quran reciter’, Faridah Mat Saman participated in Tilawah al-Quran (International Quran Reading Competition) held in Malaysia, over several decades.

She was the overall female champion in 1964, the first year that the competition had a separate category for women. She went on to win in 1965, 1972, 1976, 1977, 1989, 1990, and 1991. Although retired, she made a guest appearance in the 2012 competition as shown in the video below:

Hajjah Faridah Mat Saman from Malaysia, International Quran Reading Competition 2012.


Shadian, a small kampong in Yunnan, China.

Iman is a Chinese convert from Singapore. She previously shared her story of conversion, and more recently, her Ramadhan and Eid experiences. She currently volunteers at Darul Arqam, where she counsels new converts and teaches them about Islam and prayers.

By Iman Wong

In May this year, I was invited by one of my students in the Chinese class, Sister Aisha Ma Wan Ting to visit her homeland in Shadian, Yunnan. Of course I grabbed the opportunity and it was really an eye opener for me, Masha’Allah.

Shadian is a very small town with a population of about 15,000 Hui Muslims of which a quarter are Han people, who are non-Muslims. There are 11 mosques in Shadian, with the Grand Mosque of Shadian accommodating 10,000 people. The city of Shadian is 90% Hui Muslims, with the remainder being non-Muslim migrant labourers who work in agriculture and mining.

When I arrived at Kunming Airport, Aisha and her father, Ali, came to fetch me. The journey from Kunming City to Shadian took two hours by car. As soon as I arrived Sha dian, I could see lots of agricultural land and small little shops selling Islamic items, halal food and groceries. To my surprise, along the roads, you could see gated mansion complexes lined densely on both sides of the roads and also many Muslim women, young and old, in their headscarves driving cars or riding on motorcycles, Masha’Allah!

Loud calls of prayer could be heard over loudspeakers. Aisha and her family would then rush to the mosque for congregational prayers with the Imam (they have four imams!). The Grand Mosque was situated just behind their house so on most evenings I was there, she would bring me to the Grand Mosque for Maghrib prayers. I also got to meet the Muslim sisters there during a sharing session.

The Grand Mosque is the largest mosque in the province. During the later years of the Qing Dynasty and the early years of the Ming Dynasty, some young Chinese Muslim students went to Egypt to study in Al- Azhar University in Cairo and about a hundred people went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. For this reason, Shadian earned the title of “Little Mecca in south Yunnan” at that time.

I was impressed by the Muslim sisters — they are so deeply attached to Islam and the love of our Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. In fact, they were so active at the mosques that they set up a Muslim women’s section where they conduct religious classes and Quran reading classes. Most of them are housewives looking after their children with the help of their parents or parents-in-law.

One evening, I was invited to give a short talk to only the Muslims sisters on my conversion as well as the activities of Darul Arqam (The Muslim Converts Association of Singapore) in the Grand Mosque, where I was welcomed with sincerity and warmth.

During my stay, I also visited the the National Monument, built in honour of the 1000 Hui Muslims killed during the Shadian 1975 incident. I visited the wet market where fresh halal meat, vegetables and fruits were sold. I even tasted my favourite morning breakfast: fresh soyabean drink and yau tiao (fritters). There were no high rise shopping mall or food courts, but just small individual shops selling clothes, shoes, handbags, Islamic attire, headscarves and accessories. I even discovered an Islamic book shop beside the Grand Mosque (belonging to one of the imams) selling many Islamic Chinese books at reasonable prices.

Staying with Aisha’s family, I found them such a close-knit happy family, Alhamdulillah. Her younger brother Sulayman, only 4 years old, attended the children’s madrasah and could pray and recite many verses from the Quran. Aisha’s mother, Mdm Fatima Ma, teaches children how to read the Quran as a volunteer while her father, Mr Ali Ma, runs his own business in the metal industry. Mdm Fatima Ma is also a good cook  – her specialty was cross bridge noodles with strips of beef. Delicious!

So far Sis Aisha’s family brought me to one Muslim halal restaurant where they served great food: fried beef with onion, kung pao chicken, dumplings, braised lamb, steam white chicken, braised beef noodles and steamed braised nuts.

Their kind hospitality made my stay memorable indeed. May Allah s.w.t. reward them bountifully. What makes Shadian such a special place is without a doubt Islam, which unites the community. The whole town was well laid-out and well taken care of, and the people were both visibly proud and extremely friendly to one another, and to me too. Shadian is exquisite and Yunnan’s Islamic oasis, just like a small kampong (village).

Remembering Ramadan in Pontianak.

Osman served as a police liaison officer at the Malaysian Consulate in Pontianak from 1982-1985. He is now retired.

By Osman Bakar

Each time when Ramadan approaches I can’t help but think about those days in the early 1980s when I was the Malaysia Police Liaison Officer (MPLO) in Pontianak, the provincial capital of West Kalimantan. That was the first time in my career and life that I was out of the country.

Hari Raya in Pontianak was the most enjoyable experience of my life. The atmosphere and the hospitality was something not experienced here. Maybe because I was a foreigner, and this was understandable as this city was not exactly a tourist destination.

If we take a look at the map of Borneo, Pontianak can be easily located at the  confluence of the river Kapuas and Landak. My first encounter with this city dates back to my primary school boy days. Never did I expect that one day I would be right in this equator city. I arrived in August 1982, amidst a severe drought in Pontianak. The following year the Malaysian Consulate was established.

Ramadan in Pontianak was a unique month for me. When it was time for sahur groups of youths would go around the area hitting tins and electric posts to wake the folks up for the morning meal in preparation for the fast. Breaking of the fast was a normal affair in Pontianak, with no ‘Bazaar Ramadan’ at that time. Maybe they have it now too, I don’t know. By the way, Pontianak is famous for the kueh lapis legit (layer cake).

The ‘terawih’ prayer was an occasion eagerly awaited by everyone. Scores of people would congregate at the many mosques and suraus available throughout town. Most lanes, locally-known as gang, had their own place of worship. Unlike Malaysia now, the congregation remained the same size throughout the whole month of Ramadan, and did not gradually dwindle as the end of the month approached.

Going to the mosque in Pontianak during Ramadan was really different. In Pontianak then, as Ramadan slowly approached its end, the atmosphere in the city changed, with loud explosions (similar to artillery fire) especially along the river banks.These cannons were mounted along the river banks and decorated with Indonesian flags. Villages located along the rivers would be ‘at war’ during this period. The carbide for the cannons came from  donations collected from the villagers.

The cannons, a long-time tradition since the rule of the Malay Sultanate in Pontianak, were fired only in the evening. The Sultan of Pontianak used to fire cannons to mark the commencement and the breaking of fast. Since then, this has become a yearly tradition.

Of course, the local marine police were kept busy plying the river trying to confiscate these cannons, but the villagers had a strategy for this. At the sight of an approaching boat, the cannons would immediately be submerged into the river using ropes and everyone would disappear. The police would destroy whatever cannons they could lay their hands on by chopping them up. I see this as a token move by the police as they knew very well about this local tradition in West Kalimantan, since the sounds of cannons pounding would continue to fill the air once the police left.

In Malaysia, meriam buloh (bamboo cannons) were used instead — with disastrous results. On the other hand, in Pontianak the smallest cannons were made out of a coconut trunk while the biggest were made from a large tree trunk that could accommodate one or sometimes two persons in the hollow — that’s how big it was! The length of the cannon could be up to four meters.

How did they do it? The trunk would be split into two halves and a hollow dug out of the centre, from one end to the other. The trunk would then be securely spliced together with rattan and enforced with steel cables — a wonderful local technological innovation. The trunk would then be immersed underwater for some time to strengthen it before use.

Usually a litre of carbide would be placed inside the cannon and a pail of water poured and left to react for a couple of minutes. The mouth of the cannon would be covered with newspaper. After a couple of minutes the cannon will be ignited and “kaboom!” The sound of artillery fire filled the evening skies over Pontianak. Strangely though, no casualties have been reported till now.

When my tour of duty ended in 1985, I said a silent prayer on the flight home. I wished that someday I could return to see the friends I left behind; friends who are now like my own relations. Like what the locals say, people who come to Pontianak and have tasted the water here will eventually return someday.

I indeed had the opportunity to be in Pontianak again for a Search and Rescue (SAR) meeting in 2005. I was flabbergasted about this return to my old hunting ground. Unfortunately the Pontianak I knew in the 1980s and the present day Pontianak was indeed a great contrast. Development finally did catch up with this province of Indonesia, with an airport and buildings taller than four floors in town.

Frankly, I loved the Pontianak of the 1980s where life was slow and people were friendly. It was congested then, but more congested now. I wish I could be there again someday and of course, preferably towards the end of Ramadan, which would be absolutely fantastic. Insya Allah.

I am Muslim, Malay, and I love my Salukis!

Hasnul was born and bred in Singapore, did his first degree in Australia, then worked in Singapore for a year until his veterinary studies in Malaysia. He now runs his own small animal practice in Kota Damansara, Selangor DE, Malaysia.

By Hasnul Ismail

“There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they (all) shall be gathered to their Lord in the end.” – Qur’an 6:38

My parents are my life, particularly my umi (mother). She showered me with much love and always showed compassion towards animals, even if it was just an ant marching on a leaf. I guess I have had always wanted to be a veterinarian, and alhamdulillah, I have achieved my ultimate ambition.

But I have always wondered if Muslims in general are aware that the Qur’an states that all creation praises God, even if this praise is not expressed in the human language. However, the dog (and even the pig) is provocative and a big taboo — “dogs are haram”, “Malays hate dogs”, and so on are common to hear in South East Asian society. It is definitely degrading to call someone anjing (‘dog’ in Malay).

Like most Malays, I grew up not to like dogs. “Keep away from them” is what we were told to do. “Dirty animals they are!” and “Can’t touch them!” are common refrains. Growing up in suburban Singapore, I had a Eurasian neighbour with Dobermans and Chihuahuas and I was fascinated by the different appearances of dogs. I also remembered having to wash myself with clayey water when another neighbor’s Japanese spitz rubbed against my legs.

It was confusing when some elderly Muslims said, “we cannot touch dogs” while some said “you may if they are dry but never when wet” and even “yes, but not the mouth, nose and other parts that secrete bodily fluids”. For a child, it was indeed confusing and I had doubts about what was correct.

As in most parts of the Malay Archipelago (Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia), dogs are culturally considered to be unclean. It has always been a generalization that cats are a common household pet in Malay-Muslim households. We grew up being taught that the Prophet Mohammad s.a.w. loved cats. However, the cat was never mentioned in the Quran.

Dogs or hounds are in fact mentioned in the Quran, and not just once (5:4, 7:176, 18:18, 18:22) and none of these verses indicate that God considers dogs to be dirty animals or that they should be avoided or treated badly. Among the four major schools of thought in Sunni Islam (Hanafi, Hambali, Syafiee and Maliki), the strictest and the most orthodox is Syafiee, to which most Muslims in the Malay Archipelago adhere.

As for hadeeth about dogs being unclean, I personally think that these are important as a code of hygiene, crucial for protecting and promoting human health, while encouraging us to be moderate in rearing pets. If a dog has licked a bowl or vessel (i.e. drunk from it) which is also used by the human owner, then one can follow the hadeeth narrated from Abu Hurayrah:

“If a dog licks the vessel of any one of you, let him wash it seven times, one of which should be with earth.”

With the exception of Imam Maliki, many scholars interpret this is necessary when your hand is impure from touching a dog when it is wet, but not when it is dry.

After consulting religious scholars and teachers, my conclusion with regards to rearing dogs is that it is makruh (discouraged). Yet, I find that many do not have an open mind and still confuse what is taken from the Quran and from the hadeeth.

Today, I run a practice in a busy tropical suburb with veterinary diseases exotic to the western world. I face challenges with pet owners, and the narrow-mindedness of some locals here.

Nonetheless, I have 13 salukis. Salukis are ancient sleek hunting hounds, and I have heard that the Prophet s.a.w. and his sahabat (companions) had used them for hunting purposes. They are called salukis or sloughis in the Arab-speaking world and tazy or tazi among those who speak Turkish, Persian, or Urdu.

Honestly, I am a cat person but salukis are just the perfect hounds for me because of the minimal drool, almost absent dog odour since they do not have a double coat, and their independent nature (like cats!). In any case, I feel that dogs are not meant for everyone, Muslim or not: if you cannot spend time with your dog daily, with regular exercises, then please do not have one.

There are Muslims who mean well and do need a dog to guard their homes and want to portray good animal care, regardless of the kind of pet. But having “handbag pooches”, dyeing their dogs’ fur, and putting on outrageous outfits creates uneasiness among those Muslims who are already against dogs.

Islam is a religion, but to many Malays, Islam is a culture. It is a practice handed down by their fathers, and their fathers before that; something they do out of habit rather than out of their education. I find that the majority of Malay Muslims confuse religion and culture; sometimes they practise religion as if it was part of the Malay culture, or adopt cultural practices (even pre-Islamic Middle-Eastern ones) thinking they are doing an Islamic thing.

“And when it is said to them: “Follow what Allah has sent down,” they say: “Instead, we would follow what we found our fathers on.” Is it so – even though their fathers used to understand nothing, nor had they been on the right path? The parable of those who disbelieve is like the one who hears nothing but a call and cry. They are deaf, dumb and blind, so they sense not.” Qur’an 2: 170-171

Society still remains rigid. Even when evidence is laid out clearly, it is a challenge to change traditional mindsets. I can only hope and du’a that the younger generation will receive a better understanding of this unfortunate taboo that has persisted for centuries. May Allah s.w.t. guide us to the right path, inshallah.

For further reading:
1. Dogs are considered a “taboo” in Malay/Muslim societies, ?or are they? ?(A personal perspective), Hasnul Bin Ismail BSc, DVM.
2. Hukum Kenajisan Anjing: Satu Penilaian Semula (Ruling on the impurity of dogs: a re-evaluation), Hafiz Firdaus Abdullah. (Article only available in Malay)
3. An email discussion between two Muslim veterinarians on dogs in Islam (from the Facebook account of Hasnul Ismail Heshmael Salukis).