Abdul Rahim Said (C) February 2013
An old red Jeep rushes through the streets of a small community outside Kuala Lumpur in the direction of its only neighbourhood Surau. The driver clad in a dark green juba with a white turban over his head and a Bedouin checkered scarf around his neck flapping in the wind, is oblivious to others observing him from the roadside stalls as he passes by. The windows of the Jeep are down and you can hear Cat Stevens' "Morning has Broken" blazing away. The driver is singing along repeating the lyrics and tapping his fingers on the steering wheel in sync with the music. His head nodding and moving from side to side rhythmically enthralled by Stevens' melodious voice.
"There goes Leman!" says a newspaper vendor to his brother as he passes by their delivery stand. "Late again for his morning prayers!"
The Jeep moves quickly into the Surau car park on a beautifully landscaped hillock. Leman steps out of his Jeep just as Stevens' song comes to its appropriate ending, " Praise with elation, praise every morning. God’s recreation of the new day".
He scans the horizon for the glimmer of the dawn early light and sees the fading moon about to be outshone by the rising sun, hanging low in the Western skies and quietly expresses his gratitude to the Creator for a chance to enjoy yet another blessed day.
From nearby mosques he hears the Bilal calling the faithful to prayers.
At his own Surau, the Bilal is nowhere to be found. Reaching into his juba pocket, he finds the keys and opens the doors. Groping in the dark, he switches on the lights one after another. He sees the amplifier, turns it on, presses the button of the microphone, frees his mind of the lyrics from Stevens' song he was humming earlier, clears his throat and in a clear melodious voice calls out to his fellow Muslims to prayers: "Allah Akhbar...!"
Leman, an influential secretary of a Surau elected to office for his popularity by a small group of Muslim residents a few years ago, loves Cat Stevens. He adores his songs, memorises the lyrics and attended many of Stevens' concerts in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and at other far away places when he was a student in the Mid West of the United States.
His congregation is amazed over his admiration for the singer. He makes no secret of his profound knowledge of the artiste's life and proudly displays all records ever produced by the soulful singer to everyone who drops by. In his house, there is a special air conditioned room to store works by Stevens. Walls of his home are covered with pictures and posters of Stevens' performance in London, Chicago and elsewhere. He often gets complaints from his own family about having no place on the wall for their own photographs. His wife of thirty years repeatedly expresses her concerns that he is "really excessive" in his obsession with Cat Stevens. She gently cautions him on Islam's prohibition of over idolising another human. But this does not deter Leman who is a devout Muslim who seldom misses prayers at the Surau. Externally, he seems successful at keeping his musical preference apart from his religious life without any guilt, until someone like his wife makes a remark about his obsession. This sparks lengthy discourses justifying his ability to separate religion and music. It often ends with him arguing alone for and against separation of religion and state that anyone listening finds utterly incoherent.
Lyrics of "Morning has Broken", "The First Cut is the Deepest", "Moon Shadow", "Wild World" are always on his lips. In his bathroom he belts out the words at the top of his lungs acting out scenes of the singer performing on stage. Immediate neighbours initially annoyed by the awful rantings have grown accustomed to his antics. It is so quiet when he goes out of town that sometimes, the woman next door is prompted to ask the wife "Is Leman alright? I didn't hear any singing this...
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