Of late, I have been regularly absent from the weekly tazkirah at the Malaysia Hall surau. I have been missing a lot of events organised by Ustaz Erfino, mainly because I had taken on work commitments that require me to work those evenings. But from friends who attended, I hear news from the surau.
Recently, while preparing a much delayed lunch, my BB signalled that there was a message. The number was not a familiar one; a number from Malaysia. The message was simple, asking for someone's name he said he had forgotten. The name of the sender was printed below. It was Haji Zainal, our bilal. My heart leapt with joy upon receiving his message. He had left for Malaysia to look after his ailing mother. Being an only child, the task falls on him; and what a noble task.
We had not said a proper goodbye before he left and so, replying his sms, I said a simple "I missed your takbir".
Haji Zainal's was the takbir that still rings in my ear; the takbir and call to prayers everytime we congregate at the Malaysia Hall surau for the weekly tazkirah, the nightly terawikhs and Hari Raya's and other religious occassions. His was the melodious and soulful call to prayers that accompanied Ustaz Anwar, Ustaz Abdul Rahim and now Ustaz Erfino. It was his call to prayer that I listened to when I started finding my way to the Malaysia Hall surau in old Bryanston Square and later in Queensborough Terrace. Haji Zainal was every Ustaz's right hand man. The one to witness the solemnisation of a marriage, to witness the conversion of a new brother or sister in Islam, or to replace Ustaz when he wasn't around. He was always around whenever we had a death in the community. A familiar figure, offering comfort and the hand of friendship.
He was also the one to come with extra food and drinks to the lady's room at the end of the tazkirah or moreh, to see if we needed anything more. But he is there no more.
I told him so and I think we both shed a tear or two from both sides of the ocean.
Our families had known each other for as long as we have been here in London. His wife Nariman, is a dear old friend I had befriended on a ship anchored on the Thames. We were invited for dinner on the ship one evening and there we were: two young lasses still with no children to call our own.
Later as fate would have it, we were booked at the same hospital, the same maternity ward for the delivery of our second child. But again as fate would have it, she had to return to Johore but we both gave birth on the same date. Our children remain very close friends.
After the meals following the tazkirah, we'd find Hj Zainal, usually in his faded batik shirt and Javanese cap, outside enjoying his cigarette. He'd say: where's my menantu? referring to my daughters. It has always been a standing joke. And then he and Nariman would drive off in their van bearing the words JOWO TURUNAN and proudly flying the Malaysian flag.
Nariman told me recently, that without fail, Hj Zainal would sms Ustaz during every tazkirah. He too misses the congregation, and by sms'ing Ustaz, it was as if he was there too.
Recently, I missed the Maulud Nabi which I heard went very well, with Ustaz Erfino reciting the Quran and the younger members of he surau reading a text about our beloved Prophet.
To make up for the missing Thursdays, I attend a weekly tazkirah on Saturdays at Tuk Din's, which is just as well as I gather the congregation at the Malaysia Hall is growing larger, Alhamdulillah, with the student community joining the congregation there.
But there are other familiar faces missing too. Haji Amin, my husband's close surau mate has been away and in hospital recovering from an operation. Last Sunday, I busied myself in the kitchen, making sardine rolls when I heard that he could start eating normal food now. Usually after every tazkirah, he'd sit talking to my husband and sensing my presence, he would jokingly say: Bila nak dapat makan sardine rolls pulak?
And so, with sardine rolls straight from the oven, I made my way to St Mary's hospital with Tuk Din and Midah last Sunday. Haji Amin, Alhamdulillah was in good spirit, especially when he heard that we brought chicken soup and sardine rolls.
I heard that also missing is Kak Puteri - an old member of the Malay community in London, whose banter
Pak Mat Abu and Kak Siah are also missing. Pak Mat, once popularly known as the only Malay tube driver in London ( for he drove the tube on the Jubilee Line), had phoned me to say he and Kak Siah were going back to Malaysia as he needed treatment after his stroke. Sadly, I couldnt make it to see him before he left and I hope he will be back shortly fully recovered.
Just writing about the congregation and the activities at the surau, makes me realise how fortunate we are to have such regular meetings. Our ustaz for the Saturday tazkirah is a young but wise one; imparting his knowledge to us much older members of the congregation. Alhamdulillah, we have not been short of learned ones willing to share their knowledge with us.
Kak Teh's other tale from the surau: