The Hajj season is starting again and I am somewhat sad that we are not able to perform the pilgrimage this year. But I have to accept its all about seru and rezeki. Perhaps I was not diligent enough to answer the calls of Nabi Ibrahim. But I hope we would have the opportunity again next year and the years to come, Insyallah.
In our journey towards performing our pilgrimage last year, I was blessed enough to have met a few of future Ustazs, students of the (in)famous I/mam University here. Unlike the pilgrims in Malaysia who went for months of kursus, our training and preparation was fairly short so we depended a lot of guidance from our Ustaz and the student ustaz. What I found most amazing when hanging out with them is how non judgmental they are. How kind and honest they were in sharing with us their wealth of knowledge. They knew me way before I started wearing my scarf (I am still a scarf wearer in training.) And none of them said anything but kind words towards me. (Unlike some people who pre-judged me from the fact that I didn’t wear a scarf but that’s another story.)
These men (although I call them boys) had to go through such struggles in order to complete their degrees. And often many went home without completing their studies. Either because they missed their wives and children at home, or they failed to progress for the following year or even had to rot in a jail somewhere, because of the implied association they seemed to have being in the University. (That’s again another story.)
Alawi was introduced to us by the other Malay students’ in the local university. He was from Cambodia and his mum lived in Malaysia. I often found it very difficult to understand him because he spoke Melayu Campa. I can barely understand the Trengganu and Kelantanese accent, the patani accent is a big stretch and thus the Melayu campa was just often beyond me.
But the stories he told us about his life was just so touching, so trying that I often have to salute the boys who came all the way to further their studies here. In this trying times, when Islam is very much under close scrutiny.
Although Alawi was born in Cambodia, he had followed his mum to Malaysia at a young age. However when it was time to register for his citizenship in Malaysia, his mum had failed to do so, thinking that he was still young and didn’t really need the papers. So his mum managed to become a Malaysian, but he remained a Cambodian.
One fine day, there was a raid by the immigration officials in Kelantan and since Alawi didn’t have the proper papers, he was put in jail. The was there for two years before he was released. He told us how he became the imam at the surau in jail, and as long as he kept his head down, they left him alone. His mum did occasionally come to visit him and he often pleaded to her to find a way to get him out of the jail. But without the economic resources, the connections or even the knowledge about the proper system, she was unable to help.
After 2 years he was released and he tried to make his way back to Cambodia via the inland route.
But a man without the economic resources or proper papers somehow met a lot of sharks on the streets, because whom often tried to prey on his vulnerability. After successfully crossing the border into Thailand, he met a cab driver who offered to “help” him. At a price of course!
But alas, there were many checkpoints along the way and he was often arrested for not having proper documentation, and put in jail. Sometimes it was a short term “stay,” other times it was longer.
I did ask him what the conditions were like in the jails that he has been, and he told me that at least the jails in Malaysia were clean and he had no problem practicing his faith. Across the border however, it was slightly more difficult because the jails were not as clean and the people were less understanding his need to read the Quran.
To cut the story short, he finally managed to return to Cambodia. After getting his papers sorted out, he applied for a scholarship to study here and got a place in the language program at the local University here.
But alas, his grade did not qualify him into the degree program at the University and so the hajj trip last year was his last as a student here.
I often ask myself, if I could have endured the journeys he had gone through. And I think its most unlikely. But what was most inspiring to me that throughout all that, his faith is still intact, if not its even stronger, and it has inspired him to pass the word of Allah and the Quran as his life’s mission.