A tale of two imams

Raja Petra Kamarudin

UMNO has alleged that the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) has created a split amongst the Muslims to the extent that even masjids now have two imams, one for the PAS supporters and another for UMNO supporters. Well, that is very true, but the reason behind it has been distorted by the UMNO spin doctors to make it appear like PAS is the one splitting the Muslims. Actually it is the religious department that is behind this.

This whole thing started more than 25 years ago, back in the late 1970s, and it first erupted in Wakaf Mempelam before spreading to other areas all over Terengganu.

The story goes as follows.

One day, in the late 1970s, the imam of the local masjid in Wakaf Mempelam invited Tok Guru Ustaz Haji Abdul Hadi Awang to give a kuliah (lecture) in the masjid. When the Terengganu Religious Department found out they sacked the imam and replaced him with another. The new imam was well known amongst the locals, in fact too well known, for he ran the local gambling syndicate known as pelaga ayam (cock fighting).

Now, cock fighting is not only illegal according to law, or haram (forbidden) according to Islam, but downright cruel as well. Razor blades are placed on the feet of these cocks so that they slash to death their opponents. It is a most inhumane form of entertainment but very popular amongst the pious and ultra-religious Muslims in the East Coast, never mind both the law and Islam outlaw it.

The local villagers were outraged. How could the Terengganu Religious Department appoint the head of the local gambling syndicate as the new imam of the masjid? The fact he was also the local UMNO branch leader was not important as far as the locals were concerned. It is whether he is pious enough to qualify for the job of imam that was more on their minds.

The villagers refused to pray behind this new imam. They approached the old imam whose family had been leading the masjid for three generations (in fact, the masjid had been built by the imam’s grandfather) and ask that he still lead the congregation in prayer.

The imam said he could no longer lead them in prayer as he had been removed. The villagers responded by saying that if he did not lead them in prayer then they would no longer do their congregational prayers, in particular the Friday prayers. The imam would therefore have to carry the sins of all the villagers who skipped their prayers.

The imam was now placed in a dilemma. He knew it was his duty to lead the villagers in prayer and if they refused to do their congregational prayers because he refuses to lead them then he would have to carry all the sins of those who do not conduct their Friday prayers.

Reluctantly, he agreed to continue leading them in prayer and, that Friday, there were two sets of people praying in the Wakaf Mempelam Masjid, one led by the original imam and another led by the religious department appointed imam, the local UMNO branch chief, head of the local cock fighting syndicate.

In another episode in Chendering, the imam, bilal and entire masjid committee of Masjid Puteh (White Masjid) were sacked after they too invited Haji Hadi to deliver a lecture in the masjid. But they all just walked over to the Simpang Empat surau (a masjid where no Friday prayers are conducted) down the road, which used to be the original masjid for more than 100 years before they built Masjid Puteh, and reopened it.

That Friday, the Terengganu Religious Department sent a truckload of riot police to cordon the masjid. The religious department officers then chained and padlocked the masjid to prevent anyone from praying in it while the riot police with M16s stood guard.

The next day, Utusan Malaysia carried a front page story about masjid haram (illegal masjid) in Chendering, Terengganu, the only other Masjidil Haram (the name of the grand Masjid in Mekkah) outside of Mekkah.

Wakaf Mempelam and Chendering are not the only incidences of two imams. There were many more such episodes all over Terengganu and Kelantan. However, wherever you find an incidence of dua imam (two imams), you will invariably find the devious hand of an officer of the Terengganu Religious Department wearing a turban too tight it restricts the flow of blood to his brain.

Tomorrow I will talk about how Pusat Islam (Islamic Centre) classifies non-Muslims as unclean so stay tuned for the story.