A Malaysian sunrise


Sometimes simple minds see things simply. And to change simple minds by introducing complex ideas can upset the balance of nature. Take a look at the conversation between a kampung Malay and his colonial mistress 100 years ago.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Why do you take leave from Thursday evening to Saturday morning, Osman? Why not take leave from Saturday evening to Monday morning? Tuan does not need you over the weekend.

I need to be home on Thursday evening, Mem. A husband has a duty to his wife on Thursday evening….malam sunat. Then, on Friday, I must go for Sembahyang Jumaat. It is compulsory.

But can’t you go to a mosque near here instead of going all the way back to your kampung 30 miles away?

No, Mem, I am not mastautin here. I am muzafir.


Yes, I am not a resident here, Mem. I am muzafir…outsider. So I must go back to my own mosque in the kampung.


In case there are not enough jumaah, at least 40 people, and if I am absent, then I have sinned, Mem, because with less than 40 people they cannot pray Solat Jumaat. So it is my duty to make sure the jumaah is enough.

But can’t you bring your wife to live with you here and then make this your new kampung? After all we have given you your own quarters. You even have piped water and electricity, at least a few hours a day from 7.00pm to midnight. I am sure that would be more comfortable than your kampung house by the river. And you know how bad the cholera has been the last few months because of the river water you use to bathe and cook.

The cholera is not because of the river, Mem. It is the will of Allah. We came from Allah and we return to Allah. The cholera is only bersabit…err…the excuse…not sure what the English word is, Mem.

But surely with better hygiene conditions there would be no cholera.

Cholera came from Allah, Mem. If Allah did not want it to happen there would be no cholera. People who do not live by the river also die of cholera.

That is true, but the chances are much reduced. Would you not feel safer for your wife and children if they were not so easily exposed to cholera by living here?

It is the will of Allah, Mem. We die wherever we live.

We have a hospital and an English school run by the missionaries so there are better health and educational facilities here.

My children must go to Qur’an classes, Mem. That is more important than English classes. What is the point of learning English if they cannot read the Qur’an? In the kampung they go to Qur’an classes every day. They also study Fardu Ain, Tafsir, and so on. In an English school they cannot learn all that.

But would not studying English be better for their future?

The future Allah will decide, Mem. We cannot change the future. Furthermore, my wife must remain in the kampung to look after my mother. A daughter-in-law’s first duty is to look after her mother-in-law.

What about your other brothers and sisters? My two brothers are in the army and not married, Mem, while my three sisters died during childbirth.

That is terrible. What happened?

It was evil spirits, Mem. My sisters were not strong like we boys. So the spirit took them.

Evil spirits? Heavens!

Yes, Mem. Before they were born the bomoh already pagar the house. He jampi all round the house but they still got in through the atap roof, Mem. The evil spirits must have been hiding there before the bomoh came and when my mother gave birth the evil spirits took my three sisters.

You mean your mother did not go to the hospital to give birth?

No, Mem. There are no women doctors in the hospital, Mem. So my mother gave birth at home. The bidan helped deliver the baby. But it was Allah’s will they died. We cannot change Allah’s will, Mem. We must accept Allah’s will without regret.

But surely you cannot blame everything on Allah’s will and just accept it. You can always change destiny.

Destiny cannot be changed, Mem. It is like the railway line to Kota Bharu that Tuan just built. Destiny runs on a track and only in one direction. The train that runs on a track cannot change its direction. It just follows the track like we follow our destiny. Does your Christianity not also believe in the will of God, Mem?

Well, we do…but then we also believe that we can change our destiny. Humankind has control over their destiny.

So humans have will over God, Mem?

No, I did not say that. God still has the final say. But we can affect that will of God.

How can that be, Mem? Allah decided the British will rule over us. We Malays accept that. Even the Sultan accepts that. Are you saying we can change that?

I suppose you can change that if there is a will. It is like when you plant your rice. God will decide if your rice will grow but you must plant the rice. God will not plant the rice for you.

You speak like my ustaz, Mem. My uztaz said while Allah will decide, we must make the effort. Allah will not help us unless we do it.

Precisely! We English say God only helps those who help themselves.

I think my ustaz said something like that. We must tanam the benih and Allah will bring the rain. And sometimes too much train and everything dies. That, too, is Allah’s will.

I must say I admire you for accepting God’s will with grace. But you must not be so passive and accept everything. You must also struggle and try to change your future.

That is what Tok Janggut said, Mem. And they killed him.

I did not hear about that. When did that happen?

The British came to Kelantan in 1909 after taking over the state from Thailand. But Kelantan had no money. It is what you British say, bankrupt. So the British started taxing the padi farmers in 1915 to pay for the cost of running the state. The Sultan betrayed us and collaborated with the British. When Tok Janggut led a rebellion against the British and the Sultan, the British sent the Sikhs to murder Tok Janggut. The Sultan is a bad man, Mem.

I suggest you don’t repeat this to Tuan, Osman. You might get into trouble.

That is Allah’s will, Mem. If I am to die like Tok Janggut then I will die a mujahideen like Tok Janggut. Tok Janggut led a jihad, Mem, a holy war.

You mean like the Crusades?

Yes, Mem. It is the duty of all Muslims to fight a jihad and if we die we go straight to heaven. We do not even need to wash the body and we are buried in the clothes we died in with the blood still on it.

I think that is a bit extreme just to defend your beliefs.

Maybe, Mem, but one day the Malays will rise and will fight for independence from Britain. And then the Malays can take back our country and send the Chinese and Indians home to their own country. The British have brought in too many Chinese and they now own all the towns. There is going to be trouble one day, Mem. Even the Sultans will lose their power because they have betrayed the Malays.

But the Chinese are developing this country, Osman. Don’t you think you need the Chinese?

We do not need development, Mem. We were very happy before the British came. The British are developing our country for the sake of Britain. The British make so much money but it is all sent back to England. We Malays still live the way we have been living for a thousand years.

But you are now working for Tuan. You are not living the way the Malays have been living for a thousand years. You are now employed and not self-supporting.

That is true, Mem. But we have no more jungle to cari makan. Before this we collected durians and many other fruits to sell. Now all jungles have been turned into estates. So there are no more fruits to cari makan.

And you are happy collecting fruits in the jungle?

Sometimes, Mem. We make very little though. Now I make ten times more working for Tuan.

So do you want to go back to the life of collecting and selling fruits?

No, Mem. This life is better. It is very difficult to go back once you have tasted a better life.

And do you want the British to leave this country?

No, Mem. The old rulers are worse than the British, Mem. At least we cannot get killed if we upset the rulers like in the old days. I am happy working for Tuan. He treats me well, just like you do, Mem. You are better than my own Malay Tuans. The Malay Tuans are terrible people, Mem.

Yes, I have heard. Would you want independence for your country, Osman?

Only if the Sultans are not going to run the country, Mem?

Who should run the country then?

The people, Mem.

You sound like a republican, Osman.

I do not know what that means, Mem, but then if that is called a republican then I am a republican, Mem.