There is a thief among us, Tok Imam!

You steal one day and you get rid of the sin the next by attending terawih prayers.

Fa Abdul, Free Malaysia Today

My dad has been visiting our neighbourhood mosque for terawih throughout the month of Ramadan. Usually when he returns home after his prayers around 10.40pm, mom will make her famous ginger tea and we will sit down to chat as we snack on leftovers from the dinner we shared earlier.

Dad’s stories always centre around his trip to the mosque and the people he meets or the conversations he has while there. Usually the stories are pretty common – like children misbehaving inside the mosque, the wonderful moreh prepared by members of the congregation or about people falling asleep during prayers.

However, dad’s series of stories last week left me and my family in stitches.

It all began when dad took his old motorbike to the mosque last Tuesday after breaking fast at home. Now I can’t remember how many times I’ve told him not to ride a motorbike (especially at night), but my stubborn dad (like his daughter) never listens.

So off he went on his old Honda, chugging along small roads and shortcuts, gazing at the beautiful full moon in the sky, and once in a while, wobbling to a stop after hitting a pothole.

Now there’s one thing I am proud about my dad for – when he rides his old bike, he always wears a helmet. Unlike some ustads, who rely on God for their safety, my dad folds his kopiah (prayer cap) and places it in his front basket, making room for the helmet – because in Islam, as dad says, abiding by the law is a must.

Anyway, upon arriving at the mosque, dad took off his helmet and placed it in his basket before rushing off for prayers. About two hours later, he walked back to his motorbike and guess what – his helmet was missing!

“Tok, my helmet has disappeared,” said dad to the Tok Imam.

“Where has it disappeared to?” Tok Imam asked.

“I placed it on my motorbike when I came earlier. Now it’s gone,” dad explained.

“Perhaps someone borrowed it. It is okay, I will look for it and we will look for you if we find it later,” said Tok Imam, trying to sound optimistic.

The next day, my family and I waited anxiously for dad to return home from the mosque with his helmet in his hand. But as fate would have it, he walked in empty handed. He however did bring home an unexpected tale to share with us.

“Right after our terawih,” dad began his story, “I was having a chat with Tok Imam when we heard a shout from outside the mosque. So we rushed out and found one of the villagers looking flustered.”

“What’s the matter?” someone asked the man.

“My watermelon just disappeared!” he lamented.

“How can a watermelon disappear?” asked Tok Imam.

“It’s been stolen. I left it on my motorcycle when I arrived and now it’s gone,” the man said, sounding quite upset.

My family and I burst out laughing upon hearing dad’s story. First it was dad’s helmet, now this man’s watermelon. What next?

The following day, we assembled at home once again, waiting for dad’s arrival back from the masjid.

As he entered the house, we ambushed him with questions. “So? What else went missing tonight?”

Dad laughed.

He took his own sweet time to take off his kopiah and baju Melayu, knowing only too well how eager we were for an update. Such a teaser, my dad is.

Finally he sat down, took a sip of mom’s ginger tea, and said with a chuckle, “You’d never believe what happened today.”

I could swear my eyeballs bulged double in size.

“Just as I was entering the masjid, another villager arrived. He had two pineapples in his hand,” said dad before I cut in.

“Oh, my God! The pineapples went missing too?” I asked.

“Patience,” dad laughed before continuing. “The pineapples were from the man’s orchard and he had brought them to the mosque as a gift for the Tok Imam.”

“And then?” asked mom, equally impatient.

“The man called Tok Imam and asked if he should just leave the pineapples on Tok Imam’s motorbike for him to take home later, but Tok Imam quickly told him not to. He said he feared the pineapples would disappear too, just like the helmet and watermelon did.

Instead, Tok Imam safeguarded his pineapples by placing them right next to him during prayers!” said dad before bursting into laughter.

The thought of the Tok Imam praying with two juicy, bright orange pineapples by his side made us laugh too.

“Why would any mosque-goer steal things?” I asked, “Why pray for forgiveness and then commit a sin?”

“Don’t forget that these things are nothing new,” said my brother.

“Many people have their sandals stolen during Friday prayers. And let us not forget those handbags and wallets that were stolen from inside mosques while people were praying.”

“Not everyone who comes to the mosque has the intention to pray,” dad explained. “It happens in places of worship of all religions. Humans are humans.”

I smiled.

I guess it’s easier to commit a sin when you are given a special pardon in the holy month of Ramadan.

You steal one day and you get rid of the sin the next by attending terawih prayers. Or you commit a few sins, say in March, and come Ramadan, you pray for forgiveness all in one go. Good business deal right there I’d say.

Sounds funny but that is what many believe – which actually explains why people who never set foot in mosques are now literally spending their entire evenings there throughout Ramadan.

To readers who find my statement offensive – my apologies.

I am not belittling the religion, only the way we humans practice it. And if you still think I am in the wrong for saying so, don’t worry, I can always visit the mosque for terawih tomorrow and get my sin checklist balanced.