On Friday everything revolves around the Jum’a prayers. The MC in the conference I am attending announces at the opening that this being Friday, the morning proceedings would come to a halt at 11:45 AM sharp to allow Muslim delegates to prepare for the Jum’a prayers. A bus would arrive at 12:00 Noon to take delegates to the Masjid Nagara [City Mosque].
At 11:45 sharp the conference proceedings come to a halt. The MC announces that the bus would ‘bring’ delegates to the Masjid Nagara and they should be ready at the hotel entrance by 12:00 noon. [For some reason, which I have yet to fathom, the Malaysians always say ‘bring’ when they mean take!]. ‘Non Muslim delegates are invited to have their lunch which is being served. Muslim brothers and sisters are requested to prepare for Jum’a salat and can have their lunch upon their return from the Mosque at 2:00 pm. Conference proceedings will recommence at 3:00 pm sharp.’
I decide to give this bus trip a skip. Instead, I call my friend Hamid, who works in the Petronas Towers and ask him where he is praying Jum’a. He says he is going to Masjid India, and if I could be there in 10 minutes we could go together. I take the short walk to Menara 2 of the Petronas Towers and wait for Hamid to come down. Just before Jum’a the towers are a spectacle to behold. ‘The tallest building(s) in the world’ are rapidly beginning to empty as hundreds of staff rush to go for their prayers.
On Friday around noon, Malaysian Muslims undergo a major transformation. Many perform their ablutions in their offices and then leave their coats, ties and shoes behind. They come down from offices in sandals or flip flops, sleeves rolled up showing signs of hurriedly performed wudu. Some even adorn the sarong and leave their trousers behind in the offices. A few wear the traditional Malay songkok and others a white kofia [cap]. The customised places for performing the ablutions are overwhelmed and many resort to the normal bathrooms. As a result the ‘flooded’ bathrooms after Jum’a become a regular feature of offices and hotels in Kuala Lumpur.
Hamid takes a while to come down. I call him on his mobile. He says that he is stuck waiting for the lifts. The sudden demand on the lifts with hundreds of people wanting to descend at the same time clears a bottleneck and makes a last minute dash to prayers practically impossible.
This reminds me of our recent trip to Makkah. We were staying right opposite the Haram (Holy Mosque in Makkah) and so were hoping to get to the Mosque once the Adhan (call to prayer) was called. We were sadly mistaken. Stuck on the 34th floor, the lifts were hopelessly inadequate and ill designed. On occasions it took us over half an hour to get to the Haram. Seeing a similar plight in the glittering Petronas Towers, I make a mental note that a new formula for people’s movement around prayer times needs to be worked upon which would alleviate this hapless waste of time.
Hamid finally arrives but announces that we have to wait for two other friends who are joining us. As soon as we are all there we take a cab for the short ride to Masjid India. As its name indicates this is a Mosque in the centre of old Kuala Lumpur, which was build by South Indian Muslims. The area is still a busy hub of small shops, food stalls and restaurants. Many of these are run by South Indian Muslims. We proceed to our favourite joint in Jalan Masjid India (Masjid India Street) – Restoran Jalil (Malaysians seldom pronounce the tí at the end of restaurant), for a pre-Jum’a bite to eat. Many eat after Jum’a, but the crush of worshippers wanting to have their lunch post-Jum’a needs to be avoided if one wants to get back in time.
As soon as we have taken our seats, other friends begin to arrive. We are now fifteen of us having lunch. We get rice and an assortment of Indian curries – fish, chicken, mutton are served. The delicious small portions are quickly consumed. The bankers, fund managers, civil servants, engineers etc who have joined us engage in small talk about current affairs. This high powered group of professionals seems so unassuming in their rolled up sleeves and flip flops that they could be mistaken for street idlers. Te tarih (pulled tea) and Kopi (Coffee) rounds off the small meal and we proceed to the Mosque.
Flip flops and sandals are left at the doorway of the mosque. People wearing shoes have to think twice. They can either leave their shoes at the doorway or take it downstairs and park them with an attendant for a small charge. Those who leave it at the doorway engage in intriguing strategies to ‘protect’them. Two people keep one shoe each in separate places thus ‘avoiding giving the temptation’ to somebody to walk away with them upon completion of the prayers. (Again, Malaysians seldom talk of theft. They would rather use the idea of ‘avoiding providing temptation’ to others!).
The old Mosque now renovated and extended to four floors is rapidly filling up. We file in and find places to pray. The Khutbah (sermon) is in Tamil. After a short one the Jum’a prayers is read. We perform some Nafilah (Surrogatory prayers) after the main Salat and exit the Mosque. As per our set formula we reconvene under a lamp post on one side of the Mosque. When everybody has arrived, we decide to go for another tea and coffee session in an open cafe as it is early to head back to offices. A new round of animated discussion ensues over the teas and coffees. This time the lack of improvement in corruption and graft after the new Prime Minister took over is the main topic of discussion.
Just before 3:00 pm we head back to our offices and conference venues. The talk is of people going to Penang, Kota Bharu, Johore etc for the weekend. Many Malaysian go back to their family homes regularly over week ends. For many the rest of the afternoon would be spent in planning for the trek back home in the evening.
Thus it is that with Saturday now a mandatory holiday for office workers in Malaysia, the country is effectively on a four and a half day week. To compound this, some states like Kelantan, observe Friday and Saturday as a holidays, reducing a lot of work in the country to four days. Nevertheless, Jum’a remains a most colourful and jovial day of the week in Malaysian’s calendar.