Parents of my time were very strict when it came to the Islamic religion and my grandparents were no exception. They would not bother even if you were spotted with a Beatle hairdo or that of Elvis Presley but don’t you dare skip your religious classes, they would have no qualms prohibiting you at the dinning table and it could even extend until tomorrow’s breakfast time.
I started learning the Muqadam at a very young age of six but it was for a short period as my muqadam teacher had to move to the police barracks because her husband who was a policeman was given a quarters at the barracks. They stayed right behind our house and that made it easier for me. For my non-Muslim readers, a Muqadam is a small religious book of the Arabic alphabets, the pronunciation and some short Surahs (chapters) taken from the Holy Quran. I can’t remember her name but I do remember her husband’s name whom I called as Pak Sa’id. They had three daughters one of whom I remember as Halimah, a boy my age named Othman and his two younger brothers Azman and Azmi. The three brothers became my close friends but only for a short period.
It was obviously grandma who brought me to see her, a few weeks after the family moved to this house. The land where this house stood belonged to my granduncle Hj.Talib, grandpa’s brother. One of his daughters named Hapipah in later years became one of the first few women police inspectors in the country. I remember one of his sons was nicknamed Awang Katak and two girls named Noned and Ara. Ara was the youngest and she was called Ara because her father liked grandma (whose household name was Ara) very much. When I was small, I used to play with Ara and her brother I remember only as Adon. Since they moved in the early sixties, I have never heard anything about them and their whereabouts. Well, who knows maybe in times to come, one of them might be reading this article and it would be good to know some news of my long lost relatives.
Learning the muqadam was the most torturous moment because I did not understand a word of what I learned. In the beginning it was quite alright because I learned the Arabic alphabets and from these alphabets I learned how to pronounce the letters and later some words and eventually some short sentences. Eventually I learned how to read some short Surahs (Chapters).
The lesson would begin after lunch, and grandma would be the one reminding me. Sometime I need to be reminded three or four times and quite often I pretended not to listen. I must changed to my baju melayu and a songkok on my head. Those days we never used the ‘kopiah’ because that was meant only for those having returned from their pilgrimage and we called it ‘songkok haji’. The time taken to this house would take hardly a minute but I made sure it would take more than five minutes. I would walk slowly and stopped for a while under a coconut tree, sometime I would look for grasshoppers and kept them in my pocket and I would chase after some butterflies. When I reached the house I would greet them with “Asalamulaikum” and climbed the short wooden stairs and sat at the varendah of the house. Then my muqadam teacher would come and the lesson would begin. I had just completed learning to recognize the Arabic alphabets and today I would learn how to pronounce the alphabets more. I would begin with “Alif diatas aah, alif dibawah ee, alif didepan uoo, aa..ee..uoo” Then the next alphabeth “ba”,” ba diatas ba, ba dibawah bee, ba didepan boo, baa.. bee.. boo..and so on. When I completed the whole alphabets, the teacher gave an encouraging remark “Wah, terang hati budak ni, bagus” (This boy is clever, very good). But she spoke too soon because in the next few days, I began to forget some of the earlier words I learned. When the lesson ended, the time taken for me to reach home would be within seconds. Then I would change my shirt and having done so I would immediately looked for my three ‘sisters’ to begin another adventure for the evening.
Few months later, I received the most happy news because the teacher had to stop teaching me as the family had to move out as her husband was given a quaters at the Police barracks. When I came home running to break the news to grandma, she was not too worried because she had another plan for me.
The next day after school, she told me next week I would start my muqadam lesson with another teacher. This time I need to walk a bit further as the house was on the main road, about six houses away from home. The house in question was right at the T-junction of Jalan Omri and Jalan Abdul Rahman. I remember there was a house next to my new teacher’s house across the road facing Jalan Abdul Rahman belonging to a very reserved Indian family whom we called as the house of Mister Nair. They claimed to be of the Brahmin caste. Whenever a normal Indian worker came to the house to do some household works, he would not be allowed to enter the house and would only clear the field surrounding the house. Even during their conversation, Mr.Nair and any of his family member would talk to this Indian worker in between a cloth. In front of my teacher’s house across the road was the Indian Muslim sundry shop where Kak Fuzi and me would always go to buy grandma something. We called this shop as “Kedai Kadir”. Three houses away from home was this Chinese house with a ferocious looking dog, so now I had to face this terrible dog everyday. Besides making sure that I would recite continously ‘tabatyadah’, I would bring some small stones inside my pocket, just in case.
When that day I arrived, grandma brought me along to see my new muqadam teacher. She was an elderly woman maybe the same age as grandma or older. She was hunchback and with her hair almost greyish and I thought she looked like a ‘nenek kebayan’. Grandma introduced me to her and I kissed her hand. She smiled at me and said that I could start my lesson tomorrow afternoon after lunch. Her name was Mak Ara Uda.
The next day when I arrived at her house to begin my lesson, there were a number of boys and girls already seated at the ambin near the kitchen of her house. Some of these boys and girls looked younger than me and they were reading the muqadam without being assisted by the teacher. I was beginning to feel ashame as I was still not too good. I sat at the end of the ambin quietly, took out my muqadam and place it on the ‘rehal’ ( picture as above ) and began to read silently. Then Mak Ara Uda came down from the small stairs inside her house and she was holding a cane. She stopped halfway at the stairs, adjusted her glasses and put it lower nearer to her nose and gazed at all of us. She was long sighted and her eyes not assisted by the lens could recognized her new student, me. When she saw me, she nodded maybe to signify that this was the boy who came with his grandma yesterday. She came down slowly and sat at the other end of the ambin and called the first student to her front.
The student, a girl my age began reading the Arabic alphabets very fluently and Mak Ara Uda just sat eating her beetle leaves (sireh) with her eyes closed. One wrong pronunciation would render her two eyes wide opened like a hungry dog looking for food. Then her hand holding the cane would slowly rise. The girl began to stammer and trying extremely hard to pronounce the word correctly. All of us just looked with fright and I was already shivering and so scared. One by one we were called to her front to have our recitation heard and finally it was my turn. By now I was alone as all the other students had returned home.
“Siapa nama tadi?” (What’s your name again?), asked Mak Ara Uda with her eyes straight into mine.
“Din”, I answered meekly. Then she asked me how much have I learned my muqadam lesson and she tested me with some of the pronunciation. When she was satisfied with my progress, she began teaching me new lessons her style.
She began reciting slowly and I followed with accuracy. After few words, she stopped and asked me to repeat on my own. I used a ‘lidi’ (the center part of a coconut leaf similarly used in a satay) as my indicator. As I was reading showing the words with the ‘lidi’ suddenly she shouted at me, “Hey, you are showing a wrong word with a wrong pronunciation”. Then she held her cane and showed me one word and asked how do I pronounce the word? I was dumb and kept silent for a few seconds. Then she said with a disappointing voice, “If you can’t recognize this word, this means you memorise it and this is no good. You need to start your muqadam lesson all over again beginning with alif, baa, taa. “Pheew”, I thought to myself and luckily I was alone, otherwise I would be a laughing stock.
The next day was an embarassing day for me. She asked me to start first while the rest of the students watched. The embarassing part was I had to begin with alif, baa, taa. As I sat in front of her, I began to read the alphabets slowly and I was successful. The students were very supportive as they never laughed at me and as I began to reconcile my composure, I began to understand better and was able to recognize the words. Eventually I began to progress and after a few weeks I began to start reading the Quran.
By now Mak Ara Uda just did her normal household works while I read the Quran. She would do some cooking at the kitchen besides the ambin, she would sweep the floor and I just kept on reading but just one wrong pronunciation, she would immediately stopped her work and stared at me. This time I was no longer scared of her and I stopped for a while to find out which word I pronounced wrongly and rectified it immediately. After six months with Mak Ara Uda, I completed reading the whole Quran.
I remember on the last week of my time in Muar town, I paid her a visit. She could not recognize me and when I told her who I was, she smiled and said, “Dah tinggi panjang budak ni. Ingat, jangan tinggalkan Quran ni”. (You are grown up now, remember don’t you ever forget the Quran).
Today I can read the Quran with ease and thanks to Mak Ara Uda. Learning the muqadam during my younger days has always remain intact in my memory. I will always remember the days when I was chased by that ferocious looking dog while on my way and back from Mak Ara Uda’s house, I will always remember stopping at ‘Kedai Kadir’ to buy some sweet before returing home and I will remember the blue house belonging to one Mister Nair.
Somehow, everytime when I paid Muar town a visit, I would surely pass by the house of Mak Ara Uda and as I reached the front portion, I would stop for a few seconds and automatically my memory would remind those wonderful days when time gave me such a marvellous period of my growing days.