Saturday, August 21, 2010

Wahab fulfills his spiritual quest in 113 days

By Johan Jaafar, NST Aug 21, 2010

 A. WAHAB Hamzah is a dramatist and an award-winning film critic. He is better known as the man behind Stor Teater (literally Theatre at the Store), an initiative taken by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka to encourage young and budding theatre enthusiasts to "test" their works.

He was a stagehand who helped me light my productions back in the 1980s beginning with Salina (1986) and Rumah Kedai Di Jalan Seladang (1989). He first partnered Zakaria Arifin to direct Teman, an adaptation of Kobo Abe's play. He took a big challenge directing Sungai Mengalir Lesu, a play adapted by Zakaria from Tan Sri A. Samad Said's novel of the same name.

In 2000, he directed the stage adaptation of another Samad work, this time a long poem on Prophet Muhammad entitled Pesona Al Amin. He directed Amiruddin Ali's Telegram in 2001, Siti Jasmina's Hikayat Qasiq (2007) and last year, he directed Nordin Hassan's Intan Yang Tercanai.

This year, he decided to do something different -- go on leave and travel. That has been his plan since 1999. He started his journey on April 3 and ended it 113 days later in Cabo del Roca, Portugal, the western-most point of the European land mass.

He went through 21 countries from Thailand to Portugal. He spent all his savings (RM30,000) to fulfil his ambition. He had to be thrifty, staying in cheap hotels, motels, railway stations or bus depots, or just shacks, by the roadside and in the fields.

He wanted to trace cities and towns where great Muslim scholars, thinkers, writers, scientists, mathematicians, statesmen and warriors were born, lived, worked or died. It was a quest unlike any other -- for no Malaysian has done that.

He was harassed, picked by the police, almost jailed, mugged, you name it. But he saw a different world -- one beyond the headlines. He met people with hearts of gold. He met strangers, who helped him when he was in dire need. Others welcomed him to their homes. He was feted, guarded and given five-star treatment in the homes of those who survived on meagre incomes.

He started his journey in Kuala Lumpur, taking a train to Haadyai and later to Bangkok. He was caught in the Red Shirt demonstrations. He took a train to Vientiane and later Luang Prabang in Laos.

From there, he took a 24-hour bus ride to Kunming, China. The border city is where Shuncheng Jie, the last remaining Muslim enclave, is found. Kunming's development is at breakneck speed, as a result of which large parts of the historic quarters were demolished. About an hour from the city is the birth place of Zheng He, the famed Muslim-Chinese traveller who started his journey 87 years earlier than Christopher Columbus.

His next destination was Xian, the gateway to the famous Silk Route. Two of the mosques were built in the 6th century and still in use today. A Chinese imam, who spoke Arabic, and was a notable cartographer and assisted in Zheng He's travels made his mark here. Xian is also home to two famous Sufi and Chinese intellectuals, Wang Tai-yu and Liu Chih. His next destination was Lanzhou, now an industrial city and Lixia, where he visited the tomb of Ma Laichi (1671-1766) another famous Sufi sage.

From there, he proceeded to Dunhuang and later to Turpan, an oasis amid a desert. It was another must-stop for the Silk Route travellers of the old days. An important Muslim legacy here is the karez, a complex underground water system that extends hundreds of kilometres that is still functioning.

Urumqi recently saw various skirmishes between ethnic Uighurs and Han Chinese. He then went to Kashgar and Yarkant. While Kashgar is known as the place where scholars like Muhammad al-Kashgari and Abakh Hoja worked, Yarkant is proud to have Amani Shahan, the consort of King Abdul Rashititan. She was a famous poet and composer.

He moved on to Almaty, capital of Kazakhstan, and later to Turkistan. This is the birthplace of al-Farabi, the Muslim thinker and scholar who had a big influence in the West. In Uzbekistan, he visited places where Alisher Novoiy, Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Ismail (better known as Iman al-Bukhari, one of the compilers of the Prophet's sayings), Ibn Sina (another hugely influential Muslim scholar), al-Khorezmi (originator of algebra) and al-Biruni worked and lived.

It was in Afghanistan that Wahab encountered the effects of the war on terror at first hand. He was at Mazar-e-Sharif and later Balkhi, where the famous thinker and Sufi sage Jalaluddin Rumi was born. Balkhi was home to intellectuals Sanih Balkhi, Nasir Khurraw, Rashidin Watmat and the most famous woman poet of the 10th century, Rabia Balkhi.

The journey to Kabul was a nerve-racking eight hours. He visited Herat before he crossed over to Mashhad in Iran. It was near Masshad that Abu Hami al-Ghazali or al-Ghazali, author of the world famous Ilya Ulumuddin was born. Nishapur, his next stop is the birthplace of Ummar Khayyam (who wrote the Rubaiyat) and Farid al-din Attar, a poet. Imam Muslim died there.

From Iran he went to Damascus, believed to be the oldest structured city in the world, then to Beirut, home of Khalil Gibran before moving on to Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The country is still edgy, where an air of distrust among the ethnic groups is still palpable. One of the greatest tragedies of the civil wars of the early 1990s was the destruction of the major library in Sarajevo, which housed rare and priceless Muslim manuscripts. From there, he went to Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Monaco, France and Spain. Spain is home to the grandeur that was Islamic civilisation. Seville, Cordoba, Granada, Ronda and Tariffa are the legacy of the greatest days of European Islamic empires.

He ended his journey on July 24. According to Wahab, the pain was worthwhile. He met many fellow travellers along the way, some in their 60s and many were women travelling alone.

But he noticed something significant: he did not meet a single Muslim traveller along the way.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The bad habit

I have a terrible habit of backdating my posts. It is necessary to be sure.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Taking the last shots

Whatever we need, we have to get it today because today is our last day of filming.

Our second attempt to film schoolchildren returning from school failed. They went home early and when we arrived at the school, the compound was as silent as a graveyard. Pakcik guard tu macam meluat je tengok kita orang.

Bost of us were fasting, and the sun was scorching.

3.30pm, the main entrance of Shah Alam court: This is where the cow's head protesters were charged and recently sentenced. Four of them walked free, discharged but not acquitted. A slap in the wrist, as described by many.

4pm, SACC Mall: Taking a general shot of shoppers, crowd entering and leaving the shopping complex. This is another pickup shots used during interviews to describe the people of Shah Alam.

4.30pm, Bazaar Ramadan Kompleks PKNS: This photo is out of focus but it is the only photo of me shooting without a tripod. By now I have gotten the hang of holding my breath and keeping my hands steady to film.

6.30pm, Masjid Ubudiah Section 19 Shah Alam: After getting the permission from the committee members to shoot during the Maghrib, Isyak and Tarawih prayers, we sat talking to one of the committee members at the zakat counter. Sheridan is listening to his advice on 'mendirikan masjid'.

10pm, wrap: We went home, hoping we had all that we needed.