Zul jogged towards the bus stop near the main road followed by Khairul. Khairul is just a year younger than his brother. So, they would always go to school together. Sekolah Menengah Agama Sultan Zainal Abidin, Ladang (SMASZAL) is the one chosen by Ustaz Mad for his children to continue their tertiary education. It is generally known that it is a great school for both the competency of its teachers as well as the students.
Pokcik Ripin’s bus speed off leaving Kubang Kekura’s bus stop. Pokcik Ropin is a very friendly elderly man. Sometimes, Zul would take the opportunity to have a chat with him on the bus. The fresh morning air is cool and calming. Zul fancies the window seat and always admires the scenery along the way. However, it is a whole other story in the evening where Pokcik Ripin’s minibus would be packed with students, cramped, humid and foul-smelling! There are days when Zul would be late arriving at the bus stop. During those times, he wouldn’t have any other choice but to ride Deraman’s bus. It would mean that he would also be arriving late at school and he could expect the discipline teacher at the schools’ gate, waiting with all sorts of punishment for being late.
Zul’s name is well-known around SMASZAL ever since he first enrolled in the school. He is active in takraw, badminton and other sports. At SMASZAL, sports athletes gained a celebrity status and are admired by other students as well as a topic of discussion among girls. Other students who are also athletes are Sabri and Zainuddin who are the school’s badminton players, Jenal and Ku Hasan, the undefeated ping pong doubles player. On the football field, no one wouldn’t know of the name Wan Shohor Bani Leman, SMASZAL’s legendary goalkeeper.
“Hey, our school is having a takraw match this evening and Zul is going to be in it!” A student in the class in front yelled to his friend in the class at the back. 10 minutes later, all the classes in SMASZAL are empty and silent as everyone has gone to the court to watch Zul and SMASZAL takraw team in action. When Zul, Jabar, Sabri Chik represents their school, SMASZAL’s headmaster could almost certainly expect a win and readied himself to accept the trophy at the podium. Once, the three of them successfully won the whole championship for the under 18 categories in the state-level Religious Schools in Terengganu match which took place at Tapian Court, Gong Kapas. At the time, other schools sent students from Form 4 and 5, but SMASZAL is confident and sent their young players. Despite their age, they are among the most feared by their opponents.
I’m with Jabar. Sabri Chik is not present in the photograph. Both were feared opponents in the state of Terengganu once upon a time in takraw when they were in high school.
In his studies, Zul is among the best students in his class. His friends would always ask him about the subjects that they didn’t quite understand such as in Arabic regarding Nahu and Saraf as well as other subjects such as Mathematics. He is a paragon in his school and is favoured by teachers in SMASZA. Zul would compete with other great students like Ahmad Nazmi, Syamsuddin, Mazemi, Engku Ahmad Zaki and several others. Among other students respected for their aptitude are Zulkifli Embing, Abdul Manan, Khairuddin, Muzaruddin, Syamsul Bahri, Salahuddin, Rasyid, Hasbil, Arbab, Amli Embong. As for the best female students, they were Faridah, Rugaya, Roslina and Rozita. Zul is also passionate and actively participate in public speaking and religious quizzes.
“Ustaz Mad, from my observation, I think your son can go very far. He’s a champion in sports and studious. In his class, he would only be placed in the first, second or third. He’s highly intelligent. It would be best if you send him overseas to pursue his studies.” Ustaz Wan Abdullah shared his opinion with Ustaz Mad. Ustaz Mad grinned, looking straight at his friend before replying, “Insya-Allah. I always pray for the best for all my children. Yeah, I think Zul is capable of going far.”
Zul loves to keep all the pocket money his father gave him daily. At the end of every month, he would ride his bicycle and head to the bookstore. He would buy all the SRP exercise books in bookstores around Kuala Terengganu. As soon as he’s home, he would arrange his books neatly on his bookshelves. He would finish studying all the subjects that are going to be taught the following year before the current year ends. It’s no wonder he’s always in the lead in his class. Such is his attitude in his teenage years.
“Where are you going all dressed up?” Khairul remarks, looking at his brother up and down several times. Cocking his head sideways gawking at Zul. “What are you up to this late at night? With your shirt, bell-bottom trousers and hair all gelled up like Elvis Presley.” Zul was looking quite dapper and smart that night. His shirt is tucked in his trousers and several SRP exercise books are under his arms.
“I’m going out to study,” Zul answered simply, leaving his brother who’s still a little confused. It was quite a funny sight to behold. Khairul was left flabbergasted with his brother’s behaviour.
Weird as it may seem, Zul’s actions were may be affected by the character and conduct shown by Imam Malik when he is learning and dealing with knowledge. He is always dressed neatly in his best clothes when he wanted to revise and study. It is narrated that if there’s anyone that came to learn hadith or narration from Imam Malik, he would first perform his ablution, wears his best clothing, turban and combs his beard and wears his perfume. He will then burn some agarwood in the place he will be sitting until the session is over. 
Zul’s father would also bring him along on his Honda Cub TA6149 motorcycle to accompany him to teach and give sermons in mosques and surau around Marang, Seberang Marang and Kuala Berang. This is the beginning of history, where Zul was first introduced to Tuan Guru Haji Abas, Tuan Guru Haji Abdul Rahman Fatani, Tuan Guru Ustaz Latif Besut and several other of the pondok teachers in Terengganu. During this period of his life, Zul starts to learn time-honoured and venerable books such as Aqidatun Najin, Penawar Bagi Hati, Hidayatus Salikin, Sairus Salikin, Bakuratul Amani, Matla’ul Badrain, Matan Ajurrumiah and others. Usually, when these teachers meet, they would greet each other in Arabic. This is the reason that abetted Zul to enthusiastically learn Arabic.
At times, Ustaz Mad would bring Zul along to perform the Friday prayer at Abidin Mosque, Kuala Terengganu which is also commonly known as the White Mosque. Whenever he’s there, Zul tried his best peeking through the hundreds of people in the crowd to try and catch a glimpse of Sahibus Samahah Dato’ Indera Guru Haji Wan Abdul Manan bin Wan Yaakob, Terengganu’s Mufti who also acts as the imam every time Duli Yang Maha Mulia His Royal Highness the Terengganu Sultan came to perform the Friday prayer there.
He is greatly impressed with the image presented by the Terengganu’s Mufti who is famous for his vast knowledge and wisdom. It’s very easy to pinpoint the Mufti from the sea of people for he is the only person who wears mislah just like the great imam of Mecca. Dato’ Indera Guru Haji Wan Abdul Manan is from the lineage of Tok Syeikh Duyong (Tuan Guru Haji Wan Abdullah), a well-known scholar in Terengganu.
There were times when Ustaz Mad would stop by Sahibus Samahah Mufti’s office to refer several religious questions to him. Zul would tune in to the discussion although he couldn’t understand it thoroughly. It was truly a fascinating experience for Zul as he listens to every question being answered spontaneously which includes citations from the books used as references. This is the role of a mufti, not only answering questions and issues but also providing solutions for every issue that arises. 
“The fight in upholding Islam is not limited in surau and mosques. We should apply Islamic thought in families, society as well as our beloved country. This is the example set by our Prophet Muhammad PBUH.” Zul nodded his head as he jots down every word of the Fiqh Harakah sermon delivered by Tuan Guru Haji Abdul Hadi Awang, a famous young rising scholar not only in Terengganu but also at the national and international level.
If Zul didn’t have any plans, he would attend Akidah Muslimin, Tafsir and Sirah classes at Rusila Mosque ever since he was in Form 2. If he’s ever late, then he would have to sit a good distance away feeling as if he is at the end of the rainbow which is outside the mosque. Thousands of people would fill up the mosque to follow the weekly class delivered in a sermon. Throughout his three years studying at SMASZAL, his bicycle is his only mode of transportation to go anywhere and follow the classes of the asatizah in Terengganu.
Zul got to stay in the school’s hostel for a while. He would spend most of his time there reading books, studying and revising. Even his bed has become somewhat of his makeshift bookshelf. There is only a small space left on his bed just enough for his lean body, for him to sleep in. Friday is the day students of SMASZAL would look forward to every week for it is when Pok Leh and his wife, people who were responsible for the kitchen hall, will prepare the most delicious Nasi Minyak. Sometimes, fights will break out when there are students who packed the food to go in plastic containers before other students get the chance to eat their lunch.
“Zulkifli bin Mohamad?! Where is Zulkifli bin Mohamad??!!” Ustaz Yusuf, SAMSZAL’s headmaster bellowed, wildly searching for Zul in the sea of students during the Sunday school’s assembly. His face is flushed, eyes red and lips trembled with fury. That morning, the whole SMASZAL student body was lectured on character and conduct for more than an hour.
“Henceforth, I’m announcing that Zulkifli bin Mohamad is expelled from the school’s hostel!” The shocking announcement startled all the students present. Why would the school’s best student and athlete as well as the teachers’ favourite get expelled? Zulkifli was silent, standing hunched looking at the ground. Everyone turned and stared at him. Those who were busy talking during the headmaster’s address have also gone quiet, looking curiously at him. Everyone wanted to know why, but some have started to feel sorry for him.
Keeping himself from knuckling over the shock, Zul focused on steadying himself. His whole world suddenly felt like it’s crumbling right then and there.
To be continued…
 I have written the biography of Imam Malik and other imams of other madhhabs. You can get the book from http://pck.onpay.my/order/form/bukupck
 When we were working in the Mufti of federal Territories Office, together with the researchers, we translated the book Ṣifat al-Muftī wa al-Mustaftī by Ibn Hmadan; a book which discusses the responsibilities and preparation of a mufti as well as the manners for those who are asking for a fatwa. You can get it from http://pck.onpay.my/order/form/bukupck