Chapter 1: Village Boy

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Scratching the dirt on the ground with her dinky toe, Sarah sighs slowly saying, “Grandpa, I’m bored. I’ve been here for two weeks. Mom and dad are always busy in KL.” She then looked around her, trying to turn her mind elsewhere, looking intently at the various traditional wood carvings of the twelve pillared structure and starts tapping her fingers on the floor.

Do you have any interesting story to tell me? I’m tired of just reading books every day as grandma told me to…,” Sarah grumbled, then looking expectantly at her grandfather, beaming with hope.

Grandpa Aki who was relaxing at the verandah of his house fixes his sarong as he chuckles at the request of his one and only grandchild. “I’ve got the most fascinating story to tell. It’s so much better than the stories you watch on Netflix. But, let’s move to the wakaf over there, it’s so hot here in the verandah.” Grandpa Aki stands up, swiftly taking the hand of his grandchild as he strolls and leads the way to the gazebo in front of his house.

So Sarah, do you want to hear the short or long version of the story?” Grandpa Aki asked simply, stroking the head of his grandchild lovingly. “Hmm… it doesn’t matter even if it’s a long story. I love hearing your stories.” Sarah answered promptly.

I’m not sure whether it’s going to be your cup of tea. But since you asked for a story, I’ll tell you. If you’re tired or sleepy, just tell me, ok? You know how I am, once I’ve started on a story, it’s hard for me to stop…Haha.” Grandpa Aki joked and repositioned himself to sit comfortably. “I’m fine grandpa,” Sarah nods, turning her attention towards Grandpa Aki.

It all started when…” Grandpa Aki drew his breath and begins his story.

*****

On 16th January 1969 or equivalent to 27th Syawal 1388, a baby boy was born in Kampung Goh Pauh, Kemaman, Terengganu. His cries could be heard cutting through the serenity of the early Friday morning. “Allahuakbar, Allahuakbar..”, Ustaz Mad, the father of the baby, was very grateful as he called out the adhan for his third child. Ustaz Mad and Hajah Ramlah’s small family has grown once again with the addition of their third bundle of joy that has yet to be named.

I was thinking of going to the qadhi’s house. I want to ask for his opinion on what name we should give our son.” Ustaz Mad contemplates, asking his wife’s opinion as she was putting the baby to sleep. The other children; the older brother and sister were busy playing on the lawn. “Yeah, that’s great, I’m fine with whatever name that has a good meaning, insya Allah,” Hajah Ramlah agreed readily.

That evening, after Asar, Ustaz Mad started to walk towards the qadhi’s house that is near his house.

I came here with a request ustaz. Alhamdulillah my third child has been delivered safely. He doesn’t have a name as of yet. I want to ask for your suggestion for his name.” Ustaz Mad started the conversation at the qadhi’s house in Kemaman.

Haha…you could have a given a great name yourself. Yet you decided to come all the way to my house,” the qadhi replied humbly. “It’s my wish, I wanted to get a scholar’s opinion and invocation on the matter,” Ustaz Mad replied with a smile.

I think Zulkifli is a great name. In honour of the late Prof. Dato’ Dr. Zulkifli Muhammad, PAS former Deputy Yang Dipertuan Agung. If you still remember, at the time in PAS, Dr. Burhanuddin Al-Helmey was holding the Yang Dipertuan Agung position. I think it’s perfect since your name is Mohamad too. Zulkifli bin Mohamad.” The qadhi concluded, slowly sipping the hot tea served in front of them.

There was a moment of silence as the evening breeze blew. Looking down and nodding to himself, Ustaz Mad was lost in his own train of thought. “Zulkifli bin Mohamad bin Abu Bakar bin Ahmad bin Ya’kub. Alhamdulillah, such a great name,” he whispered in his heart.

****

TASS…!!!” the cane was whipped on the floor.

Recite it properly! You’ve been reciting it wrong all along. I have corrected you more than 10 times…!!!” The shrill exclamation of Haji Abu Bakar’s (afterwards will only be referred to as Haji Bakar)  voice could be heard breaking the otherwise nonchalant Saturday morning in Kampung Kubang Kekura, Kuala Terengganu. Mi, Fauziah, Zul and their siblings peered at each other and sniggered witnessing their friend withdrew in fear when scolded.

Their grandfather, Haji Bakar is an authoritarian. If one didn’t receive a slap then surely the cane is what awaits. There was even a student who peed his pants in fear of getting caned. However, he has a kind heart.

The verandah of Haji Bakar’s house is where they all came to learn to recite the Quran and continue until khatam (complete reciting the whole Quran). His recitation is swift and fluent. He’s very strict when he’s teaching. And as a result, all of his grandchildren have successfully completed the whole Quran in their primary school. His grandchildren enjoyed learning from him even with his authoritarian approach for each day they would only need to recite one page of the Quran, not a page more nor a page less.

A gift from the National Registration Department

Ayub, after finishing our Quran recitation, let’s quickly return home. Let’s go find some betta fish. Bring along the tomato sauce bottles I gave you before.” Zul whispered mischievously to his little brother. Khairul, who prefers to go by his moniker Ayub nodded hastily.

The bicycle was grabbed hurriedly. Zul cycled rapidly while his brother is straddled behind him. Their other siblings watched in confusion watching them disappear from their sight.

“Adi! Help me find me some handsome betta fishes. I already have eight at home.” Zul yelled to his neighbour and friend, Adi. “Seriously…dude! I came all the way here and I have to find betta fish for you? I haven’t even found mine yet!” Adi grunted complaining, but Zul and his brother just laughed humorously at Adi’s reply.

Teacher Zamberi or more friendly known as Adi is Zulkifli’s childhood friend and now lives in Padang Midin.

They arrived home when it’s nearly dusk. Ustaz Mad glares at his two sons. “Where did you go?” Ustaz Mad demanded.

Zul elbowed his brother. His brother elbowed him back. “Tell dad we just got back from the surau,” Zul muttered to his brother under his breath. Khairul mumbled back. “Don’t want to. We shouldn’t lie, it’s a sin.” They both shrugged and stayed quiet. “Quickly take a shower and study after Maghrib,” Ustaz Mad commanded his sons after not getting an answer.

While they were in the shower, Ustaz Mad went under his house and saw a row of neatly arranged glass tomato sauce bottles filled with betta fishes. He shook his head and grabbed a pail beside the well. He poured all the fish from the bottles into the pail. Khairul who has just finished his shower peeped through the cracks on the floor of his house. “Oh god, what is dad going to do to the fishes.” He pondered alone.

After performing the Maghrib prayer, Ustaz Mad asked his children to study. Zul and Khairul were called to the living room. From the painful looks of their faces, it was as though they were being carved alive.

There you go, eat all of these fishes. I had them fried.” Ustaz Mad said calmly, passing a plate full of fried beta fish to them. Zul and his brother were dumbfounded. From then on, his hobby of collecting betta fishes was forgotten.

Zul did a lot of activities when he was young in the village. Every jungle explored, trench delved into and plants probed. There were times when he would bathe in ditches and traverse the valleys. In Ramadhan, Zul would play with his bamboo toy gun. He acted as though he was Jeffry Zain or Roger Moore in the James Bond movies. All of his friends were his victims and targets.

Burrr…!!!” Zul jumped into the river fully clothed in his school uniform. Right after school, the river has become a must-stop place before going back home. “This feels so good. It’s freezing cold and refreshing…Mi, Ayub, come and join me!” Zul prompts his brothers to dive in with him. In the sweltering heat of the afternoon sun, surely jumping into the cold river would cool them down.

Upon reaching their house, from afar Hajah Ramlah bellowed, “Oh my god, these kids! What did you do in your uniforms?! All soaking wet and smelly!” They quickly ran up their house and straight to the bathroom. “This is awful, Chik is angry at us…quick,” Ayub said to his brothers.

When the cockfighting season arrives, Zul is Kampung Kubang Kekura’s champion. He is a know-it-all when it comes to everything related to the types of roosters used in cockfights such as Hujung Tanduk, Taji Asal, Batang Kaki. He could talk about roosters all day without getting bored.

The road leading to Kubang Kekura

If you want to participate in a cockfight, you have to be smart in picking the right rooster. Choose the one with a small sturdy head, bright red comb, sizeable neck, atop wide chest and broad shoulders. One more thing, it must have long sturdy legs,” Zul teaches Adi, Mat, Ku and his other friends on the best way to choose the right breed of roosters for cockfights. He acted as though he is an ustaz at a surau.

His rooster is bathed before every fight in the cockpit. He would condition his rooster by wiping its whole body with a wet cloth. Its feathers on top and beneath its wings as well as its sickles are wiped until they are soaking wet. Its throat is prodded with a feather to extract mucus that could interfere with its breathing. Its comb is polished until it shines.

Khairul watches in awe as his brother prepares the rooster skillfully before the fight. Sometimes he scratches his head numbly while his eyes follow his brother’s movements.

My brother always wins in any cockfights he’s in. I’m not sure how he does it. It’s as though the rooster understands what he’s saying.” Khairul praises his brother while talking with Adi.

Other than being famous in cockfights, Zul is also renowned for being a champion in rubber fruit battles. When the rubber trees start to fruit, children around the village would gather the fruits from the rubber plantation and begin their battles. The fruits are flung or thrown at one another and the person’s fruit that ends up smashed is considered to have lost. Usually, Zul and his friends would search for the rubber fruits around Wakaf Che Kapur.

****

Now, don’t go around and getting involved in any cockfights Sarah. It’s haram. Zul was just a kid at the time. He didn’t know any better on what’s halal and what’s haram. The Prophet PBUH said:

نَهَى رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ عَنِ التَّحْرِيشِ بَيْنَ الْبَهَائِمِ

God’s messenger forbade inciting animals to fight with one another. [1]

Imam al-Syaukani commented on this hadith stating:

وَوَجْهُ النَّهْيِ أَنَّهُ إيلَامٌ لِلْحَيَوَانَاتِ وَإِتْعَابٌ لَهَا بِدُونِ فَائِدَةٍ بَلْ مُجَرَّدُ عَبَثٍ

The reason for the prohibition is because it causes harm and injury to the animals and is unbeneficial. [2]

Grandpa Aki explained at length the fiqh on the prohibition of cockfighting which was a norm in the East Coast in the ’70s.

Wait for the publication of this book.

________________

[1] Hadith narrated by Imam Abu Daud (2562) in Sunan Abu Daud

[2] See Nail al-Autar (8/99)

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