Living with Islam: Malaysia Homestay Program
Aba hands me off for the day to Mohammad who will show me around. He is sharp nine-year old with an encyclopedic knowledge of Kuala Terengganu and a devout Muslim. He asks me if I have ever seen a cow get its head cut off. I tell him I haven’t.
This puzzles him as animal sacrifice is part of the Muslim holiday Aidil Ada, or the Day of Sacrifice, which is the following day.
Mohammad and I go to the Islamic Heritage Park, a Muslim-themed educational facility located on Wan Man Island in the heart of Terengganu. This two-year old facility features to scale replicas of twenty-one of the most beautiful and historically relevant mosques from all around the world. Mohammad is familiar with each of them.
We pass a replica of the Masjid al-Haram, or Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which houses the Black Stone. Mohammad tells me that there is no place in the world he would rather go. As his faith dictates, he must perform Hajj, or visit the Mosque once in his lifetime if he is physically and financially able.
Mohammad plans to pursue a career in medicine so that he will be able to make the spiritual trip, but also be able to pay for others that can’t.
After a walk through the park we take a river cruise-along the mangrove-lined shoreline of the Terengganu River all the way to the mouth of the South China Sea. The young man points out notable landmarks while waitresses serve a variety of Malaysian delicacies including rice wrapped in coconut leaves, fish and rice sticks, and various coconut-flavored jellies.
Mohammad eyes an uneaten fish and rice stick on my plate as the cruise comes to crescendo just before returning to the jetty which offers a breathtaking view of the city’s exquisite Crystal Mosque.
Mohammad reminds me that there is food left on my plate. In Malaysia, nothing is wasted, he tells me. When I offer the fish stick to him, he happily accepts and then we make our way off the boat.
The Crystal Mosque, Malaysia (Photo: Matt Payne)
The Crystal Mosque is an architectural wonder. Constructed from crystal glass and steel, the Crystal Mosque mirrors the majestic colors or the Malaysian sky, which are then reflected back in the river over which the mosque is built.
Inside the mosque, a group of young boys, Mohammad’s age, sit in a circle and study the Koran. These are Mohammad’s friends. Mohammad sneaks into the circle and whispers something into the ear of another young man. They are friends and the boy is studying Islam over his summer vacation.
As they chat, I look up at the Mosque’s beautiful ceiling, noting the Muslims engaging in prayer. On the wall facing Mecca, a clock reads the time locally, in Saudi Arabia as well as the exact times of the day’s prayer. Unlike the mosque in Teluk Ketapang, this mosque is ornate and intricate, with white walls, pillars, crystal chandeliers, and gold trim.
Next Mohammad takes me to the Terengganu State Museum. Based on the design of Terengganu’s old place, this exotic facility, which stands on sixteen flood safe stilts, is the largest in South East Asia.
The museum features a multitude of exhibits displaying Malaysian art, textiles, artifacts, weaponry, and royal regalia. Outside is a Maritime Museum as well as a Fishery Museum. In addition to its many diverse exhibits, the museum boasts several acres of exotic gardens featuring local foliage where guests roam in the Malaysian afternoon sunlight.
On this particular day, there is a special exhibit featuring the world’s most venomous animals. Mohammad approaches me with something in his cupped hand. It is a baby python. Like most boys his age, Mohammad loves snakes. A curator hands us a baby python, which constricts around my arm to Mohammad’s delight.
Leaving the museum we go downtown where Terengganu is centered around a large market, the ground floor of which features a colorful variety of fresh local fruit, fish, meat, turtle eggs, and poultry. Mohammad takes delight in vendors that offer free samples of dragonfruit and duku, a small, kiwi-like, white fruit found only in Kuala Terengganu.
Upstairs vendors are selling affordable and unique tourist gifts. Stuffed turtles, sarongs, textiles and weaponry are only a few of the many exotic gifts available. Mohammad reminds me that it is customary in Malaysia to give gifts to your hosts, then smiles and points out a game that he likes.
The day is intermittently interrupted as the Bilal calls the devout Muslims to prayer.
Most facilities feature prayer rooms for both men and women and many stores shut down during these times. I wait as the young man goes to pray.
The day ends on a crescent beach north of town where local children fly kites and play soccer. From atop a granite rock I watch the sunset before heading home. I arrive just before 8pm, the last prayer of the day and, the family prays together on prayer rugs in the living room facing a picture of the Masjid al-Haram.
Once finished, we eat and retire for the night.
Matt also runs oneweirdshoe.com, a website dedicated to the curiously placed single shoes along freeways, waterfronts and sidewalks around the world.
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