The burly Iraqi Faris el Husseini in traditional Arab gown stands out amongst mostly Indonesian crowd at Jakarta International Airport and after introductions, upon knowing I am an East African Khoja, Husseini instantly starts conversing in very acceptable Kiswahili, startling me. Husseini, you see, spent 3 years in Arusha, Tanzania so is quite good with the language. I am in Indonesia on my way to Zamboanga City, Philippines to inspect the first Shia mosque project in the country. We head towards the city where Aagha Seetanis liaison office, which Husseini manages, is located.
The traffic is horrible, simply horrible; drivers in Jakarta must have infinite patience for apart from an occasional blast of horn, the traffic is reasonably orderly and disciplined. I immediately compare it to home city mayhem of Mumbai; it amazes me that that my hearing is still functioning fairly after 2 years of ghastly Mumbai street exposure. The Ahlebeyt (A) Center in downtown Jakarta is a nice 2 story building where Husseini puts in considerable tableegh efforts. Thsee combined tableegh efforts of many worldwide groups in Indonesia are startling; anywhere between 3 to 5 million Indonesians identify themselves as Ahlebeyti Muslims.
Now remember the term “Ahlebeyti” for this is the identifying difference from our cousins Ahle Sunna. The Ustaads (not Sheikhs, Aaghas etc used elsewhere worldwide) who graduated from Qum or elsewhere are identified as Ustaads and a very subtle, gentle approach is adopted in spreading Shia Islam. Indonesians are generally very gentle people; they will avoid any form of confrontation and by and large understand and accept the family of Prophet Muhammed (S). There is no bad mouthing of any personalities, rather, the values and benefits of Ahlebeyt (A) are stressed, analyzed and disseminated; a very powerful and effective method indeed. One day, a local Indonesian visited Husseini and harshly demanded to know if Husseini was a Shia. He replied negatively but stated he was an Ahlebeyti upon which Husseini was warmly embraced and kissed by the man. Go figure.
I visit a fine new home of an Austrian gentleman, an owner of 3 fine restaurants in Jakarta that night; we have been invited to bless the home with Hadees e Kisaa and dinner. A new convert to Shia Islam, this pleasant man whose head competes for lack of hair with mine, is interesting company, for I have not met a convert to Shia Islam from Western Europe before. Also in attendance are 8 orphans that Husseini cares and educates; a pleasant evening indeed.
Next day I visit a distant village where a plot of land has been purchased to build a community center by Husseini and his group. The volcanic soil of Indonesia matched that of Arusha in Tanzania and I see and sense many similarities with by birth country. Indeed, Husseini serves me with fried muhoogo (cassava, yucca) at his home for dinner! Afterwards, we drive to the airport to pick up Abbas Muljiani, one of CAI’s ardent supporters who is joining me for the rest of my trip.
Day 2 is spent spending time (and battling traffic) with local Shia groups in and around Jakarta, including an impressive Iranian setup called Islamic Culture Centre (ICC) – http://www.icc-jakarta.com/; very active in translation and publishing of Islamic works. There is a Dua e Komail session at Hussieni’s setup – Islamic College of Advanced Studies (ICAS) – http://www.icas.ac.id/; where we get to meet and interact with local Indonesian community converts. A dinner is hosted in our honor at this centre by a distant cousin of Abbas Muljiani who has lived in Jakarta for a long time. Hassanbhai is a content man in Indonesia, likes it here, what with guaranteed halal food and Islamic environment. We have a good Pakistani dinner and meet some young Ustaads who explain briefly how they work in the communities and even lead prayers in Sunni mosques. They are interested in knowing about Afghanistan and explain how all events are subdued including the Aashura which is otherwise an event with emotional outbursts. They also mention that there are almost no Shia women who want to work overseas as ‘maids’. There appears to be less Wahaabi type opposition to Ahlebayti tabligh; hijaab is a little odd in Indonesia for women carry a sort of hijab which is slipped over when praying in a mosque. With more literature, Ustaads, websites in local languages, Shia beliefs can be expected to grow over the coming years.
Day 3 we visit a local school headed by a local Shia family and are escorted by Ahmed Afzal, a soft spoken, perpetually smiling man who manages the school (born in Afghanistan but lived in US for a long period and married to an Indonesian), where the teachings of Ahlulbayt (A) are introduced in an academic environment. Abbas John, an Indian national working in Jakarta kindly takes us around this last afternoon before we are driven to the airport for our flight to Manila by Husseini late at night. All very nice and a pleasurable experience.
The 4 hour early morning flight to Manila is eventless, except trying to figure out when exactly Fajr time set in. We are met at the airport by our good host, a long term businessman and resident. A Saturday, it is a rest day for us for we have been awake almost all night flying.
On Sunday, we drive to Malaccan with Cairoden (Khairudeen) Dimasangca (another Qum graduate active in tableegh efforts) where a donor has sponsored 10 new Shias sustain their flea market businesses. Along the way, we stop at the Ministry of Energy where we meet an interesting gentleman. This man, who heads the Ministry was a rebel with Moro Liberation Front and got this job as part of peace agreement with the government of Philippines. He has translated the holy Quraan in the local dialect of Maranao, a tremendous feat accomplishment. The blackboard in his office is covered with ayaats from the Quaraan and several Quaraans stacked on his desk. A devout Ahlebeyti Muslim, he radiates powerful energy and oratory powers of persuasion in excellent English; a gem that Allah (S), in His wisdom has strategically blessed and placed.
This community in Malaccan, headed by an Abdulrehman was a thriving business community in the island of Mindanao when they were attacked by Wahaabi elements one rainy day while worshipping at a makeshift mosque. The entire community lost their homes, all burnt to the ground, including the mosque and Abdulreman lost a young son; killed. Everybody in the clan fled to Malaccan, Manila and took refuge in a flea market where they started up a flourishing business under the patronage of a sympathetic mayor. Read their story here: http://shiajafaribulacan.multiply.com/photos/album/41/A_short_biography_on_becoming_a_firm_follower_of_Ahlul_Bayt_as_
Fate tested them once more in early 2009 when devastating floods wiped out their small business fortunes and they were penniless and homeless twice over in 2 years. Abdulrehman survived by sleeping 3 nights on a single supporting beam of the market while others fled to higher grounds. After they regrouped, Abdulrehman’s Imam found CAI website and appealed for help. I was fortunate to visit Philippines in October that year and was blessed once more to secure a donor who readily helped.
We are greeted by the beneficiaries of the sponsor program and spend some time going through their stalls, encouraging them to refrain from trades that involve music and movies. The sponsored businesses have received a loan of USD1,000 which they must repay in 10 monthly installments. Every month, a new beneficiary gets USD1,000 from repayment of the installment; this way we will insha’Allah cover the entire 70 plus individual seeking assistance; eventually. The community has a makeshift mosque within the flea market where we pray Zohar and then feast on a homemade delicious lunch. We fly to Zamboanga City the next day.
We are met at the airport by the trustees of Imam Mahdi (A) mosque project, headed by their Imam and mentor, Abu Mahdi, a Qum graduate. This first ever Shia mosque in the Philippines is well under construction; busy with construction equipment strewn about. Unfortunately, the old building used as a mosque/madressa and everything else had to be demolished to make way for the masjid so we study and discuss the project at our hotel room. Along the way we stop at a fruit market that had stunned me last visit and this time around was no exception. As a fruit lover, this market is paradise with an array of color and every fruit imaginable on sale; we (I) splurge.
At the hotel, expectations and budgets are set, suggestions offered. CAI donor is footing the entire bill for the first phase of a comprehensive mosque cum hawza / madressa project so they are still in need for considerable funding. Channel 41 at the hotel beams a lecture by Abbas Virjee (Abbasbhai had just met him on his Muscat – Doha flight few days ago!); we were pleasantly very surprised. Lawrence Martin Ebojo (now Qasim) manages to download videos through internet at night and deliver to the local cable operator to broadcast, here, in a remote part of Philippines. Subhaan’Allah, the planning of Allah (S) and the miracles of internet! Abbasbhai may be able to help with a CD duplicator and provide additional broadcasting material. We have a greasy dinner of fried chicken / fish at a local Muslim owned restaurant and retire for the night.
Next morning, we hire a motor boat and ride about 40 minutes to the Island of Santa Cruz where clusters of new convert Shia Muslims live. A poor community that relies exclusively on fishing, these are remarkable people; even in the mist of poverty, a small mosque beckons; inside, a blackboard boldly, proudly proclaims Imam Ali (S) wilaayat. We tour the island and come across a tiny open shack with cracked and torn thatched roof – a school; children actually learn here! Abbasbhai kindly agrees to put in a more permanent roof and repair the structure somewhat.
We meet a young girl skillfully breaking open nasty looking live Sea urchins with poisonous needle like projections and extracts the flesh; these probably sell for about 200 pesos for an entire bowl. Considering this to be possibly an important source of income, Abbasbhai does not have the heart to advise her Sea urchin flesh may be haraam to consume or sell. After touring the island some more, we return to Zamboanga City for a leisure, delicious lunch after salaat at Abu Mahdi’s home (with more fruit included, of course).
CAI has started an Education sponsorship scheme as there are many children who are unable to pursue further education due to funding; small amounts required as evidenced by detailed forms filled shown to us over lunch and insha’Allah, 22 students will benefit immediately.
It appears Philippines will insha’Allah have aalims who can be expected to impart the right knowledge over the medium term for increasing the number of Ahlebeyti followers in the midst of a nation where women mostly wear are scantily dressed and exploited but hunger for the truth and safety that Islam offers.
It is to the airport in the evening and to Manila that night for a midnight flight to Dubai and Dar es Salaam for me; Abbasbhai will fly later tomorrow evening to Muscat via Doha. For us who are fortunate to be able to travel far and wide, these trips are eye openers to Allah (S) vast earth, and its diverse global Muslim communities, particularly her ever budding and expanding Ahlebeyti followers. Just imagine, I believed we Khojas were “it”. Subhaan’Allah.
Please click here to view some sample photographs of our trip: