Mosques Between Two States

Mosques function as the nucleus for the Muslim community, where many important aspects of Muslim life take place, from marriages to funerals. This role has not changed much over time – mosques are still focal points for religious leaders to deliver their teachings, and for the local community to congregate.

Some mosques in Penang are unique in that they straddle state borders and open their doors to the faithful, be they from Penang or from without. Penang Monthly explores three such mosques.

Masjid Al-Hidayah, Kuala Muda, Penaga

The humble Al-Hidayah Mosque, located in Seberang Perai North, is situated on the cusps of Penang and Kedah, in the village of Kampung Kuala Muda. It was established in 1939 and was built by fisherfolk who came from Malaysia’s east coast. It’s no wonder then that the popular pasar bisik (“whispering market”) – a fisherman’s market – can be found nearby.

Masjid Mini Hj. Othman, near the original site of Masjid Al-Hidayah.

“The original mosque was located close to the estuary of Kuala Muda River,” says mosque chairman, Haji Abdullah. “It was later relocated due to soil erosion, which happened over the decades. To commemorate the old location, another mosque was rebuilt near the site – Masjid Mini Hj. Othman, which still stands today. Friday prayers are only done at the Al-Hidayah Mosque, however, and Masjid Mini Hj. Othman comes under the provision of the Al-Hidayah Mosque.”

One of the unique functions of the mosque is the raising of a white flag to indicate death in the community. “If people want to know who the deceased is, they can go to the mosque – detailed information about the deceased will be displayed in front of the building,” says Haji Abdullah.

“Generally, people do not go out to sea during that time out of respect and mourning for the deceased. Later, most of the villagers attend the kenduri arwah (feast of death) to pay their last respects. It is a sign of goodwill and embodies the spirit of togetherness of the community,” Haji Abdullah adds.

Masjid Al-Hidayah.

Al-Hidayah's cemetery is neatly kept.

The mosque committee strives to provide quality welfare services to the community at low cost. “Our mosque offers khairat kematian (fee for funeral arrangements) at only RM4 per month for each family, and the cemetery in the mosque grounds is beautifully landscaped and structured,” says Haji Abdullah. “We, the mosque committee members, will also visit three random poor families each month to donate basic goods such as rice, oil, and flour,” he adds.

Most of the villagers in Kampung Kuala Muda tend to work as fishermen after finishing primary school. Al-Hidayah Mosque collaborates with Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) to encourage the young to pursue higher education – UiTM provides quotas for certain courses while the mosque committee manages the registration.

On the last night of Ramadan, villagers gather at the mosque in colourful clothes – just like how they would dress for Hari Raya Aidilfitri – to pay zakat fitrah, which usually can be done anytime during the month of Ramadan. “After that, the mosque committee also holds a feast open to all,” says Haji Abdullah.

Masjid Jamek Al-Abidin, Permatang Setar, Pinang Tunggal

Located along the road to Tikam Batu, Kedah and surrounded by paddy fields, Al-Abidin Mosque was established in 1933 and was built by Tok Lateh, a local community member. He had the aid of two generous men, Pak Teh Abbas and Tok Sa’ayyah, who had given their lands as wakaf for the mosque. Historically, the community came from Satun in Thailand in the 1930s, and most of them worked as farmers.

The congregation during Friday prayers.

Masjid Jamek Al-Abidin.

In 1962, due to village development, the mosque was moved, and in 2002, it was upgraded to accommodate the increasing congregation. “The villagers not only donated a large amount of money, but also provided labour and skills,” says Datuk Haji Md. Zabidi, chairman of the mosque committee.

Al-Abidin Mosque is the backbone of the Muslim community in Kampung Permatang Setar. According to Md. Zabidi, “The mosque actively conducts programmes with the community, especially during Aidilfitri when folks come back to their hometown to celebrate. Most of them are successful people working in various professional sectors in KL and abroad. They frequently donate to the mosque and we’ve set up a Facebook page to keep these folks abreast on mosque activity and development.”

Despite being of different creeds, the various communities in the area are tightly knit. “At the demise of one of the oldest Siamese-Buddhist monks in the community, we, the committee members of the mosque, went to the temple where his funeral service was held to pay our last respects. On a separate occasion, when a thief was wandering around the village, volunteers from the local Chinese community offered to help guard the mosque premises,” recounts Md. Zabidi.

The Al-Abidin Mosque also collaborates with local educational institutions to carry out community service activities. “Previously, students from a Tunas Bakti school – a rehabilitation centre for juveniles – in Butterworth came to the village to clean up the cemetery and mosque compound. Hopefully, the experience can inspire them to step away from negative influences and become better people,” says Md. Zabidi.

Masjid Al-Islah.

Masjid Al-Islah, Permatang Tok Mahat, Nibong Tebal

Along the main road that marks the border between Penang and Perak is the Al-Islah Mosque. Its history is closely related to the origins of Kampung Permatang Tok Mahat: in the 1890s, when Kedah and Siam were in conflict, Imam Ahmad, a religious man from Pattani, fled Siam by sea. He, his family and his followers berthed at the southern part of the Penang mainland and founded the village.

According to Haji Md. Yusof, former chairman of Al-Islah Mosque, the village was one of the earliest pioneers of the sekolah pondok (traditional informal religious schools) in Penang, having had one established already in 1895. The mosque itself was founded in 1937, relocated from another location in the 1960s and underwent transformation from wooden construct to concrete in the 1990s.

Imam Ahmad and his sekolah pondok students in 1895.

“In the 1980s and 1990s, we had a council that managed wedding celebrations and feasts, and volunteers from the local community would help out with events. These days, locals prefer to organise it themselves and hire caterers,” says Md. Yusof.

“For funerals, in the past the womenfolk from the village would donate rice while the men would help out financially to ease the kenduri arwah. This has slightly changed, as the families of the deceased prefer to order pre-packed rice these days.”

Even so, the spirit of togetherness within the community still persists, and the mosque continues to organize programmes and religious sermons to cater to the congregation.

Nidhal Mujahid is just an ordinary man who works as an analyst at Penang Institute. He is inspired by the unique diversity of cultures that exist in Penang.

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