Sunday, May 04, 2008

Islam Class: Session One

Well, first of all, I was late.

Because online guides are only as reliable as the next best thing, all I knew was that the Muslim Converts' Building was two blocks away from the Paya Lebar station. I left the house an hour early in the hopes that I would be able to get to the place on time - the train ride alone took me 30 minutes, not to mention all the bus transferring stuff. So I get there and it's hot and sticky and there are no trees in the area and I get lost.

The lady on the phone - I called them desperately - said to just walk ahead and I would find the building. So I walked. And walked. And walked. And I reached the end of the street and then called her again because there was no way I was going home when I was that close to the building. O_o And then she realizes that I must have been on the other side of the street because she then instructs me that I had to cross the Geylang Serai Malay Village - a collection of old, run-down kampong-style structures that was supposed to approximate what living in Singapore used to be, pre-Lee Kwan Yu. (They seem to have approximated pretty well.) So I finally get there and I walk into the building and ask the nearest official looking lady where the BCI (Beginner's Class in Islam) was being held. She looks at me intently from underneath her hijab and asks, "Are you Filipino?" In Filipino.

Yes, we are taking over the world.

So she makes me sign the attendance sheet ("Oh, but you're a Lee. So you're Chinese?" "No, I'm Filipino.") and gives me the instructional book and ushers me inside the airconditioned auditorium. I'm using the word 'auditorium' here just because that was what it said outside; seriously, it couldn't have seated more than 40 people. It was just a smaller, more comfortable classroom. ^_^ I made the mistake of automatically sitting down where the boys were seated - there were more seats and I didn't want to crowd the room. The imam ushers me to the girls' side. Ah, we're segregated. I've never been segregated since second year high school, when we had the Boy-Girl Interaction with some boys from La Salle, so this should be interesting.

There are roughly six boys and at least 15 girls in the room. At least three of my classmates are Caucasian - one of them was an old woman wearing an emerald-green hijab that threw me off guard. The others are mainly Malay or Indian, and a couple of Chinese-looking girls. All the boys look bored with the imam. The girls are scribbling down intently on their notebooks. According to my course outline, we have revision at the end of the course. It's like high school all over again.

So the imam tells us about the roots of Islam and does a bit of introduction as to what the core of the faith is all about. Allah is the One God and so on and so forth; it's very similar to Christianity in that respect - the idea of a Supreme Creator, and the structure of a monotheistic religion. So far, so good. I write neatly into my pad and underline all the Arabic words. I'm sure that in my head, I am pronouncing them perfectly, but if I am heard beyond the confines of my imagination, I will get smacked. It's not my fault the Bible we use is in English. I'm sure if we all knew Aramaic or Greek or Latin, we'd be reading a more 'original' version of the Bible.

The imam is a Malay-looking guy in his thirties (I am approximating here). He is wearing a long-sleeved white shirt, black pants, leather open-toed sandals, and that black hat that looks like an army cap. (The Boyfriend told me what this is called but I have no idea how to spell it so please do not ask me.) He looks very nice and open-minded, and he has been teaching the BCIs for quite some time now. His voice is mellifluous and scholarly, except when he talks to fast - and then his voice climbs up a few notes and then starts to break. He makes a lot of jokes about pop culture. I get it (and giggle in my seat). No one else reacts. Poor guy.

The class runs for about an hour and a half. He covers the concept of Islam, Allah, and introduces us to the Prophets of Islam, which is very similar to the Old Testament in the Bible. We talk about fate for a while. And then we end with Muhammad and the insistence of Islam on the Oneness of God. So far, so good. And then he introduces to us the tahwid: "There is no other God but Allah. And Muhammad is His Messenger." Okay, I can accept that. The only thing that got my goat was when he compared Christianity to Hinduism (the idea of a tripartite God) and I'm like, "Noooooo." But other than that, most of what he said made sense, which I liked. At least he's not ramming the entire Qur'an down my throat.

After the class, he thanks us and then we all go out. The entire session ran for about an hour and a half, and there are 10 sessions in all, culminating with a visit to a mosque at the end. I'm excited about that. I've never been inside a mosque in Singapore. When I step out of the building, it's too hot again and I rush back to the relative cool of the train station - a good two blocks away - and then head on home.

And of course, he was there when I arrived. ^_^

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