Sunday, March 16, 2014

Call to Prayer and Psychedelic Nun Costumes

Kelantan State is where we did the least amount of interesting things, and yet somehow has made the most profound impression on me.  It's a Muslim country within a country, and this fact is in evidence everywhere.
In other places in Malaysia you may hear the call to prayer from the mosques, depending on your proximity to these houses of worship.  If you are not careful about the location of your hotel, you can be awakened at 5 am by an exotic hymn.  In Kelantan, this prayer is extra special.
At Ian's house, you get a lot of racket all night.  His home is adjacent to thick second growth brushy jungle and tropical creatures abound.  One of these wonders of nature is the carpenter bird, which is nocturnal and has a "song" that sound like a pair of small hardwood sticks being knocked together loudly.  They either do this with their throats, or have managed to develop the ability to knock sticks together.  Either way, when they do this call, it has all the restful qualities of a dripping faucet in a stainless steel sink.  When a bunch of them go at it, it has little appeal at all.  This noise generally ends towards dawn, but not because they stop doing it, but because there are three mosques within sling shot distance of Ian's home and they start their 5 am call to prayer with high volume loudspeakers that drown out the stick music.  This also wakes up the 100 or so roosters in the area, who join in with their own praise to Allah.  Generally the call to prayer is a brief thing, but these mosques must have some kind of competition with each other over who is the most pious, because they go on and on for upwards of 25 to 30 minutes with a tone deaf chanting and moaning trying to outdo the other.  All the while the roosters are contributing their own chorus.  It's a kind of rural/Islamic Karaoke that may or may not please Allah.  He hasn't chosen to smite these people and their numerous fowl , so the safe money is on the Faithful and their righteous yard birds.

Kelantan is geographically isolated from the rest of Malaysia by rugged mountains and so has retained a more pure culture.  There are few non Malay people there, just a scattering of other Asians and virtually no Occidentals.  So virtually all the women are dressed in the Malaysian version of a devout Muslim woman.  Their heads are covered, they have long sleeves and almost always are wearing long dresses, although I did see a few long pants on the more racy ones.  They have managed to make these garments very colorful and the region is world famous for its wonderful fabrics, especially its batik.  Anyone who has an interest in fabric would be well served going to Kota Bharu  and touring the markets.  

Somehow women in this Islamic part of the world have been able to maintain a kind of expression of beauty and femininity that does not exist in the more repressive countries like Saudi Arabia.  

Kelantan is a fundamentalist, religious state with a higher rate of poverty than most of the rest of Malaysia.  In spite of the heavy religious presence there is a lively underground economy involved in gun and drug smuggling.  There were also plenty of layabouts with larcenous tendencies.  These hypocrisies reminded me of someplace, and when we strolled along the wide muddy river in Kota Bharu I realized that this state was a kind of Malaysian Mississippi.  

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