The Unfinished Mosque.

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Morning came. The night before was cold, not wintry cold but rather formal. Not enough to make me shiver but the type that just makes you want to sleep underneath a blanket all day.

I sat by the stairs, next to Abang Syafie and to me this was the perfect view to welcome a new day.

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This really reminded me of my village.

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This house is basically a rectangle shaped wooden box. No rooms nor any compartment. It costs 15,000 USD to built this.  Abang Syafie worked in Malaysia for more than 10 years to save up money. 

After that he went home to Cambodia and worked for several years in this village. He farmed potatoes using the money he had saved to support his family and again saving money to build this house.

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The people in this village does not keep their money in the bank, they believe that the banks are too corrupted and can’t be trusted. Where they keep them that I do not know and I don't think I should ask where.

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But I do know that construction materials in this country are astronomically expensive. In turn it makes sense that the mosque I’m visiting is still up to this day unfinished.

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I really admire Abang Syafie’s resolve, hardwork and discipline. Leaving your family behind to find work in another country takes a lot of resolve. I believe that I am not even 1/10 as hardworking as he is.

When he was in Malaysia he used to work at a wood factory and a mechanical factory. He had different jobs because he was a legally contracted worker. A company may give him a contract to work for them for 2 years and of course after that is finished he needs to find another company to work with. 

He also came back to Cambodia once every few years then to renew his work visa. Visa renewal and job hunting may take several weeks or months so those were the only instance where he can spend time with his family So he was not exactly leaving them for 10 straight years but still, it must be very hard for anyone to endure this emotionally.

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His working time in Malaysia was from early morning to 5.00 PM working in the factory, and if the factory permits it he will take overtime until 10 or 12 midnight. He said that this practice was not uncommon among the foreign workers. He’d rather work than sitting at home doing nothing because this is why he came here in the first place - to work. 

If overtime is not permitted or unavailable, he would do various odd jobs for additional amount of money. Eventhough he did’t do it, he said that selling ice-cream was rather lucrative income-wise for a side job. 

He said that he can get close to or more than RM1000 a month doing if he were to work day and night. This was of course, combined salary for both his full time and side time job. “It was good money”, he added.

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I had a very modest lunch at Ersyad’s house. Ersyad is of course, my Cambodian friend currently studying in Jordan and younger brother of Abang Syafie. 

They apologised to me for not able to serve anything more than this. It was so humble of them, I didn’t mind it at all. I enjoyed it a lot in fact.

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The various utensils for cooking and such a classic styled kitchen.

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The azan was recited by the village’s muezzin to call for Zuhur. Walking to the mosque even at a turtle-like pace took me less than 3 minutes.

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About 30 people were already lining up to prepare for prayer. Most are in their 30s or more. Ersyad said that if only he can persuade the younger ones to come here regularly and make the place more livelier. He said that the place is packed for the Friday Prayer but sadly the same cannot be said for every other time.

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More mosque should follow this. Aside from the normal prayer time, this mosque also has the schedule for the time where the imam would start praying so that the villagers can come to the mosque at the right time. 

This idea is genius and I’m surprised that mosques in Malaysia does not adopt this.

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As I said earlier, even after 13 years the mosque is still not finished. Various factors come into play.

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When asked why build such a large and expensive looking mosque the villagers said than 13 years ago a Malaysian man once promised to be a financial backer for this mosque. 

Construction plans were made by the villagers but sadly the man did not stick to his words. No funding were ever given.

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The villagers decided to go through with building it. They collected money via various donating programs and even scaled back with the plan for the mosque to decrease cost. Sadly funding was not enough. But rather than wait till the money are all collected they decided to use the money they had collected and built the mosque little by little. 

Better to have an unfinished mosque rather than no mosque at all - and I agree with that thought.

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So every year for the past 13 years, they would collect money and build the mosque little by little. The donations came from all over - most I was told were from Malaysia since Ersyad would travel to Malaysia every year and travel all over the country to collect donations.

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For the year 2013 they are using the money they collected to build a male toilet and a large water tank for wuduk (ablution). Even though labor costs are quite low, as I had said earlier the construction materials here are very expensive.

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It costs roughly RM30,000 to built these.

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This is an empty space on the left side of the back alley of the mosque. In the future this will be the site where they will build the toilet and prayer ablution area for the females. They had even placed some timbers on the ground to mark the location.

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Sundown. The muezzin call can be heard very clearly 5 times a day.

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Cambodia is one hour behind Malaysia. So 7.00 PM in Malaysia is 6.00 PM here. sads

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This was taken when we were walking to the mosque for our Isyak prayer. The village was pitch black even though it is only 7 something in the evening. No street lights, no lamps, even the houses were all dark with no lights turned on. Abang Syafie with his torchlight led me and his young son to the mosque.

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After prayer, I had dinner at Ersyad’s house. The dish was almost the same as the one I had during lunch. The main dish consists of white rice, fried ikan puyu, chicken soup, homemade budu (fish sauce) and pineapples as dessert.

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They were even kind enough to use the generator to power up the lamps so that I could eat comfortably. Ersyad said that normally they would like up candles when eating since electricity is so expensive. 

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As stated in my last entry, the rice harvested are not for sale but rather for the farmer’s own use. 

As I was eating, Ersyad’s cousin whose name I had forgotten, who was there along with Ersyad’s parents would always say in a humble voice and limited Malay “Mesti tak sedapkan? Maafla. ("Sorry if the food is not pleasant for you”).

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Ersyad opened up a young coconut for me which he had pulled during the day. He did this because ever since my first day in Cambodia I was clamouring for a glass of coconut. He asked me to wait until we get to his village since coconuts are aplenty and free to get a hold of. 

The wooden floor of the house had gaps several centimetres wide that they can conveniently use to throw and spit things to the ground below. I washed my hand and let the water flows down along the gaps.

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After dinner and a thank you to Ersyad’s parents, I walked to the nearby Muslim school which was less than 100 meter away from the house.

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Class has only started it seems. Now the school is very small, it has 4 classes and each are divided according to different age groups. There are classes in the morning, evening and at night. 

Morning classes are usually for the young ones who are still not in school. Night and evening classes are for those in their teens since they have to attend school during the day.

There are close to 200 students attending this school.

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The students of the first class that I entered are currently learning how to read the Quran (tajwid). Most of the students in this class are 15 years old and older.

Due to lack of Islamic education since childhood, not many people here can read the Quran fluently.

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A very sad reality for the teachers here is that they are not payed well, if any at all. Since this is not a government funded school, they do not have a fixed wage. Money is hard to come by and Ersyad said that it would be nice if they have a secure source of income to pay these teachers. To be able to pay them RM200 -300 (60-90 USD) a month would be wonderful, he added.

Due to lack of money they do odd jobs, catch their own fish to cook, and live very modestly to survive. They endure all these for the sake of teaching the younger generations.

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There are more than 600 Muslim families in this village. Not more than 5 people amongst those families continue pursuing their education in Islamic studies. The reason is simple, there's no secure job in that particular field here in Cambodia.

I get why they think that way, and no parents want their children to live much worse than they are now.

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Another class which consists if primary school students were taught how to read the Qunut for the Subuh prayer.

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I asked if studying here in this school is free. No direct answer was given but some do pay the school RM0.50 weekly. Yes that's 50 cents a week.

And those money are what was used to pay the monthly electricity bill (which is very expensive) and the wages of the teachers if there's any left.

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All the teachers here hoped that one day they can secure fundings to buy formal textbooks to give to the students. Further along the line they hope that one day, the school can have its own matching school uniforms for the students.

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All the teachers here had been to Malaysia before be it for work or attending seminars. All of them praised the country's way of teaching Islam to the younger generations.

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Being here made me realise how - as much as I'd like to dismiss it - important money really is. Without money no matter how honest and hardworking and resolved you are, you will get nowhere.

You know it's funny how we never seem to appreciate the good things that are in front of us. We were taught well ever since we were little, and we had been given so much that we forget how fortunate we are. And that feeling of security is what led us the younger generations me included in not seeking much about religion. The many branches of Islam like Syariah and Fikh is so vast and full of mindblowing things - fikh especially. You'd be surprised how deep Islam really is when reading further about them.

1. Phom Penh Part 1
2. Phnom Penh Part 2
3. Tropeungchuk, Kampong Thom - 40 years back to the past.

4. The Unfinished Mosque
5. Siem Riep & Angkor Wat.