by Kok Wei Liang
I AM breathless with anticipation over my upcoming lunch with Dr Fatris Bakaram, the Mufti of Singapore. This is the first time I am interviewing a religious leader for the hate-reading pleasure of an entire nation, so naturally, I am a little nervous.
Today’s interview takes place in the shadow of the Sultan Mosque, which is a place where Muslims go. We are meeting at the Landmark, a restaurant which serves halal food – food that Muslims eat.
It is just past 1pm and I’m suddenly aware of a change in the sound. Ah, I realize, this is the azan, the call to prayer, a sound that Muslims make.
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Dr Fatris arrives. He is wearing clothes that Muslims wear. Accompanying him today is Mr Zainul Abidin Ibrahim, the director of strategic engagement at Muis (Singapore’s Islamic Religious Council).
Mr Zainul does not say a single word during the entire interview. At first, I think his silence is strategic engagement, but after a while I suspect he is purely here because word got around that the Sunday Times is paying for lunches.
I decide not to tell either of them that Ong Ye Kung blew $114.17, or that Michael Kors splurged more on beverages than what we’ll be spending on lunch today. After all, Lunch with Sumiko is still Lunch with Sumiko, even if it’s under $100.
As Mufti of Singapore, Dr Fatris has many duties, but the one I’m most interested in is how he chairs the committee that issues fatwas.
“Fatwas are Islamic legal rulings, yes?”
“And they can be rendered against enemies of Islam?”
“Fatwas are not, by definition, a pronouncement of death or a declaration of war.”
“Enemies, like, say… Kok Wei Liang?”
“I don’t know who that is, Ms Tan.”
“He’s a pig. You should fatwa him.”
After a round of delicious appetizers declined by Dr Fatris due to his gout but silently inhaled by Mr Zainul, the waiter brings us a spread from the buffet: delectable sambal chicken, mouth-watering fish in curry, toothsome prawn masala, and seductive chilli crab, served with fragrant rice, and naan that I would happily sell my journalistic cred for.
I ask Dr Fatris if he has any thoughts about Singapore’s upcoming Presidential elections being restricted only to Malay candidates.
“That’s a very loaded question,” he observes.
“Oh, don’t worry, I’m also the Executive Editor of the Sunday Times,” I reply. “I’ll just edit your answer out.”
“In fact, I’ll even edit my question out of the interview! No one will ever know about the time I asked one of my subjects a thought-provoking question which required an answer one couldn’t already find on the Internet. Canned responses are what our readers really want! Shall we talk about the terror group, Islamic State?”
“I condemn them.”
“I would never have guessed!”
It is time to shoot our video, and Dr Fatris decides to talk about how his father, who died in 1995, was a major influence in his life.
“So your father was also a religious teacher, like yourself?”
I motion to the camera guy to focus on me, and speak directly to the viewer. “You hear that, Mothership? New Nation? Rice Media? Mr. Brown?! You gonna make fun of a religious leader remembering his dead father, who was also a religious teacher, huh? You wanna come for me this time, assholes?! Cash me ousside, howbow dah!”
Our lunch has now taken us to 3pm. We decline dessert, but get tea. Talk turns to how he writes poetry in his spare time, to relax. One particular poem is about his hopes and dreams for his four children.
“I’m not going to read that,” I demur, “and I think you should stick to your day job of being the Mufti, but would you care to tell our readers what this poem is about?”
“Well,” he pauses. “It’s about how I hope that one day, one of them might grow up to be President.”
And as long as he has no plans for them to be Prime Minister, I am sure the silent majority of Singaporeans will support him.
Kok Wei Liang does not want you to know anything about him, because he likes anonymity when he does standup and slam poetry.
Read his other pieces from the #SumiKok series:
- The bee hoon be $25
- $28 club sandwiches? Of Kors!
- The pass code is 4826
- Eat drink woman $30
- May Schooling be ever in your favour!
- Fifty shades of fine art appreciation
Featured image by Sean Chong.
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