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Reviewed by:
  • Waiting for God’s Words
  • Zainal Abd Latiff
Waiting for God’s Words. Written and directed by Dinsman. Polisas (Polytechnic Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah) Hall, Polytechnic College, Kuantan, Pahang, Malaysia. 17 October 2010.

Waiting for God’s Words (Menunggu Kata Dari Tuhan; Fig. 1) is a play written and directed by one of Malaysia’s prolific and controversial director-authors, Che Shamsuddin Osman, popularly known as Dinsman. It debuted 26 March 2009 and the presentation reviewed here was the forty-second, making this one of the most performed plays in contemporary Malaysia. It is the first play to be done in a mosque, a previously unthinkable innovation, with performances in houses of worship in the states of Kedah, Kelantan, and Selangor. The Sultan of Kelantan invited a performance for a royal feast (20 May 2009). Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng made it compulsory viewing for his officials for Malaysian Independence Day at a celebration for the State Secretariat of Penang (16 September 2010); this was the first time a modern drama was presented at an official state function.

The play is a Malay phenomenon because of its well-developed script, a moving performance that combines acting and music, and the evocative narrative, which draws from the Koranic story of Kaab ibn Malik, who fails to assist the Prophet in battle. Waiting for God’s Words moves contemporary Malay audiences because of the religious orientation, which audiences feel benefits their souls. The fifty-five-minute piece is seen as a model for an Islamic theatre that is “syariah compliant.” While theatre in general has lost favor with significant sectors of the Malay audience outside the secular circles of Kuala Lumpur or Penang, this is a performance that is invited into Kelantan, a state that, under the leadership of the PAS (Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party), has banned traditional performances as un-Islamic.

This play is based on one of the longest Hadith (“narrative”) of the [End Page 577] Prophet. Hadiths are religious traditions based on the Prophet’s life that were compiled in the eighth and ninth centuries to elucidate the Koran. Normally one listens to the Hadith’s narration as an act of worship. In this instance, therefore, by watching a theatrical performance (a genre usually frowned upon by the religious authorities), people are not only enjoying a presentation but spiritually rewarded. This gives the show its unique appeal.

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Figure 1.

Poster image for Waiting for God’s Words. (Photo: Courtesy of Teater Elit)

This particular Hadith is a story about one of the closest companions [End Page 578] of the Prophet, Kaab Ibn Malek, who failed to participate in the holy battle of Tabuq (or Tabuk),1 a site in current northwestern Saudi Arabia where Mohammed is reported to have led a large army in preparation for engagement with the Byzantine Empire. Due to procrastination Kaab failed to join the army. He did not participate in the expedition, though commanded to do so by the Prophet. Kaab could have lied and given excuses for not participating when the Prophet came home, but he chose, instead, to tell the truth. He was then ostracized for fifty days. On the last day, verses 117–119 of the Surah At Taubah of the Koran were revealed, to say that Kaab’s repentance was accepted by God.2 This significant Hadith forms the kernel of this performance.

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Figure 2.

Playwright-director Dinsman. (Photo: Courtesy of Teater Elit).

Dinsman, a graduate of University of Malaya, is a poet, playwright, and director (Fig. 2). As one of the pioneers of Teater (Theatre) Elit, he was instrumental in starting a movement in the 1970s with Hatta Azad Khan and Johan Jaafar. Their motto was “theatre in the hands of theatre people,” so as to offer an alternative to mainstream realistic drama. Renowned Malaysian theatre critic Krishen Jit labeled Dinsman an experimental modernist “searching for [End Page 579] himself” through his anti-realistic plays. Some of his “daring” plays include Protest (Protes, 1972, a play depicting characters in the play protesting against the playwright for not giving them the choice to determine...