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Lord, Whose Prayer Will You Listen To?

Maya Denisa Saputra was born on July 30, 1990 in Denpasar, the capital of Bali, and grew up on Indonesia’s “island of the gods.” She left briefly to finish her education, a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance from the UK-based University of Bradford in Singapore.

While holding a position in the accounting department of a family business, she pursues her interests in writing, literary translation, and photography.
She can be reached at:



Lord, Whose Prayer Will You Listen To?


Mas Agung is our eldest brother. After our father passed away, Mas Agung stepped up to fill his role. Mother was glad to see that all of us, seven siblings, maintained the same harmonious relationships we’d had during the time Father was still around. This, of course, could only happen under the guidance of Mas Agung. Therefore, when Mother’s older sister, Budhe Mujirah, faced a problem I could not help her with, it was only natural that I turned to Mas Agung.

Hence, I wrote him a letter.


Purworejo, March 10, 2005.

Dearest Mas Agung,

If it were not for Budhe Mujirah, I wouldn’t bother you. Actually, she asked me to write to you last week. I delayed, however—not because I was busy. I had to sort out my own feelings first, as this is about our langgar.

Since Father passed away, I haven’t paid too much attention to what the villagers did to the prayer house that was built by our great-grandfather. This lack of concern came from the assumption that our family seemed to agree—was happy even—with the changes the villagers were making to Eyang’s langgar. I once told you that I took such a stand because you and everyone else seemed to approve. I also realized there wasn’t much we could do. Perhaps we were all afraid to be considered apostates of our religion if we objected to improvements made to a langgar that was built long before the independence of our country in 1945.

I had no qualms about the villagers’ remodeling plans for the langgar, under the leadership of our lurah, who also is our Pak Kiai. Aside from the fact that we were sure that a person who is the village chief, as well as the elder of our congregation, would do the right thing, we were too poor to shoulder the expenses ourselves. In order to conceal our financial situation, you told the lurah we needed to prioritize the execution of repairs. At least we kept the roof from leaking and prevented the termites that managed to crawl out from under the floor tiles from destroying the walls. These are the only things I can remember.

The education of the seven of us had depleted our family funds. Mother always wanted to see us become well-educated people with university degrees. Aside from providing for our education, our family savings also funds care for Mother, as her health is beginning to decline.

So, when Pak Kiai visited and asked permission to replace the old roof tiles with new, factory-made tiles, we immediately agreed and thanked him over and over again. At some point, we did replace some of the original old roof tiles. However, the size of the new tiles was different from the timeworn, broken ones, and this, of course, created a problem. When it rained hard, water would seep through and drip on people’s heads, making them wipe their faces uncomfortably.

As you know, most of us live and work in Jakarta now. None of us stayed in Purworejo, where we were all born, to live with Mother and take care of our langgar. Some of us left to study, while those who graduated from university found jobs elsewhere. As the seven of us are spread all over, we all agreed to jointly give money to a close neighbor to keep Mother company. And, fortunately, Budhe Mujirah does not live too far from Mother.

This is why we accepted it when the villagers renovated the langgar without consulting us. It was possible that they searched for us to no avail. And knowing Mother, she would only have said, “Sumangga kula nderek: I agree, please go ahead.”

For that reason, I suggested that we bequeath the langgar to the community. In reality, it already belonged to the public and was not ours anymore. Everyone agreed, and you and I took care of the necessary documents needed to transfer ownership of the property. The procedure ended smoothly and was a huge relief to us, because we also felt that we had pleased Mother. I’m sure you remember Mother often reminds us in whispers that, no matter what, we’re still descendants of trah kesuma rembesing madu, a clan that carries the distinctive quality of adhering to the concept of putra becik nyirami mring kulawarga: good children will be a blessing to their family.

About five years ago, we all agreed to go home just before Eid al-Fitr and return to work after the Eid prayer. However, after Father passed away in June 2002, Mother advised that we not all come home on Eid al-Fitr together. “Your homecoming creates more trouble than it is worth,” she said.

I secretly thanked Mother for her suggestion. She was right—but it would not have been appropriate if any of us children had made the suggestion. We agreed to go home on our own birthday and celebrate it—Mother prefers the term “give thanks”—with her in our old house next to the langgar; the house where our umbilical cords were buried in its yard.

This is why, after Father’s passing three years ago, we rarely gather at Mother’s house. Our younger siblings said that since we can connect at any time via telephones and cell phones, it won’t be a problem if we can’t meet on Eid al-Fitr. “Kumpul ora kumpul asal mangan: whether we gather or not, the most important thing is we all are still able to eat,” you joked at the time.

As far as I know, today, only you, Mas, and I are still concerned about our langgar—once known as Langgar Trunan, because our great grandfather who built it was known as Eyang Truno. We have noticed changes when we say our prayers there once a year.

I’m sure you remember these changes and our conversations. The first was the replacement of the old roof tiles with the new factory-made ones, which gave our langgar a luxurious appearance. Next came the ceramic floor tiles. Do you remember whispering, “Actually, the cement tiles Eyang Truno had installed just before his passing were still fine and would look shinier as time passes.”

I did not respond. The white ceramic floor tiles were better for hygiene purposes. The smallest dirt—the droppings of a cicak house lizard, for example—could be easily spotted on the surface of the white floor tiles.

You continued, “Then, where were the old floor tiles discarded?”

“They weren’t thrown away. Those ceramic tiles were put directly on top of them,” I explained.

My answer did not satisfy you, and you pressed on, “Do you know where the funds came from?”

“The villagers pooled their money. That’s what Budhe Mujirah said.”

We finally agreed that it was more comfortable to pray in a shiny and clean place. Reportedly, after the installation of the ceramic floor tiles, more villagers came to the langgar for congregational prayers. For this, we could only be thankful, and we relaxed.
Now I’d like to share what I saw when I returned to our hometown to celebrate my thirtieth birthday and visited Mother, who looks even frailer.

As usual, I went to the langgar to do shalat and noticed that the nice-looking white floor tiles had been replaced with a calming green carpet.

I asked Budhe Mujirah how the villagers managed to raise the funds to buy such a beautiful carpet; she explained that the villagers gladly donated their money and even suggested installing an air conditioner.

Knowing that Budhe was the only person who would dare to say no to the lurah, I responded jokingly, “Including you, Budhe? Were you also agreeing?”

As usual, Budhe raised her voice and spat, “Everyone agreed except me,” emphasizing the word me. Well, that’s our Budhe. I’ve lost count on how many occasions she raised her voice when she talked about the lurah’s policies, and then continued to rant about the villagers who were unemployed, even though most of them had more than one wife, and each wife had many children, and the many young women, virgins and divorcees alike, who went astray.

Mas, even though you repeatedly told me you worried that all their contributions would burden the villagers, I still can go along with clay roof tiles, ceramic floor tiles, rug, and fan. However, I object to replacing a rug that still looks new, and replacing the fan with an air conditioner. I really can’t agree with that.

When I asked the board about it, one of the administrators replied, “The old rug is now used to accommodate villagers who don’t have any or enough mats for a memorial service.” He also explained that the new carpet was even more pleasing to the eyes.

“Would a design resembling a prayer mat depicting a grand mosque not make the praying congregation line up more orderly?” he asked.

When I happened to meet the lurah during shalat maghrib, the sunset prayer, I asked him,

“Pak Lurah, isn’t the rug still in good condition?”

The lurah answered, “You’re right, Den Pras, but the material feels rough on the skin and it’s thin. Our knees ended up hurting and our foreheads scratched. This would be even more so for those who have thin and old knees and forehead, like Yu Mujirah. The new rug is much thicker and has a beautiful design. Actually, we do this for older people like Sister Mujirah.”

“Then, what about the plan to replace the fan with an air conditioner?” I quickly asked. “Are you really going to do that?”

Pak Lurah passionately defended himself. “Yes, I will. The air from the fan is not cool enough, and it might even make us old people catch a cold, especially those who are frail like Yu Mujirah. The air conditioner operates differently. The air is cool, but there’s no wind nor any humming sound.”

I continued to pressure him, “Aside from the huge amount of electricity needed to power the air conditioner, its installation will cause a major change to the overall appearance of this langgar. Are those wood windows going to be replaced with glass ones?”
Perhaps I had managed to exhaust the lurah’s patience.

“Yes,” he replied, irritated, “and Den Pras doesn’t have to worry about the funding. After all, the villagers have never bothered the family of Eyang Truno, nor someone like Yu Mujirah. Right?”

His words offended me, and I no longer felt the need to make small talk. I said straightforwardly, “Even though I don’t pray here every day, I notice that, despite the ceramic floor tiles and carpeting, members of the congregation still use their prayer mats. So, there’s no difference between what they pray on now and when the langgar still had the cement floor tiles Eyang had put in. And the ventilation was also something Eyang had already thought about. Look how many windows there are.

“The joglo roof and partially wooden walls decorated with Jepara carvings make this place of worship unique. The pyramid-shaped roof even inspired a nationally renowned architect who was commissioned to design a mosque in Jakarta.” I thought my statement would end our conversation. Well, I was wrong.

He smiled cynically and replied, “I’m sorry, Den, but actually, we already purchased the thick rug with a mosque design and the air conditioner. The items are now stored at my house. We only need to pool the money from the villagers. They have agreed, anyway.” He paused for a while, to give me a sharp glance, and continued. “Indeed, to be able to join those who go to heaven, a material sacrifice is needed. Everyone has agreed. Everyone except for one person: Yu Mujirah. Maybe because she considers herself nobility, she figures she’s above worrying about the common folks. And you probably know that Yu Mujirah isn’t thinking right,” the lurah ended lightly.

Mas, I really couldn’t accept that he called Eyang Truno’s most beloved granddaughter a crazy person. However, there was no point in being stubborn and arguing further with the lurah. I couldn’t do anything else except quickly distance myself from him.

I relaxed my fingers and opened my clenched fist. I took a deep breath, then slowly exhaled. I took a long look at the wooden windows that would soon be gone. Not being able to restrain myself, I embraced and kissed one of the window shutters near me.
The lurah watched me, perplexed.

Mas, I don’t care if I’m now the one who’s regarded as insane by the lurah. But, our problems with him are far from over. They’ve now extended to Budhe Mujirah.

The neighbor we often ask to accompany Mother called me about a week ago. She told me that the roof over Budhe Mujirah’s verandah, which was old and leaned towards the langgar, had caused a problem. Some of its tiles slid off and fell on a worshipper’s head. She also said that the villagers confronted Budhe Mujirah and hauled her off to the lurah’s house.

Mas, what should we do now? I pray that this problem will get resolved soon.

I’ll be waiting for your answer.

From your brother,


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