The Plot to Kill The Muezzin

Blog / Short Story

September 13, 2018 — by Feby Indirani

Last updated on September 13, 2018 at 11:50 am

Translated by Marjie Suanda. This story was included in a short story collection Not Virgin Mary forthcoming from Gramedia Pustaka Utama. It has been republished here with permissions from the author. You also can read the original in Indonesian, Rencana Pembunuhan Sang Muazin, published in Detikcom on July 15, 2017.

Bukan Perawan Maria, the Indonesian edition of “Not Virgin Mary” was previously published by Pabrikultur in May 2017.



I’m not an expert in plotting murder, but I believe there is nothing we can’t learn if we set our mind to it. And my mind is made up. After thinking it through, I have come to the conclusion that this murder might be the greatest contribution I could make for myself and my community, although I have only been a part of this neighborhood for the past four months.

I’m already familiar with my target’s daily habits, an obvious advantage from the standpoint of a murder plan. His small, cramped house is located behind the musholla (prayer hall). He usually comes to the musholla in time for the ashar (afternoon) prayers. As the sun sets and the time comes for maghrib (dusk) prayers, he will give the call to prayer in the melody that I’ve also become painfully familiar with. Occasionally he will lead the congregation in prayers, but more often he will defer to any ustadz or religious teacher who happens to be there.

At three in the morning he will begin to read the Quran over the mosque loudspeakers, which broadcast to the whole neighborhood. To his credit, he does try to impart melody to his recitation, but all he manages to achieve is something dull and tuneless, made worse by his loud, braying voice. This goes on for one and a half to two hours, until the time comes for the call to the dawn prayer.

The problem is, most of the time I come home from work at around 1.30 am, and the noise keeps me awake till dawn. My house is next door to the musholla, making it impossible for me not to hear his nightly recitation. And unfortunately once the cock crows, I cannot fall asleep, as my body is still programmed to wake up in the morning.

I work as a security guard at a club where tired and bored people with money seek their escape. The club closes at one in the morning on week days, and at four on weekends. To supplement my income I take on side jobs, like chauffering. I make enough, though the work leaves me physically spent. It only gets even worse with the musholla loudspeaker keeping me from sleep. I always feel as if it was shouting in my ear.

It is not as if I had never brought the issue up to the muezzin politely. I once joined the congregated prayer for the sole purpose of approaching him. I begged him to be considerate and stop his habitual 3 am Quran recitation.

“Don’t you know that prayers are answered on the final third of the night? No muslim will want to pass up this chance to get as close to Allah as possible. That’s why I read the Quran at that time, to wake people up for the tahajjud (night) prayers.”

“But not everyone wants to do the tahajjud prayers. It’s not even a compulsory prayer.”

“True, but it has tremendous merit. The important things may not be convenient or easy to do, but we gain a lot of benefit from them.”

“But the noise annoys the non-Muslim residents!”

“Maybe yes, maybe no. Take Koh Ahuang. He wakes up at 3 am to perform his own version of prayer. Our Chinese friends are really industrious and start their work day very early, which is the key to their success. We muslims need to learn from their example.”

“But what about muslims like me whose work keeps them from getting enough sleep at night?”

“Allah willing, you will get a better job.”

Damn! There is no point trying to negotiate with this guy. His conviction is rock-solid and I must admit I find his calm arguments admirable. I could only gape at him as he turned away to leave. I could not find anything more to say.

And so my sleepless, torturous nights continue.

After awhile I grow even more exhausted, my stamina depleted. I start to snooze in the morning, though sound sleep continues to elude me. My bedroom faces east, making it hard for me to hide from the sun. Every time the muezzin recites the Quran or makes the call to prayer, the cacophony makes my head feel as if it is about ready to burst.

At first, I thought I was the only one suffering. But then at the nearby diner where I usually go for a meal or a cup of coffee, I overheard similar complaints coming from people like the two students who live a few doors down the street.

“Just our luck to live around here,” grumbled the first guy, “Every morning I get woken up in the wee hours by that recitation from the musholla.”

“I know, right! Me too. Worse, my land lady just had a baby and that superloud noise from the musholla keeps jarring the baby awake from his sleep.”

I sipped my coffee slowly, feigning indifference even as I listened to the conversation intently. I took it as a win to be so vindicated, to know that I was not the only one irritated by the musholla activities. Maybe it was high time to report to the neighborhood leader that the musholla was disrupting peace in the area. Good enough a reason, right?

But then I found out that the neighborhood leader had been aware of the problem all along.

“Yes, I understand, son,” he said gravely after listening to my tirade. “I understand,” he emphasized, smiling amiably.

“You are not the first person to complain about this to me,” he went on. My heart leaped with triumph.

“See? I was right all along. The loudspeaker broadcast is a public nuisance. I’ve talked to the muezzin about it. But he doesn’t care!”

The neighborhood leader stroked his beard as he considered his next word. “I spoke about this issue with him once. But he said that this is his way of making the musholla come to live. And he said the sound of his recitation helps keep the neighborhood safe, which I have to admit is true to some extent.”

“So you only spoke to him about this? You’re the neighborhood leader here. You have the right to reprimand any resident for disrupting public peace,” I pointed out, a sense of despair once again beginning to creep into my stomach.

“Patience, son, patience. I understand what you’re trying to say. I have consulted with the head of the community, and even the village and sub-district leaders. But they all said the same thing. They’re afraid to label broadcast Quran recitation a breach of peace. These recitations are echoes of the words of Allah, they said. They are terrified of divine retribution, and so am I.”

I was crushed by his answer. So there had been no point talking to him after all.

“Have patience, son,” he said, patting me on the shoulder. “I’ll bring the muezzin around eventually. These things cannot be forced. I don’t want to risk getting reported to the police for restricting religious expression, or worse, being accused of blasphemy.”

Coward, I thought. He kept coming up with excuses for not doing the right thing, simply because he was already comfortable with the status quo.

That was when I came up with the idea of assassination. The muezzin was definitely better off dead. It fell to me to pull off the heroic deed for the sake of peace in my neighborhood. If not me, then who? Certainly not that coward of a neighborhood leader.

So I started to think about ways to kill the muezzin. I am no stranger to violence thanks to my line of work. I had also studied martial arts and know all the weak points in a human body where a strategically aimed attack will deliver the most impact. The spot between the eyes. The jugular vein. The groin. But murder is another business altogether. Plus, I have to make sure that the muezzin’s death looks natural, so no investigation will be made as to how it happens.

Night after night I rack my brain to find the best way to kill the muezzin. I mulled over a list of scenarios, from putting poison in his food or drink, to the most direct method of fatally stabbing him and making it look like a regular mugging, even though his poverty makes him the least likely victim for such a crime. Every time his deafening recitation blares over the loudspeakers, my blood boils and my head nearly bursts from rage. I imagine infants jolted rudely awake, their anxious mothers, people like me, who are robbed of their sleep.

I murder the muezzin every night in my head. I’d go over every detail of every scheme. I swear to myself that it’s just a matter of time. I’m really going to do it. I will put an end to him. I will find peace and be of service to my community, although I will gain neither praise nor recognition for it.

I sleep less and less, partly due to the muezzin’s voice and partly from thinking about the murder plan. I cannot wait carry out my plan. Sometimes I imagine breaking his neck in a single twist. Sometimes I imagine sticking a dagger in his heart. Sometimes I think that poisoning his drink is the most effective method.

On the 113th day since I began thinking about the assassination, I come home from work exhausted. A fight had broken out at the club for whatever reasons, a girl or something, I don’t know. One of the guys involved, a real asshole, had spat on me as I tried to break it up. I arrive home at 2:30 am completely wiped out and frustrated, thinking that in a matter of minutes I will yet again have to listen to the muezzin’s nightly caterwauling.

Is now the time to do it? At this point I no longer care about finesse and subtlety. I could simply grab a piece of wood or a brick and use it to smash his skull.

But 3 am comes and goes and still no sound emerges from the musholla. The muezzin has never been late, not even once. What has happened? Time passes and I end up not sleeping, wondering where the muezzin has gone to. Is he sick? Is he bound for his hometown, or anywhere out of town for that matter? A giddy notion comes to my mind: have I killed him by the power of thought alone?

I grin in satisfaction at the thought, and shortly after fall into a deep slumber.

I wake up around noon to the sound of an announcement being made over the musholla loudspeakers. My brain is still fuzzy with sleep and my eyes heavy, but it seems to me that it is a different voice speaking on the loudspeaker. I start to pay more attention, and slowly, understanding dawns.

Inna lillahi wa Inna ilaihi rojiun, we belong to Allah and to Him we shall return. Our muezzin has passed away in peace at two this morning. Funeral prayers will be said for him at today’s zuhur [midday] prayers. Those who wish to join the prayers, please get ready now.”

I sit up immediately on hearing the announcement. Son of a gun! It’s really happened! The muezzin is dead! I’m in transports of joy. I get up in a hurry and head for the bathroom, thinking of going to the musholla to verify the great news. I stagger into the bathroom, still groggy from sleep, but why is the floor so slick with slime? I slip and fall, my head hits the floor, and there is only a brief moment when the shock registers before everything goes dark.

I can’t have been unconscious, or asleep, that long. But, damn, my body is all wet and cold. My first thought on waking up is how could I have neglected to clean the bathroom and let the floor get so slippery. I blame the constant exhaustion brought on by lack of sleep, all thanks to that muezzin! He is responsible for every unpleasantness in my life. But, eh…I just remember hearing the news that he is dead. Good for him, then. And good for the people in this neighborhood.

What time is it now? It must have been some time in the afternoon, though I still can’t tell how long I’ve been out cold.

I begin to hear someone reciting the Quran, faint at first, and then getting louder by the minute. It does not sound as if it comes from a loudspeaker. In fact, it sounds as if the person reading the Quran is sitting next to me.

When I open my eyes, I realize that I am no longer lying on the floor in the bathroom. The view around me is that of a vast lawn. And I notice the muezzin sitting just a few meters away, intent on his recitation.

I gape at the sight. And then I scream. But I cannot hear my own voice.

The only thing I can hear is the muezzin’s recitation, growing louder and louder.

* * *


Feby Indirani is an author and a journalist. Her book Not Virgin Mary (GPU, 2018) has been praised from public and media for being critical yet empathetic to Islamic world. She and her works has been profiled by a national and international media like The Australian, The Jakarta Post, BBC, Deustch Welle and many more. She has appeared in literary festivals like Asean Literary Festival 2017, Salihara LiFEs 2017, Writers Series The Jakarta Post 2017. Not Virgin Mary will soon be translated and published in Italy.

Marjie Suanda came to Indonesia in 1976 with a scholarship from the Center for World Music in Berkeley, California to further her studies of Javanese traditional dance. Marjie has a master’s degree in English from the University of Washington, and over the years has taught and been an examiner of academic English. She began translating essays for visual artists in 1997 and now keeps busy translating articles for Tempo English, as well as short stories, poetry, and novels for Lontar, Gramedia, and other Indonesian publishers. Marjie lives in Bandung with her husband, ethnomusicologist Endo Suanda.



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