Has project train been set in motion in Kampung Baru?

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IT set me thinking and pondering. And I came up with posers. Join me, please, in further exploring an issue close to my heart. Perhaps you will come up with your own posers. Hopefully, we'll both get some answers.

I'm talking about the redevelopment of Kampung Baru, the Malay enclave in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. Yes, again. The first time was in this column (Issue 925, Aug 27).

So picking up from there, I would like to draw your attention to this. Not too long ago, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced an allocation of RM20 million from 1Malaysia Development Bhd to redevelop and upgrade the historical Kampung Baru mosque. That, he had said, would be the "focal point" for the entire Kampung Baru facelift.

Of course, there are groups of residents who feel the mosque project is "not suitable" to be the "development catalyst". They feel that RM20 million "is too small to kick-start a vast development. Instead they want something "bigger", casting their sights on the neighbouring Petronas twin towers and the Kuala Lumpur City Centre.

Recently, the wrecking ball descended on the Kampung Baru mosque. The back portion has been demolished, meaning the mosque project train has been set in motion. Poser: Could this mean, taking into consideration what the PM had said, that the Kampung Baru facelift is also on its way? Or will it be done soon, despite the ongoing protest of residents?

Another poser: Could it be that the government is pushing ahead with the project, or rather, "bulldozing" its way, despite not having convinced all the residents to accept its development plan? And this despite the "plea" from the Kampung Baru Development Corporation to protesting residents "to give us a chance to come up with our master plan".

Corporation board member Datuk Khay Ibrahim, who is also chairman of the advisory panel, wants residents to take a look at the master plan and "decide whether to accept or reject" it.

He went on to say, "The government has made great efforts in trying to develop our beloved kampung, and it is up to the residents either to support or reject the endeavour."

Perhaps it's not fair to jump to conclusions. Perhaps "bulldoze" is too strong a word to use. Perhaps, for folks supporting the government's plan, the right word should be "determined", as in the government is "determined" to develop the 112-year-old Malay enclave. Perhaps, in the words of Khay, "Kampung Baru needs to be developed either today or tomorrow".

Whether the government is "bulldozing" or is "determined", the protesting folks of Kampung Baru are, well, still protesting. Poser: Will there be an end game?

Back to the mosque. Many fear the grand old mosque will be entirely torn down. Demolition to make way for a brand new mosque? If that is true, it would be sad.

Yes, the mosque needs a new look. In fact, it had undergone several repairs and facelifts. Yet, its character was left untouched. To many, including yours truly, demolishing the mosque in its entirety would be like striking at the soul of the kampung. Tearing it down means tearing down history.

I would say the country has many talented and bright architects who are more than capable of coming up with a design that can incorporate the existing key elements, like the praying hall and the dome, into the new structure.

But will the entire mosque be demolished in the first place? The imams are in the dark. 1MDB is keeping mum. Mosque officials are not saying much but the impression given is that the entire mosque will be torn down and in its place will be a brand new mosque.

The "best" explanation, if it can be called that, was made by a source at the Kampung Baru Development Corporation, who said the mosque "is old and in bad shape, ketuk sini, sana pun pecah". (You knock here, and you'll break it there as well.)

Still, things could have been better managed. Again, communication should have been the order of the day. The model of the new mosque should have been put on display for all to see and to gather feedback from residents.

It's sad that there seems to be a "veil of secrecy" over the new mosque project. Why?

I can only conclude by saying this: when someone is on his deathbed, we would be asked to go visit him, before it is too late.

I think it's time we visited the Kampung Baru mosque. The front portion is still intact, at least for now. Take pictures, or just look from afar, even if it's only for memories.

For Muslims, it would be good to pray there before it's too late. Maybe soon, the grand old mosque may be gone. Forever. Back to poser number one: will the big redevelopment plan for Kampung Baru follow suit? Waullahu alam. That's Arabic for "only God knows".

Mohsin Abdullah is a specialist writer with the soon-to-be-launched fz.com. This story appeared in The Edge on Sept 17, 2012.