By: Suresh Nair
SINGAH stands for “lion” in Malay and Indian terminology and Maidin Singah stood mighty as a “king of the heartlanders” during his lifetime and his endearing sporting memories will never be forgotten by those who were blessed to have met him.
RIP Maidin Singah.
Never have I felt so downhearted, especially on on Valentine’s Day when I heard the news of the death of a refereeing “guru” I admired so very much. He took his last breath at about 9.20am, Tuesday, at Changi Hospital after a bout of serious multiple illness.
Every February 14, people across the world exchange candy, flowers and gifts with their loved ones. It is considered to the best day to express your love and care for your special one or even express your feelings to the one you love.
I had the absolute reverse tear-jerking experience. I just cannot get over it.
Maidin Singah’s passing was a personal tragedy as the 74-year-old was a long-standing family friend, referee virtuoso and sporting gentleman. In the eyes of countless contemporaries, he was an extraordinary military-trained cavalier, with hardly anyone having a negative word about him.
Wow, he was a handsome Bollywood-looking Warrant Officer with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) when I knew him first in the early 1980s when he was a FIFA football referee. He had that clean-cut “first impression” image, smart and smooth, admirable and aristocratic, engaging and enchanting.
He always set the highest standards, like a disciplinary military man, but with a sincere caring heart for the grassroots. No nonsense in whatever he did but very conscious to treat anyone and everyone, with due dignity and respect.
He went on to be the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) Referees Committee secretary and nurtured umpteen younger referees, including me. And much as I had an ultra-hectic Tuesday schedule, I made it a poignant point to pay my last respects first, at the funeral prayers at the Masjid Darul Ghufran at Tampines Avenue 5, before the body was laid to rest at the Choa Chu Kang Muslim Cemetery.
What nostalgic final moments with the looming dark evening clouds as the final rites were done by the Imam (priest). There were symbolic droplets of rain that followed, like a God-send farewell gift, as condolences to the family, relatives and friends of the deceased followed.
I learnt like a blessing that this was an important act of kindness, which was displayed by the Prophet (s.a.w). When consoling a Muslim, it is important to remind the bereaved of the triviality of this life and that everything belongs to Allah, and that one should submit patiently to the decrees of Allah.
It is also beneficent to make him hopeful of Allah’s mercy toward the beloved one that he lost, and that by the will of Allah he will be united with the deceased on a day after which there is no parting.
Going through the last rites, I realised the profound personal, social and spiritual significance of such a dignified Muslim event. In Islam, death is treated with great respect and dignity. A deceased Muslim is due utmost respect and his body is handled according to the Sunnah (action) of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him.
The body is given a ritual bath, and wrapped in two white sheets before being put in a coffin. Once it is prepared, the funeral service is held. The Imam leads the funeral prayer, with the mourners standing in rows behind him. After this, the body is buried in a graveyard. Cremation is not permitted in Islam.
What better words to say to the desolated then those taught by Allah’s final Messenger (s.a.w): “Innaa lillaahi maa akhathaa wa lillaahi maa A’taa, wa kullu shay-in ‘indahoo li ajalin musammaa.” This means: “To Allah belongs what He took, and to Him belongs what He gave. Everything is recorded with Him for an appointed term.”
I learnt too, from my Muslim buddies that offering condolences is not limited to three days, and could be extended for as long as there is a need for it. A very common practice is gathering to offer condolences to the deceased’s family and relatives in the graveyard, house or mosque.
Maidin’s eldest son, Shamsul, Asia’s Director of Refereeing, rushed over, jet-lagged from an assignment in Portugal, just three hours before the afternoon final prayers. Attired in a strikingly smart blue “baju”, I could see from his tear-jerked eyes that the death of his beloved role-model father was the most severe stressor imaginable.
Yes, bereavement brings a high risk of mental and physical health problems for a long time afterward. And grieving is a completely natural process, but it can be profoundly painful and distressing.
To a certain extent, I realised, too, that it is impossible to be prepared for the loss of a loved one. It is a time of overwhelming emotions. Despite these feelings, however, it may be possible to plan ahead for this difficult time, particularly to ease any practical issues surrounding the eventual death.
News of Maidin’s Valentine’s Day death shocked the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa was one of the first to express his condolences.
“Asian football has lost a remarkable servant of football. Maidin will always be remembered for his passion and commitment to elevate the standards of refereeing in the continent,” he said in a sympathy note to the Singah family. “His contributions, along with those of his peers, have helped transform Asian refereeing into the world-class standards we see today. On behalf of the Asian football family, I would like to convey our deepest sympathies.”
Two AFC heavyweights also grieved over his death. “We lost a true defender of the refereeing family. I will always remember him as a true professional and a very good man,” consoled AFC general secretary Datuk Windsor Paul John.
AFC consultant Dato’ Alex Soosay sent me this SMS from Kuala Lumpur: “We lost an Asian sporting warrior. Maidin Singah truly cared for referees and holding the whistle, he set the highest officiating standards. What a genuine role-model for Asia and Singapore.”
Former FAS Referees Committee Chairman, lawyer Jeffrey Beh said he was “devastated to hear of the death”. He added: “I just arrived from Australia. Maidin was my committee secretary when I was first appointed chairman. He guided me without reservation when I was a total novice. I would not have been able to do the job without him. He was like a solid rock behind me.”
Retired SAF Major Gerry De Souza, now in Port Kennedy, Western Australia, wrote over Facebook: “It was a privilege serving with you in the SAF, Maidin. You’re a class act in many ways. You may be gone but not forgotten. My deepest sympathies to the family.”
Former international defender “Rocky” Lim Tien Jit described him as “the most admired referee”. He added: “During my 1970s and 80s, among the national players, we looked up to Maidin Singah, a stalwart as a SAF non-commissioned officer and a referee gentleman, who knew how to garner instant respect from the national players. He was definitely the national players’ most admired referee. A true friend, too.”
Maidin became a FIFA Referee in 1981 and one of his biggest moments was officiating the high-profile 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico Final Round qualifiers match between South Korea and Japan in 1985.
Following an outstanding nine-year international career on the pitch, he continued to impart his knowledge and experience off the pitch, serving as an AFC Referees Instructor and Secretary to the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) Referees Committee.
The biggest personal refereeing thrill was when his eldest son, Shamsul Maidin, took up the whistle and went on to global fame at the 2006 World Cup Finals in Germany – 32 years after George Suppiah did it, as the first Asian referee, at the 1974 Finals in the-then West Germany.
Maidin was even more proud as Shamsul went a dignified step higher in January 2016 – by being the first Singaporean to be Director of Refereeing at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in Kuala Lumpur, where he now overseas referee development in over 45 countries.
Shamsul, 50, who retired as a referee in 2007 after twice winning the AFC ‘Referee of the Year’ award, enjoyed an illustrious career which saw him officiate the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup and 2006 FIFA World Cup. Other highlights include the 1996, 2000 and 2004 AFC Asian Cups, as well as the 2001 and 2003 FIFA World Youth Championship. He was the only non-African referee to officiate at the 2006 African Cup of Nations.
What I personally admired about the Maidin-Shamsul father-son relationship was absolutely no sign of nepotism and Maidin professionally ensured there were no inherent conflicts of interests as Shamsul, slowly but surely, rose up the refereeing ladder.
I will go on record to say that Shamsul is a genuine clone of his late father: Dignified, disciplined, determined, demonstrative in every sporting value and with a big heart, always caring for the future generation of referees.
As I left Choa Chu Kang Muslim Cemetary, I learnt, too, that death is an integral part of life and death is as real as life. Nothing is so certain as the fact that for all of us there will come a time when our life on this earth will end and our minds will no longer function.
Let’s come to amicable terms that life of a human being is limited on this earth and everyone has to leave this world to join the hereafter.
I will really miss you, Maidin.
May your good soul forever rest in peace, departing rather enduringly, on Valentine’s Day (sob!).
Let me poignantly end with: Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un (Arabic: إِنَّا للهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ) which is part of a verse from the Qur’an, which translates: “We surely belong to Allah and to Him we shall return.”
- Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist with refereeing expertise with the AFC and FAS. He has known the Singah family for over three decades.