Everywhere you turn in Malaysia, there’s a cafe serving plates of English or American Breakfast, slices of delectable cakes, and barista-made coffee. The latter is increasingly easier to find since the popularity of third-wave coffee has really picked up in Malaysia in the past few years.
For context, the phrase “third-wave coffee” refers to the current trend of coffee shops elevating the beverage beyond just being a drink. Methodical Coffee sums it up by stating that this movement looks into levelling up its preparation and presentation.
But instead of just being another establishment offering third-wave coffee, Mukha Cafe in TTDI wants to set itself apart through its programmes.
And no, I’m not talking about providing karaoke services or loyalty rewards. Mukha Cafe is a coffee house that doubles as an actual community centre.
A gathering spot with a purpose
It may seem pretty duh to say that, as people could argue that any place bringing people together is technically a community centre.
However, Mukha Cafe differs from many other coffee houses in the sense that it actively organises community events and activities. Just like how a traditional kampung’s balai raya (community hall) would.
A quick scroll through the brand’s Instagram page and you’ll find that most of its postings are regarding current or upcoming Islamic community events.
For example, some of its past events include Couple Intimacy: The Prophetic Way, Badar and the Greater Struggle, Re-Centre: Get Together of Dhikr.
In my observations as a practising Muslim, this is quite a novel concept in Malaysia as events with such themes are typically hosted in religious centres like mosques. So it was quite refreshing to come across a cafe doing this.
Upon speaking to its founders, Sayid Abdul Rahman (better known to his peers as Aman) and his wife Liyana Ferdaus, I found out that these events are commonly done in collaboration with other organisations like Peace Meal and Kahwin Care. Peace Meal and Kahwin Care are both co-founded by Aman as well.
A change of heart
However, being a community centre was not always the idea for Mukha Cafe. In fact, Aman and Liyana started the cafe in 2011 with the sole intention of making monetary profits.
“When we started, it wasn’t Islamic at all, apart from Muslims running it,” Aman shared. The couple saw the potential of a third-wave coffee boom and decided to ride it. He explained that they were one of the first cafes in TTDI to do so at the time.
But as they personally grew as individuals, so did the purpose they had set out for the business.
When asked if they were inspired by the Islamic community centres overseas (such as the Morden Islamic Community Centre in London), the founders refuted, “It’s more of a need rather than inspiration.”
“A need is when we realise the issues or scarcity within and surrounding the community, and we would like to address that,” they explained.
Looking at the topics that they cover and the themes of their events, they don’t seem to be quite common in Malaysia. I’ve personally never come across any local community centres that are more Islamic-centric discussing the five levels of intimacy and hosting a Christmas feast.
So in a way, I understand where Aman and Liyana are coming from.
“Somewhat like a social enterprise”
More than just a coffee house, they describe Mukha cafe as “somewhat like a social enterprise”, where the profits gained go back to their community efforts.
This includes its other non-religious-based programmes and activities, such as entrepreneurship talks for women, arts and crafts workshops, and even a film club for the movie buffs. All of which fulfil the brand’s aim to promote spiritual, cultural, and intellectual initiatives.
For context, Aman explained that spiritual programmes include Islamic classes and talks. Whereas cultural events refer to history discourses, as well as film, arts, and music sessions. Intellectual programmes would primarily focus on theology, etiquette, and the like.
The process of planning these events starts with curating the ideas and themes. It’s usually done based on the need or the speciality of the guest speakers that are in town.
In regards to steering clear of taboo topics during the events, Aman shared that there’s a vetting process in place. Sometimes, they have also given restrictions to certain speakers that the founders feel may cross the line.
But generally, he stated, “Our speakers, teachers, and conductors are professionals that we know will suit the community.”
It’s really not just for Muslims only
All that said, Mukha Cafe is still an F&B outlet that welcomes people of all races and religious backgrounds. While many of the events hosted there are Islamic-centric, Aman emphasised that they prefer it to just be known as a community centre, since they do cater events for non-Muslims too.
Regular cafe-goers can also visit the place to try its Arabic-inspired dishes. Its best-seller is Mukha Cafe’s smoked lamb that’s served as a shawarma (RM28). Other items on the menu include Lamb Kofta Smash Burger (RM29), and Mukha’s Tabouleh Salad (RM20).
For beverages, customers can expect to see its daily brew of Qahwa Pot (Yemeni coffee), Niko Neko’s tea, as well as fresh fruit juices and soft drinks.
Apart from its F&B aspect, though, Mukha Cafe also retails products that are sourced from local community members. So you can find items like oud perfumes, tote bags, and tasbih (prayer beads) up for purchase.
Speaking candidly, Aman stated that the cafe’s goal is to acquire or own their own building instead of renting.
In order to do that, they’re focusing on maintaining profitability through the cafe’s offerings and catering efforts, which would also allow them to focus better on serving the community.
Featured Image Credit: Mukha Cafe