(function() { (function(){function b(g){this.t={};this.tick=function(h,m,f){var n=void 0!=f?f:(new Date).getTime();this.t[h]=[n,m];if(void 0==f)try{window.console.timeStamp("CSI/"+h)}catch(q){}};this.getStartTickTime=function(){return this.t.start[0]};this.tick("start",null,g)}var a;if(window.performance)var e=(a=window.performance.timing)&&a.responseStart;var p=0=c&&(window.jstiming.srt=e-c)}if(a){var d=window.jstiming.load; 0=c&&(d.tick("_wtsrt",void 0,c),d.tick("wtsrt_","_wtsrt",e),d.tick("tbsd_","wtsrt_"))}try{a=null,window.chrome&&window.chrome.csi&&(a=Math.floor(window.chrome.csi().pageT),d&&0=b&&window.jstiming.load.tick("aft")};var k=!1;function l(){k||(k=!0,window.jstiming.load.tick("firstScrollTime"))}window.addEventListener?window.addEventListener("scroll",l,!1):window.attachEvent("onscroll",l); })();

M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Monday, January 02, 2023

Cast From The Herd: Excerpt # 60: Unresolved Conflicts With My Faith

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 60:  Unresolved Conflicts With My Faith

I had many issues with my religion during my youth. Once we had a Chinese Muslim man staying on our property. He was a tenant rubber tapper for my grandfather. His wife was a Malay from Palembang, Sumatra. That city hosted one of the earliest and biggest Chinese colonies in Southeast Asia. Many who came to Palembang were already Muslims. Thus our man was not a convert as was then typical in Malaysia. Many Chinese in Malaysia became Muslims especially during the war to gain the benevolence of the villagers. No surprise then that they were derisively called mualaf (convert). 

One day during a kenduri at our house the discussion drifted to religion, a usual development. Someone asked this Chinese-Muslim his views on something. As expected those were at variance with the local belief. When he finished, one of the Hajis present dismissed those views as that of a mualaf and thus should be ignored. He then went ahead and tried to enlighten the man and everyone else present at the kenduri

The Chinese-Muslim’s face became flushed and he banged his fist on the floor, yelling that his ancestors became Muslims while Malays were still in the jungle eating wild pigs. He had never been insulted about his faith before, he added. With that, he stomped out. 

That reference to pigs was particularly harsh. Everyone was shocked. My father too was livid at the insulting Haji. Of course kampung style, my father kept it to himself and only revealed it to us later, after all the guests had left. 

The next day, despite repeated pleas and many apologies from my parents and grandparents, the couple left. They were not persuaded. The snub was too painful. 

I too was angry at the Haji. I thought with his visible piety symbolized by his prominent Hajj title and huge turban accentuated by his overflowing white robes, he would have been more tactful and forgiving, certainly not be rude especially to guests. I wondered what he had learned in Mecca. 

Thus my father saw my disciplinary problems at that religious school as reflecting my inner turmoil. He had entertained taking me out of that school much earlier but being in the village, he feared the severe social repercussions. Now with the princess episode, his dilemma was resolved. To every crisis, an opportunity! 

That brewing internal conflict notwithstanding, and contrary to my parents’ worst fears, I never doubted my faith. I saw how it had sustained them and my grandparents during those trying times of the war. I had seen my father being angry in the afternoon, and then after his magrib prayers and in time for dinner, he would be his calm self again. I too felt this calmness after I prayed. 

Instead I blamed my religious teachers who I felt were ill-informed, and my own failure to  better understand my faith. Taking me out of religious school solved the first problem. As for the second, I reasoned that when I know enough Arabic I could learn more about Islam on my own and then would benefit more from this great faith. 

As it turned out, I was only half right. My Arabic did not improve but thanks to my living in the West, I have access to the vast and expanding literature in English on Islam. I recall my joy and relief on reading Abdullah Naim’s Toward An Islamic Reformation. Many of the doubts I had harbored earlier were shared by many leading scholars of Islam, ancient and modern. That reassured me. 

While I never doubted my faith, I did harbor some reservations, at least on the variant of Islam heaped upon me by my village religious teachers. Unable to resolve them, I kept those doubts to myself, except when I could not. 

Once, my non-Muslim teacher at school quoted a verse from the Qur’an that purportedly said that Muslims should not befriend non-believers. He asked me whether I agreed with that. When I replied no, he was shocked. “You don’t believe the Qur’an then?” he chided me. 

Later in the day I was called to be in another one of his classes. Amidst the cold disbelieving stares of his students, he again quoted the same verse and directed his earlier question to me. When I again replied in the negative; the class was aghast. “You see,” he crowed, “there is a Muslim who doesn’t believe in the Qur’an.” 

“I didn’t say that I did not believe the Qur’an,” I shot back to cover my embarrassment, “I just don’t believe your interpretation.” 

Since neither he nor I knew Arabic, we were at a Mexican standoff. Realizing his predicament, he quickly excused me. I was not sure who was more embarrassed. 

That is still my retort today to someone who tries to embarrass me by selectively quoting verses of the Qur’an to justify his or her particular prejudices about Islam. If I were to be in a particularly sour mood, I would add, “Can you enlighten me on the context of that verse?” That tends to shut them up! 

Today when those who are Arabic-illiterate expound on the Qur’an, I would pay as much attention to them as I would an English-illiterate trying to explain the subtleties of Shakespeare’s plots or characters. 

Next: Excerpt #61:  The Islam My Parents Taught Me


Post a Comment

<< Home