Posts Tagged ‘ religion ’

I’m just pretending

At a party last weekend, I was telling someone I just met about how I want to go to Iran. Air Asia used to fly to Tehran but they don’t anymore. Ana told me that I could go to Iran with her and Aitak and Sepi but actually she was just playing a trick on me.

My new friend told me that she had recently discussed going to Afghanistan with some of her friends. At least one of them told her she should just pretend to be Hazara and then she’ll be fine. I thought that was weird, because I thought it was the Hazaras that are getting fucked up over there, but she wants to go to Hazara parts, so pretending to be Hazara might make more sense in that case. In telling me this, she made sure to tell me that she would never pretend to be someone/something else. And she repeated it again to make sure that I understood.

The next day I went to a Malay wedding. While my friends and I were seated, a person with a microphone started to say something that I assumed was some sort of prayer. I assumed this because people throughout the hall stopped what they were doing and held their hands in front of them as Muslims do when they do some prayer thing that probably has a name but I don’t know what it is. It’s what Sonny Bill Williams did before this year’s Grand Final began.

I just sat there, being the awkward kafir. Until my friend sitting next to me got my attention and brought that attention of mine to her hands. She then gave me a look that I’m pretty sure said: “See my hands? Just follow what I do.” So I did.

I was a Muslim, doing the proper Muslim things during the Muslim prayer. But I’m not a Muslim. I was pretending. I sat there, not paying attention to the prayer but to the memory of the conversation I had the night before. I thought about pretending. Pretending allows me a chance to blend in, to be invisible, to be normal. It is a strategy for deflecting unwanted attention, for deflecting the negative gaze of the dominant group. It is a strategy for enhancing my sense of belonging by diverting attention away from my status as the Other.

While studying at the Academy of Islamic Studies (API) at the University of Malaya (UM), I often wished I knew more about the Islamic habitus so that I could blend in there. I wished I had taken the time earlier to study the basics and show up on the first day to give the best Muslim performance that I could. But it was too late for that.

Greetings were the worst. Despite the opinion of some Muslims I’ve met, the dominant view at API seemed to be that saying assalamualaikum and responding with walaikumsalam was for Muslims only. So whenever lecturers and tutors would greet the class with assalamualaikum, or fellow students would greet me in that way, I would always just smile and lower my head. They got the message: “Sorry, but I’m a kafir.”

My exclusion from this simple everyday ritual was made clear to me after class one day when one of my class mates apologised to me for having previously greeted me with “assalamualaikum” (prior to finding out that I am not a Muslim). As nice as it was for him to go out of his way to apologise, it only reinforced my status as the Other in this context. I was not to have peace wished upon me now was I to wish it upon others. A simple “hello” was enough.

Every time I walked through the doors of the API building I wished that I could have gone back to the first day and started again as a “Muslim”.

Puasa & Quran Diary: Day Zero.

Yes, I know I’m a week late. I know Ramadan already started last Monday. Tomorrow I will fast, or puasa, or whatever word you like to use to describe it. Well, sort of, maybe. I will fast in the sense that I won’t eat any food or drink any drinks. I won’t smoke, but I might passive smoke. But I reserve my right as a kafir to break any other hukum Shariah I wish and cancel my fast at any time (or ikut Sabah).

I keep saying I’m going to read the Quran. To myself and to friends and to people who I might not know well enough to consider friends but I’ve told them I will read the Quran anyway. I learnt a bit about this Quran book in ISEU3310 Islamic Historiography and IXEH1101 Introduction to Shariah and I’m always complaining about some hukum and other Islamic concepts, I should probably actually give it a read. So I figured why not do it in Ramadan? Since that’s the month it was first revealed and therefore it’s meant to have more significance.

But why fast? Well, I’m going to give the Quran a better chance of getting to me, a bit of a helping hand, just because that’s the kind of person I am. We need food for nourishment and they say that during fasting, since you aren’t getting nourishment from food, that’s when the Quran steps in and fills the role of nourisher. Going by that logic, its meant to be more productive to studying it. I don’t know, it seems a bit counter-intuitive to me, when I’m hungry I usually find it a lot harder to concentrate on study. I’ll give it a try though but, as I said, I reserve my right as a kafir to cancel my fast at any time if hunger is becoming counterproductive to the reading.

So, I’ll be reading a pdf of the Quran (Saheeh International Translation) from and in case I’m not near my computer I’ll be reading The Koran translated by M.H. Shakir and published by Goodword Books. The version includes M. Mawdudi’s surah introductions as well as a lot of footnote annotations. If I need more annotations, I’ll be checking out two tafsir (commentaries of Quran). The first is Mawdudi’s Tafhim al-Quran, the same publication that the surah introductions are taken from. And since, all this studying of Quran is meant to be nourishing and I’ve been brought up to believe in the whole ‘balanced diet’ thing I’ll also be checking out The Skeptic’s Annotated Quran.

For those who wish to read along, I found that the Quran is often separated into 30 parts to be read over the 30 days of Ramadan. Since I’m started seven days late, maybe I’ll need to double up on a few, or maybe I’ll just go into overtime. Maybe I’ll just give up after a few days, but I’ll try not to do that.

This is a list of the 30 sections (or juz):

  • Juz’ 1- Al Fatiha (The Opening) 1 – Al Baqarah (The Cow) 141
  • Juz’ 2 – Al Baqarah (The Cow) 142 – Al Baqarah (The Cow) 252
  • Juz’ 3 – Al Baqarah (The Cow) 253 – Al Imran (Family of Imran) 92
  • Juz’ 4 – Al Imran (Family of Imran) 93 – An Nisaa (The Women) 23
  • Juz’ 5 – An Nisaa (The Women) 24 – An Nisaa (The Women) 147
  • Juz’ 6 – An Nisaa (The Women) 148 – Al Ma’idah (The Table) 81
  • Juz’ 7 – Al Ma’idah (The Table) 82 – Al An’am (The Grazing Livestock) 110
  • Juz’ 8 – Al An’am (The Grazing Livestock) 111 – Al A’raf (The Elevations) 87
  • Juz’ 9 – Al A’raf (The Elevations) 88 – Al Anfal (The Spoils of War) 40
  • Juz’ 10 – Al Anfal (The Spoils of War) 41 – At Tauba (Repentance) 92
  • Juz’ 11 – At Tauba (Repentance) 93 – Hud (Hud) 5
  • Juz’ 12 – Hud (Hud) 6 – Yusuf (Joseph) 52
  • Juz’ 13 – Yusuf (Joseph) 53 – Ibrahim (Abraham) 52
  • Juz’ 14 – Al Hijr (The Valley of Stone) 1 – An Nahl (The Bee) 128
  • Juz’ 15 – Al Isra (The Night Journey) 1 – Al Kahf (The Cave) 74
  • Juz’ 16 – Al Kahf (The Cave) 75 – Ta Ha (Ta Ha) 135
  • Juz’ 17 – Al Anbiyaa (The Prophets) 1 – Al Hajj (The Pilgrimage) 78
  • Juz’ 18 – Al Muminum (The Believers) 1 – Al Furqan (The Criterion) 20
  • Juz’ 19 – Al Furqan (The Criterion) 21 – An Naml (The Ants) 55
  • Juz’ 20 – An Naml (The Ants) 56 – Al Ankabut (The Spider) 45
  • Juz’ 21 – Al Ankabut (The Spider) 46 – Al Azhab (The Confederates) 30
  • Juz’ 22 – Al Azhab (The Confederates) 31 – Ya Sin (Ya Sin) 27
  • Juz’ 23 – Ya Sin 28 (Ya Sin) – Az Zumar (The Groups) 31
  • Juz’ 24 – Az Zumar (The Groups) 32 – Fussilat (Presented in Detail) 46
  • Juz’ 25 – Fussilat (Presented in Detail) 47 – Al Jathiya (Kneeling) 37
  • Juz’ 26 – Al Ahqaf (The Sand Dunes) 1 – Az Zariyat (The Scattering Winds) 30
  • Juz’ 27 – Az Zariyat (The Scattering Winds) 31 – Al Hadid (Iron) 29
  • Juz’ 28 – Al Mujadila (The Contention) 1 – At Tahrim (Prohibition) 12
  • Juz’ 29 – Al Mulk (Dominion) 1 – Al Mursalat (Those Sent Forth) 50
  • Juz’ 30 – An Nabaa (The News) 1 – An Nas (Mankind) 6

Ok, let’s read Quran together! I will probably post things most days. Please feel free to argue with me (yes, I’m aware that they say you can’t “argue” during Ramadan), explain things to me and share extra readings with me. And invite me to buka puasa (waktu KL or waktu Sabah, I don’t mind either).

“For non-Muslims only”

When I started last semester at University of Malaya I met a Korean girl. Actually, I met many Koreans but this Korean girl was the only Korean to invite me to a Korean culture night at a nearby church or church hall in Taman Jaya. So I guess there would probably have been some sort of blessing or speech or something Christ-related alongside the Korean food, K-pop, dancing and Taekwondo. She gave me a flyer for the event which had all the usual event flyer information. At the bottom of the page, however, it said the event was for non-Muslims only. I’m not sure the exact wording but that was the message. “Wow, these people are a bit up front with their prejudices,” I thought.

Seven months later, I’m tidying my desk and come across an advertisement a friend had cut out of May 28 2011’s edition of The Star. It was an advertisement by the Australasian Bible Society, in response to the Harold Camping’s predictions for the end of the world, claiming to “have Correspondence Notes that will clarify what the Bible actually says” regarding the return of “Lord Jesus”. At the bottom of the advertisement were the words “For non-Muslims only”. There it was again! But this time I reacted a little differently. There must be a reason for these Christian groups putting these words on their advertisements, I thought. And I guess I’ve learnt a few things about Malaysia since January.

In Malaysia, although it is legal (and in cases such as certain inter-racial marriages, required) for a non-Muslim to convert/revert to Islam, it is more or less illegal for a Muslim to convert to another religion or renounce belief in God altogether. It is also illegal for members of other faiths to proselytise to Muslims. So I came up with these two hypotheses:

  • The words “For non-Muslims only” are a tactic used by non-Muslim faith groups taken by their own initiative to guard themselves against any accusation of attempting to convert Muslims.
  • The word “For non-Muslims only” are actually a requirement imposed on non-Muslim faith groups. To remind the non-Muslims the boundaries of their proselytising and to remind Muslims not to even consider leaving the path of Islam and deter Muslims from engaging in the ideas of other faiths.

So with my hypotheses I headed straight to the nearest centres of research – Google and Wikipedia. Here’s what I found.

The Wikipedia page for Freedom of Religion in Malaysia, under the Proselytising sub-heading, states that proselytisation of Muslims by non-Muslims is not necessarily prohibited by federal law, it is prohibited in 10 out of 13 states – all states except Penang, Sabah, Sarawak and the Federal Territories. ‘Most Christian and a few other religious groups in Malaysia put a standard disclaimer on literature and advertisements stating “For non-Muslims only”.’

It would seem that not only Christian events are “For non-Muslims only”.  Back in 2009, the Black Eyed Peas had a concert that was deemed for non-Muslims only by the Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture. See: The Malaysian Insider (Aug 27).

Earlier this year there was a big isssue (and maybe it still is) in which the Malaysian Government had confiscated a shipment of Malay translations of the Christian Bible printed in Indonesia and said they will be released on the condition they be stamped with “For Christians only” (in line with a 1982 Gazette under the Internal Security Act) and a serial number. On March 17, MalaysiaKini posted a collection of interesting quotes in response to the issue. Geronimo makes a really good point: “If the Bible is so offensive to you, why not remove the ‘Injil’ from the Holy Quran?” The Injil being the parts of the Quran that make reference to the Gospels. Maybe I’m missing something but considering Christianity and Islam are part of the same lineage and Jesus/Isa is considered a major prophet in Islam, wouldn’t it also make sense for Muslims to at least have some knowledge of the Gospels as they are printed in the Christian New Testament?

Back to the Australasian Bible Society, they are offering their “Correspondence Notes” free of charge – all you’d have to do is email or post them a letter. I’m wondering, what would they do if they received an email from a Muslim (or just someone with a “Muslim” name) asking for these free “Correspondence Notes”?

My First Visit to a Surau

This morning I went into a surau for the first time.

This morning I got kicked out of a surau for the first time.

After going to a post-rock gig in Bukit Bintang and missing the last train home my friends and I wandered the streets of Bukit Bintang and Changkat. I found out where all the tourists and inert masses come to get drunk just like they would on George St. I also got to sit in the gutter and eat durian.

At about 6am or thereabouts it was time for fajr. We found a surau for my friend inside the some super fancy hotel on Jalan Bukit Bintang. Usually when she goes to solat she tells me to wait in the men’s surau. I’m not sure why but I’d never actually gone with this suggestion and usually just go for a walk or sit outside. This time, however, I went in.

I took off my shoes as I entered and looked around. So this is what a surau looks like! I had an excitement that any Muslim or Islam-apostate would probably consider absurd. I looked at the bathroom first. It was just an ordinary bathroom. I opened all the cupboards and draws. I inspected the rack in the corner. It was like one of those racks in libraries where they hang newspapers attached to big wooden sticks that make reading the paper really awkward. But instead of newspapers it had prayer mats. And the prayer mats weren’t attached to big wooden sticks, just resting on top of them. There was an arrow on the roof. Mecca was in the same direction as the window looking out of the street. If you wanted to, you could probably pray and check out the sex workers out on the street at the same time.

I was looking at a calendar and prayer timetable sponsored by an Islamic bank that was stuck to the back of the door. A man wearing a fluorescent yellow vest on top of his clothes had walked in. His vest said ‘SECURITY’ on the back of it. Had someone alerted him that a kafir was hanging out in the surau and he was coming to investigate?

He hadn’t noticed me yet. I was behind the door reading the bank-sponsored prayer timetable as he entered. I quickly put my shoes on to make my exit. But as I did this, he turned in surprise and saw me.

Oh, sorry.

Its ok. Dah. Dah solat. I sudah solat.

Dah solat?

Ya. Its ok. Dah, dah, dah.

Wait, you Islam?



Um.. I tak beragama.

Oh, tak ada agama. You buat apa?

Tunggu kawan.

Kawan kat mana?

Kat situ.

I point to the door of the surau perempuan.

Kawan kau perempuan?


Kawan kau orang Islam.


Boleh ke?

I don’t even understand what he’s trying to ask me with that question. I just be quiet and watch him open the door of the surau perempuan. Without knocking. Without even saying, “Sister, you covering your aurat? Brother Security wants to ask some questions about your kafir friend.”

My friend explains to him that I’m just waiting for her to solat. I assume that’s what she’s saying, I can’t really hear her from outside the surau. The security man turns to me.

Tak boleh tunggu sini! Tunggu bawah!

I say nothing. I turn around and walk back to the elevator and take it to the ground floor. I sit on a chair in the lobby for about two seconds. Fuck this place, I’m going outside.

I find a place in gutter out the front of the hotel to sit. I watch the sex workers hang out, talking with each other, talking to men in cars, talking to men walking by. I think about qadar. I wonder if Allah had willed for me to get kicked out of the surau. I wonder if Allah has willed for me to be an atheist.

If that’s the case, alhamdulillah?!