Your words feel like rain
Between tiny showers and heavy downpours
Same element recycled over and over again
Bring your umbrellas out to play
Shield yourself from all the criticisms and hate
I see the flipside of disdain
God protects me like a cloak
Rain as blessing, not shame
Cleanse the Earth
from pollutants we create
I see God’s view
I accept pain with grace
As adults, we see things in black and white. We tend to be set with the way of thinking we have grown up with. When a Malay boy is asked to spot a difference between him and his Chinese best friend, he may not even mention the colour of his skin. He will talk beyond physical characteristics, to mention what he knows about his best friend, perhaps something like “Sam does not like sports as much as me”. If adults were asked the same question, it is not unlikely that we would explicitly or implicitly make comments related to faith and skin.
Children are painted into the human beings we shape them to be. Just as the Prophet was to his people, the way we model our children is a reflection of our behaviour. When we tell our children not to mix with someone from a different race, our children will learn to create boundaries that they never planned on having. Mother used to tell me that I shouldn’t share my bottle with anyone, especially the Chinese, because I would be drinking with saliva that has babi (pig) on it. Mother would not let me lend my baju raya (malay traditional clothes) for racial harmony day because Mother didn’t want non-Muslim sweat in her dirty laundry.
When the line is drawn between Muslims and non- Muslims, it stifles and strains the relationship. Muslims become exclusive to those who “believe,” and inevitably exclude those who do not.
When I was young, I was taught that I was forbidden to be or mix around with gay people. Yet it did not stop me from feeling sad for my close friend who had confided and came out to me, when the news of her sexuality spread like wildfire. Even though she was a Muslim, her usual friends ostracized her and my Mother told me to stay away from her. I didn’t. If everyone excludes the one who’s different, who’s going to stay and listen to understand?
I have always thought — how does it feel like to be on the other side of the fence? It took me a taxi ride with a Chinese uncle in his 60s to give me a new perspective. We were having a conversation on the weather when he jumped straight into a recount of an incident he had.
“Malay cannot touch my hand? Yesterday a Malay auntie scolded me when I accidentally touched her hand to return her taxi change. Also, I am very scared to enter Malay house. Cause I eat non-halal food.”
I paused for a moment to think and spent the next fifteen minutes explaining to the uncle on why the auntie may have gotten angry. Perhaps she had taken her ablutions (I explained what ablution means) and she would have to retake it if she touched his hand. Even though many people associate being a Malay as being a Muslim, how we handle ourselves still remains important. Sometimes what we do changes or affirms what people think of our religion.
Dividing people as Muslims and non-Muslims can be problematic if it causes us to treat others differently. How can we show others what a beautiful religion Islam is if we alienate them? Change has to happen to build a harmonious society. The Prophet and his companions were able to build a harmonious society without treating those of a different faith as a separate part of the community.
At the end of the day, everyone is on the same path, with the same beginning of birth and the same end of death. We all know when and where our life began. We are aware of how the present presents itself. But the future remains unknown till time catches us. It remains unknown to us, but known to the One who has the right to judge, unlike humans. Until then, we’ll seek to understand those who are struggling to understand the religion we try to preach. You’ll never know if the person you looked down on yesterday for sinning could be among the first thousand to enter the gates of Paradise we all want to enter.
But alas, I don’t know anyone who isn’t struggling with their faith.
Wan Siti Zulaikha currently works as a freelance trainer with a vision to empower confident and resilient youths. She enjoys writing, and sees words as a powerful tool in sparking conversations on social and community issues people may be shy to speak about – all with the intention that readers would see and understand the human race from a vantage point of love and mercy.
Illustration by Wan Xiang Lee