Sunday, December 30
I’m really amused. There they are, the Christians, the DAP politicians, and the ‘human rights’ activists all hopping mad about this issue an putting the blame on the government-led politicians, while the rest of us go about our daily lives peacefully. Even the PAS politicians haven’t issued a formal statement about this issue.
And what’s the issue? Christians claim that they have the right to use ‘Allah taala’ in their Malay-language Bible, and in other publications for East Malaysian Christians. They also claim that ‘Allah’ is a Arabic terminology for God in the Arab nations, so all Arabs, whether they’re Muslims, Christians or Jews, call their gods ‘Allah’. And yes, some Malaysians agree with this view; that it’s all right for Christians to use this term ‘Allah’ in their sermon, and in their missionary work among Malaysians. I disagree. The Arabic word for God is NOT Allah; it is 'Ilah'. Even the writing is different between 'Ilah' and 'Allah'. But then I suppose Malaysian Christian don't read Arabic.
La ilaha illallah means There is no god but Allah.
Funny really. All my life till recently, I had always believed that Christians, Buddhists and Hindus in Malaysia steer away from using the term “Allah” as a reference to God. Ask any Chinese ‘AhPek’ or Indian ‘Ayahmah’ on the street who “Allah” is and they’d tell you it’s the Malay’s god. Non-Muslims won’t even stop by nor touch anything which has the Arabic writing of ‘Allah’ or ‘Muhammad’ at the stores. If a beer-drinking pork-eating non-Muslim Malaysian man suddenly cries out, "Ya Allah! Masya-Allah! Allah Akbar..!!” his friends will be so horrified they’d probably think he’s possessed by the devil. They won’t calmly sit beside him and say, “Oh, he’s talking about the God of us all, our Creator.”
I went to Christians services in many churches in West Malaysia – Methodists, Baptists, AOG, Catholics – and I had never heard the word “Allah” mentioned by the pastor or priest. 'Alamak' doesn't count, ok. So why do Catholics now insist on the terminology which has been used by Muslim Malays in Malaysia for centuries to refer to the God in Islam? Oh sure, Arab Christians use that term before Islam arrives in our land but heck, we are not in Saudi Arabia. All Arabs use this term to refer to God because it's their only language. We’re in Malaysia and the documented Malay translation for God is Tuhan, not Allah. That's why we have our Rukunegara as 'Kepercayaan kepada Tuhan.' to refer to all gods. Well, if some people seems to demand for the use of 'Allah' to refer to everybody's gods, then perhaps we should change our Rukunegara into 'Kepercayaan kepada Allah' to keep everybody happy. :P
Why can’t Catholic Christians use the term ‘Tuhan’ in their Malay Bible, etc to refer to their Christian god? I've checked but I can't find the exact Iban word for God. However, I'm very sure that the Iban word for god is not Allah taala. It is just so that ever since the missionaries converted the Ibans (who had believed in animism) to Christianity, the term Allah taala has been used. They can get their message of God across by other terms such as God or Tuhan; why insist on using the term 'Allah' which Malaysians know is sacredly used by Muslims in this country to refer to God in Islam? Isn't that trying to be mischievous and stirring up confusion among the public?
And that makes me wonder why the double standard; in West Malaysia, they use God in English sermons, but in East Malaysia where the majority are Malay speakers, they have chosen to use Allah taala instead to refer to the same god. Christian speakers dare not use the term 'Allah taala' before non-Iban congregation in West Malaysia because they know that Mandarin-speaking, Hindu-speaking and English-speaking Christians generally associate that word 'Allah' with Islam. Hah, the double standards. They can't even agree on which term to call their own God, so why so hell-bent on using 'Allah' for the Malay-speaking Christians?
So why must Christians now insist on using ‘Allah’ for the Herald Malay section when they know very clearly that it is the name used by Muslims in this region for centuries before the first arrival of the Portuguese Christians in the 14th century? Some say they’re fighting for human rights? Yeah, go ahead and bark. If they are sincere, they’d change the term from ‘Allah’ into ‘Tuhan’ to get their massage and propaganda across. They don’t have to import Bibles from Indonesia with the term 'Allah'; Christians are mostly literate in Bahasa Malaysia, they can publish their own Bahasa Malaysia Bibles. Unless of course, there is something else in their mind besides giving Bibles to Catholic Ibans.
As far as I know, Christians have no specific name for God. Some Christians think that it is Yahweh but then they are not sure themselves. Ask any Christian, or better still, a Roman Catholic, what the name of his or her god is, and I doubt he or she will say, “Allah”. The word to refer to God in Malaysian churches differs based on the languages of the Christian worshippers. A Chinese-based church may have a different terminology for God compared to an Indian-based church. I bet a Chinese pastor will not tell his Mandarin-speaking congregation to "pray to Allah, father of our Yesoh(Jesus)' else he might find the church empty the following week.
But go ask any true Muslims the same question. We, Muslims are told that our God has 99 names, and the greatest name is Allah. It is written in the al-Quran itself. So all Muslims, throughout the world use “Allah” to refer to the God in Islam, the God of Prophet Muhammad and all prophets before him. Even in translated versions of al-Quran, in Chinese, English etc, the name “Allah” is intact and not translated. That is the essence of Islam, for there is never a dispute about what the name of the Muslim God is.
I don’t agree with those people who claim that we all pray to one god, therefore we have rights to call our gods in any way we want. Perhaps they can do that to their own gods but not the god I worship. My God “Allah s.w.t” is not the same as the god Christians pray to. Allah s.w.t that I bow to does not have a human son. Allah who created me does not allow drinking of liquor and eating of pork. That is why I support the ban on the Malay section of the Herald for their use of “Allah” in their publications.
Until the day all churches in West and East Malaysia use the term “Allah’ to refer to Christian god, I think that Christians have no base to claim the use of ‘Allah’ in their publications, here in Malaysia. Also the Christians in America and British would most probably freak out if they are told that they have to call their God ‘Allah’ for haven’t they associated all things Islam to terrorism? And today, after all the bombings at Arab nations, the persecutions and mistreatments of Muslims in the West, some ‘enlightened’ Christian priests actually suggest the use of “Allah’ for God in the Western churches in order to bring Christians and Muslims together. How ironic.
Some Muslim Malays even say that since we are all Allah’s creatures, just allow the Christians to use it. We should be proud that Malaysian Christians want to use the word in pblications,Bible and churches. Why all the fuss over one word? True enough, we are all Allah’s creations. However, if they are using His holy name for unIslamic purposes, should we as Muslims just stand by and allow that to happen?
updated 31.12.2007 (from http://www.malaysia-today.net/2008/content/view/508/37/)
MALAYSIA authorities are to allow a Catholic paper to continue to print, after earlier threatening to revoke its licence in a row over the word 'Allah', a church leader said on Sunday.
Augustine Julian, secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, told AFP a new licence had been granted to the weekly, which would continue to use the term.
'The letter to allow The Herald to be printed was hand delivered by internal security officials Sunday,' he said.
'They have allowed us to publish the weekly as usual. All four sections - in English, Malay, Tamil and Chinese - will be published. I suppose if they give us the printing permit we can continue to use the word Allah,' he added.
Mr Julian said no reasons were given for the extension but suggested the government would not want to alienate Malaysia's two million Christians ahead of general elections.
well folks, that's Malaysian politics :P
Friday, December 28
“Alhamdulillah I feel good. Sure, there are many differences,” I’d reply.
Actually that’s a stupid question to ask. It’s like asking somebody how they’d feel upon reaching a destination after a long journey. If I were to say something negative, then the person would probably think that there’s something wrong with me, not something wrong with the Islamic administration in Malaysia
Other famous questions from born Muslims:
“What made you interested in Islam?”
“What made you want to convert to Islam?”
Previously I found myself repeating the same answers, like a broken radio, but now, thanks to this blog, I can say,” Read my blog entry.” ^ - ^
Now, what do I like being a Muslim?
1. Being able to perform the solat. For me, it’s a 5-time meeting and conversation with God. Good for my total well-being. Catch me during my solat holidays and you might see a restless soul.
2. Performing the wuduk or ablutions. Only Muslims do that, as far as I know.
3. Doing the istinjak or cleansing. Only Islam has clear guidelines about that. I’ve never been cleaner.
4. Listening to the takbir of eid and enjoying it. It always makes me feel closer to Allah.
5. Reading the al-Quran in Arabic although I confess I'm still not good at it. This Chinese tongue has problems pronouncing certain words properly, huhuhu. But it's a challenge I enjoy. Keeps the brain cells active.
6. Being able to cover my aurat properly. Now I’m being judged for my abilities and not for my beauty.
7. Being a member of a large family of Muslim brotherhood and sisterhood. It gives me comfort and strength to know that each time I rukuk before Allah swt during solat, millions of brothers and sisters are doing the same action.
8. And most importantly of course, is to know that I can die in peace now that I have recited my Syahadah and am living as a practising Muslim. Alhamdulillah.
Thursday, December 27
"Assalamualaikum," I answered, wondering why in the world Cikgu Ita called in the middle of the day.
"Eh, did you know what happened?" she asked.
"What happened?" I had a bad feeling in my stomach.
"Cikgu Rodziah passed away just now."
Inna lillah wal inna illahirajiun
It's so hard to believe. Everybody was shocked when the news of her death started to spread. She was a kind and friendly lady, a great teacher and a good friend. As we came to terms with her death, we were glad that she had spent her last days at her hometown in Sarawak, among her own family members. She had fainted due to a blood clot in her brain, slipped into a coma and passed away the next day.
How does one deal with the sudden death of a friend?
I just don't have an answer.
I just know that as Muslim friends, we are to pray for deliverance of her soul and recite the al-fatihah for her.
Allah s.w.t. knows better than us.
Cikgu Rodziah was the second shocking passing of a good friend that I've had this year.
Both had died of sudden death due natural causes. The only positive thing I can sayis that they had not suffered endless pain.
Now I dread getting phone calls, for there is always a tiny chance of getting bad news.
Life is so short, so fragile and so unique.
Appreciate your loved ones, your family, and your friends today.
They could smile,laugh and talk to you now but tomorrow is a 50-50 chance for that to happen again.
Monday, December 24
The pictures that I saw on the screen were obscene, ugly and humiliating. I should had been wiser. I shouldn't had opened the file but the title of the email was intruiging. huhuhu.
Chain emails. Some are funny, some educating but there are also a few that are plain trash. And I hate receiving the trash emails. They stink, are ugly and useless. Yet, they kept coming. Worse, they were sent by Muslim Malays, people who had somehow got my email address.
Pictures of VIPs' (very important persons) daughters in VIP (very indecent photos) positions. Pictures of so-called Muslims doing bad things. Pictures of so-called Muslims doing unholy things. Stories and gossips of so-and-so doing this-and-that. Urghh!! Made me want to vomit :(
I suppose some people get high adrenaline rush (better than viagra) by sending all those stuff to others. They may think that they were doing everybody a favour by informing the receivers about the going-ons. They may believe that it is good to forward such news to their friends, as a reminder not to be like the sinners. Heaven forbid, they may even say that they are better than the people in the photographs.
"Tengok la, teruknyer (See the things they do, so horrible)"
"Tskk, tskk, ya la... unbelievable!"
"See that girl? Ayoh... lucky not my daughter/sister."
"Ya la...eeee, dashyat! (terrible)"
"What you expect? Malaysia Boleh!"
And if the forward should reach the non-Muslims?
"Kah kah kah... so this is Islam eh?"
"Ayoyo... luckily not my race."
I'm amazed at the trouble these people actually went through to obtain such pictures. I doubt the 'sinners' realized that they were being photographed. To send such photographs without permission of the 'models' is a crime. I wonder why Malays are the only people in Malaysia doing such stuff, publishing such stuff. It's bad enough they have stories about Malay Muslims in compromising positions in magazines and tabloids. Strange though, I haven't received any such trash emails informing me about the wrongdoings of a Buddhist, a Christian or a Hindus. Are the non-Muslims simply don't care about what their neighbours are doing or the 'email senders' are the ones with a caring and holier-than-thou attitude? Or is the former group too busy with their work to send such stuff while the latter group has plenty of free time at the PC?
'Let not one group scoff at another group,...nor defame noe another, nor insult one another by nicknames...(Al Hujurat:10)
I used to merely delete the emails but not anymore. Just deleting will not solve the problem. The disease will continue. Now I stem it at its root by replying to the sender, reminding him or her about the endless sins he or she is actually committing by a mere click of the mouse. That usually cure my eyesore because I will no longer receive such trash from the sender. Hahaha..
My mother smiled. She knows that my brother gets along better with middle-aged ladies than he does with young ladies. Amazingly, he and Auntie Lina had taken an instant liking for each other, despite their great differences in age and temperament.
Auntie Lina* is a Japanese and a Muslim. At a young age, she ran away from Japan to be her Malay boyfriend, converted to Islam and married him. Unfortunately he was a playboy. After years of marriage and a huge amount of debts using her credit card, he divorced her for another woman. Auntie Lina was left with two young children and debts which she eventually paid off. Despite hardships, Auntie Lina remained in Malaysia to bring up her teenage daughter and infant son. Unlike some who deserted Islam after divorce from their Muslim husbands, Auntie Lina remained with Islam. With her ability to speak Japanese and Malay fluently, she found a stable job at a Japanese company. She is an easy-going and friendly woman.
My mother almost had a heart attack the day Auntie Lina appeared in a tudung.
“Cantik tak? Do I look pretty?” Auntie Lina asked her, showing off her new headscarf.
“You look like an old woman,” replied my tudung-hater mother, knowing very well that Auntie Lina is beauty conscious.
Yet, despite my mother’s negative comments, Auntie Lina continues to wear her tudung. She doesn’t seem to mind what people think of her, and doesn’t seem to bear grudges. She has assimilated herself well into the Malay culture, speaking Malay fluently. Only her fair skin differentiates her from a normal Malay lady.
Allah s.w.t. blesses her with two good children. Her daughter married and she gained a filial son-in-law.
“I’ve never seen such a good son-in-law. He’s better than her own ex-husband,” my mother was full of praises for the young man.
“Every morning, that son-in-law will pass he house, drive the little boy (Auntie Lina’s son) to his primary school and Auntie Lina to work. Then at 5.15pm, he’s at the gate waiting to fetch her home.”
Well, I had met the whole family before when they visited my mother during the Chinese New Year before I became a Muslim. Auntie Lina was her usual bubbly self while the handsome son-in-law was calm and quiet during the one hour visit. Her children were good-looking and talkative.
I don’t know if my mother had contacted Auntie Lina after I became a Muslim but if she did, I’m sure Auntie Lina would say, “Don’t worry-la… be happy.”
Saturday, December 22
At the college library. There were only a few people there.
I was sitting at an empty table when suddenly two Malay guys in their early 20's approached me. Strangers. I didn’t know who they were. One wore a skull cap.
They spoke Malay but I shall translate into English.
“Excuse me, may we sit here?”
“Err, sure,” I continued my work. They took their seats opposite me.
“Can we ask you a question?”
“Why do you wear baju kurung?”
“Because it’s comfortable. I like it.”
“What is your religion?”
“I’m a Christian.” (In 1992, I was)
“And who do you pray to?”
“Why do you pray?”
"How do you pray?"
“What’s your concept of God?”
“Where is your God?”
"Where do you go when you die?"
“How do you go to heaven?”
I mean, hey… I didn’t know those two guys nor their names but there they were, bombarding me with questions. If I had been wiser, I wouldn’t let them sit at the table. My mistake. I knew that they were Malays. Muslims. Perhaps Islam extremists. And I also knew that they were intruding. They were not interested in my religion; they wanted to find fault. While they were asking me about mine, they were not telling me much about theirs. It was a one-way communication and I didn’t enjoy it. My answers didn't seem to satisfy them. They won't leave me alone.
Finally I got up.
“I have to go,” I said.
They stopped talking then and I left the library in a hurry.
“I was approached by two Malay weirdoes. Thank goodness I got rid of them,” I complained to my friend.
I kept looking over my shoulders for the next couple of days, afraid that the two guys would come after me again. They never did.
Was it because of my dressing in baju kurung that I had become their target?
Or was it because they had caught me reading to my friend the Utusan Melayu, published in jawi (Malay script in Arabic form) - which I had mastered in school and is still good at - that they became interested in me?
Was that their way of dakwah to non-Muslims?
I have no answer but I do know that they scared me.
Fast forward to 2006.
At the university.
At a seminar on how to do dakwah in a multiracial society.
The speaker was explaining to the audience.
“Never show your contempt about other people’s religions. You are here to learn about Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity, not to find fault with the religions.”
“Never tell them that their gods are useless and should be thrown aay. It’d just make them angry.”
“Approach them gently and they will be more willing to listen to you.”
“To get people interested in Islam takes time. Don’t give up but don’t be too persistent either.”
“Make use of the opportunity you have to explain about Islam to your friends and strangers. The knowledge you have about other religions and their mistakes will help you to do dakwah to the non-Muslims. But a softer and friendlier approach is always better than a confrontation.”
Even back then I was considered the odd one, preferring to do live life by my own principles, not somebody else's. And the most obvious thing I did then was to use the baju kurung ( a loose two-piece garment worn by Malay women) as a daily attire. I was the first and only Chinese 'amoi' in a baju kurung at my college at the time when baju kurung was solely worn by Malays in educational institution.
And how did people react? They stared. The Malays loved to see me in one. "Manis or sweet, they'd say. The Chinese kept quiet, but a week later, I had a conversation with another Chinese friend, Lily.
"You should stop wearing the baju kurung," she said.
"If you continue to wear it, then all of us will be forced to wear too."
"That's crazy," I stared at her in disbelief. "Who put that idea into your head?"
"Well, the baju kurung is not a Chinese costume anyway, so why are you wearing it?" she demanded.
"Look, I wear it because it's comfortable and I like it. Besides you're wrong. Blouses and skirts are not Chinese costumes too, but why are you wearing them? You should be wearing samfoo and cheongsam everyday," I replied.
"Well, I still think you should skip the baju kurung."
"Well, who are you tell me what to wear and not to wear? My own mother says ok."
That's right. My mother was the person who hired a tailor to sew my first two pairs of baju kurung. The college where I studied had a early morning exercise in the form of 'taichi' every morning before classes, and everybody had to perform the slow motions in formal clothing. Some Indian ladies even did their taichi exercises clad in their sarees. Call me old-fashioned, but I did not want my 'hills, valley and other assets' to be peeped at as I bent down during the exercises. Therefore I chose to wear baju kurung, to safeguard my modesty. I didn't wear it to get attention but obviously, I did. I met with opposition from my own race. However, I stuck to my principles and the furore died down. By 1992, there were more than a handful of Chinese 'amoi' and Indian 'meenachi' who go about in baju kurung in the college. And nobody forced them to wear those clothes; each has her own reason for donning one. My friend's and her friends' fears were unfounded.
Fast forward to 2005.
"You think they cover up, they so good ahh?" commented a friend about tudung-clad and purdah-clad women.
"Ya la, in front of us they cover up but behind they still do all sorts of naughty things, hehehe," supported another friend.
"Oh? But surely some of the tudung ones are good."
"Sure got some good one mahh. But you cannot judge a woman just by her clothing laa".
"Yeah, behind the purdah they wear sexy clothes. Like the Arab women, kah kah kah.."
"Ehh you are right, man. The more they cover up, the more the men are curious to know what they are hiding."
"Sure la. That's why there are so many rape cases. Curiosity harms the women." "And when they cannot get the covered ones, they get the others lohhh. Women like us."
"Choy! Get you la, not me."
Fast forward to 2007
"Eh-leh, those who wear tudung not all good la. Better not to wear a tudung than to wear one and do maksiat."
"Some of those who wear tudung are worse than those who don't wear one."
"That's why you don't wear a tudung la?"
"Oooo, no lahh. My husband himself has never forced me to wear, so who are they to tell me?"
"I pray 5 times aday, I have a good heart, good enough la. Allah knows what's in my heart."
"Wait till I'm old la.. still got time to taubat"
"Belum sampai seru (haven't got the urge to wear)"
To wear or not to wear?
To cover or not to cover?
To listen to others or to follow your heart?
To make excuse for yourself and others?
I leave to your own interpretation, my dear friends and readers. :)
Wednesday, December 19
It was 4pm and only one-tenth of the student population were left The rest were already on their way home or were relaxing with their family members at home. The reason? To celebrate Aidiladha. And I kept wondering, why the balik kampung fuss? Why do students have to skip lectures, queued long lines and beat the heavy traffic jams just to spend the weekend with their families? Is it really necessary? And they complained when the tickets were sold out and they couldn’t go home.
Aidiladha or as the Malays call it, Hari Raya Haji is the Muslim festival to commemorate the act of sacrifice of prophet Ismail by his own father, prophet Ibrahim. It’s a day that marked the greatest sacrifice a human could perform before his God, to slaughter his own flesh and blood, his first-born son whom Allah s.w.t gave him in his old age. Ask any Muslim and they can tell you the story. Therefore in conjunction to the hajj season, Muslims who do not perform hajj would sacrifice cattle in their own countries.
“Ewww, but it’s so gross!” comment a Christian friend.
“Why do they have to slaughter the cows? So cruel, pity the cows that shake and kick as blood ooze out from the necks, yucky!!”
“Right, why kill the animals in open air? Imagine the dust and the bacteria.”
“See Christian way better mahh, no need do sacrifice, Jesus already died for us all.”
Those were the comments I’ve heard when I was a non-Muslim when the word ‘korban’ was mentioned. As I didn’t want those commentators to know my interest in Islam then, I had kept quiet. Interestingly, nobody bothered to say the same things to me now that I am “one of them”; otherwise I would have a lot to say in reply.
Sometimes I wonder how many people, born Muslims actually know the meaning behind the sacrifice or ‘korban’. I also wonder as I’m writing, how many of those people who are rushing home know why they are rushing home for. To be with their family members? To help in the slaughter of the cattle? To cook the beef ? Or to merely enjoy the food and wear another set of new clothes? What is the essence of ‘korban’?
Being a busybody, I asked my friend, a born Muslim, if she was going to fast on Arafah Day, the day before Aidiladha.
“What’s that?” she asked me back in surprise. “I thought we cannot fast before Hari Raya Haji.
Masya Allah, I spent half an hour explaining to her about benefits of puasa on Arafah Day, although I can’t perform mine this year. I wasn’t surprised actually by her ignorance because I know that many Muslims seldom perform the sunat fasting. “The heart is willing but the will is weak,” explained another friend for his lack of optional sunat fasting.
Anyway, I’m happy to report that the friend concerned, after listening to my explanation, fasted for the first time on Arafah Day.
What is ‘korban’ actually?
To me, it’s not just the slaughtering of the cow, the camel or the goat.
The sharing of three parts of the cow for three different groups of people is also a form of giving thanks to Allah s.w.t. Besides, slaughtering an animal as big as a cow or a camel itself needs more than a man to do the job. Hence, it also strengthens the siratulrahim or brotherhood among Muslims.
‘It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah, but it is piety from you that reaches Him ( al-Haj: 36)’
“Korban” is the time we actually reflect upon the blessings that Allah s.w.t has bestowed upon us, and how willing we are to sacrifice all the things we love for His sake.
Just like prophet Ibrahim, how willing are we to give up our beloved family members for the sake of Islam?
Just like Hajar, prophet Ibrahim’s wife and prophet Ismail’s mother, how many of us are willing to obey our husband’s righteous command and bow to the will of Allah s.w.t, believing that nothing but goodness will come of it?
Still, how many of us are willing to give up our food to feed another family who is in greater need?
How strong are we to withstand life’s tests patiently and without complaints?
How wide a smile can we give if we have to give up our seat for an old lady in a crowded bus or the LRT?
Just as I’m writing this, there are 14,000 Muslim brothers and sisters who are facing hardships due to heavy floods in some parts of Malaysia. Many have lost their homes and belongings due to the flood. Roads to many towns are still being cut off due to the floods. Do spare a thought for these people who are having their patience and faith tested.
Well, ‘korban is not just killing animals on the day of Aidiladha. It has a deeper meaning but as I watched the youngsters hurrying home for the festival, crammed like a pack of sardines in the local bus, I pray that they were not going home just for the sake of eating home cooked meals. I know that for some Muslims, the religious meanings behind the festivals are slowing being replaced by commercialism. Most look forward to new clothes to wear, and fresh cookies to eat, but not many took the trouble to fast, and zikir for the first ten days of Zulhijjah.
Aidiladha, the festival of sacrifice, is a special time for Muslims. As we sit at our comfortable homes, also remember our brothers and sisters, family members and friends who are performing their hajj in the Holy Land. May Allah s.w.t. guide and bless them, amiin. And may Allah extends His invitation to us to be His guests during the hajj season in the near future so that we too, can experience the true meaning of sacrifice in the land of our prophets , insyaAllah.
Salam Aidi-adha everyone :)
(PHOTO: korban By bdkleovirgo on Flickr)
Sunday, December 16
Should I go or should I just stay in my room and read a book?
The main problem was that I had nobody to go along with me. Friends preferred to relax in their rooms at night than to spend two hours listening to a foreigner talk about Islam. Also, attending the talk meant having to walk for twenty minutes after sunset, alone to reach the venue. Was it going to worth the trouble?
My heart said "go" but my mind said "stay". I called up my mentor for a second opinion. “Go if your heart’s in it. You can always leave if you’re uncomfortable,” was the advice given.
So I entered the hall 20 minutes early, found a good seat and prepared to listen with a blank mind. Two hours later, I left the packed hall totally inspired. The long walk back under the street lamps was in fact enjoyable on that fateful night.
Who is Yvonne Ridley?
Well, she was a British journalist who smuggled herself into Afghanistan in order to do the cover-up in the Afghan war, by concealing herself behind a traditional burqa. The day she was about to leave the country by riding on a donkey, it seemed to identify her as an infidel and went berserk, running wildly into the market with Yvonne on its back. She landed right in front of a passing Taliban soldier, and her camera dropped at his feet. The soldier shouted and soon Yvonne was surrounded by fierce-looking men.
“Oh no! They’re going to stone me to death!” she thought and decided to defend herself.
“Look, I have no weapons,” Yvonne lifted her clothing.
And did the men stone her?
No, they all turned 180 degrees and ran away!!! ( An observation of the aurat for the men, you see).
Anyway she was arrested on 28 September 2001 and held captive for 10 days. The Taliban treated her well although she was a difficult captive. They brought her food and begged her to eat when she went on hunger strike, calling her their ‘sister’. She was to tell the world that she had never seen such brave, noble and religious men as the Taliban soldiers. Then she made a promise to the imam who visited her (Here’s how she described him, “He didn’t walk into my cell, he sort of floated in, and he had this special glow in his face.”) that if they released her, she’d read the Quran and study about Islam. Much to her own surprise and everyone else's, she was released unconditionally. Yvonne went back home and started to read the Quran. Initially she was hoping to find out why Islam is so hard on women but what she found instead was truth and high respects for women. She was surprised to find that the first convert was a woman, the first edition of the Qur’an was put in the care of a woman, and that Islam was preserved and handed down by sisters.
Later, Yvonne Ridley carried a copy of the syahadah with her everywhere she went before she finally reverted to Islam in 2003, two and a half years after her capture. Now she’s travelling worldwide giving talks about Islam and anti-wars. She has written two books, one of them,'In the Hands of the Taliban’ (I'm still searching for it) narrates her experiences in Afghanistan.
I had the privilege to listen to her talk. She was a good speaker but more importantly she was not afraid to tell the truth. I had always thought that Taliban were terrorists (thanks to reading too much tabloid papers) but now I know better. You may read more about her views about Islam, the veil and feminism in http://www.readingislam.com/servlet/Satellite?c=Article_C&cid=1165993867260&pagename=Zone-English-Discover_Islam%2FDIELayout
Saturday, December 15
“Oh, so you have masuk Islam, congratulations,” said the friendly Malay lady at the counter.
She found my name in the computer and started to key in the new data.
Luckily for me, I had the foresight to peep at her work.
“Oh no, Kak… I’m not a Malay.”
“Huh?? You’re not a Malay?” she frowned.
“I’m still a Chinese.” I told her, signalling to another older friend for help.
“Yes, she’s a Chinese la… she’s just change her religion to Islam. A Chinese Muslim la, dik…” my friend confirmed.
“Oh sorry…I didn’t know, I thought….” the young clerk blushed.
“It’s ok, please do the corrections,” I smiled at her.
At the university I had another close encounter with a young Malaysian Chinese undergraduate who realised I had changed my religion to Islam.
“Oh, so you’re a Malay now!” she said to me, looking me over from head to toe.
“No, I’m not. I’m still a Chinese.” (here we go again)
“But you are a Muslim…??” she sounded puzzled.
My Buddhist Chinese friend who stood nearby, couldn’t help chipping in.
“Haiyah! She’s just change her religion to Islam. Changing religion doesn’t mean you change your race too. She’s still a Chinese like you and me, just different religion laa, pray to different God”, my friend explained loudly and all eyes at the cafe turned towards us.
My own brother, an intelligent man in his late 20s, thought so too. He called me one day and asked if I were eligible to buy some shares which are reserved for bumiputras in Malaysia. I said I didn’t think I could, because I am still a Chinese. I knew what was in his mind; that upon conversion, I would have automatically become a Malay and could buy those shares. Nope I told him, that's not the reason why I embraced Islam.
Well, I’m still a Chinese, and proud to be one. I know the general public in Malaysia are still ignorant and think that embracing Islam means turning one’s back to one’s own culture, and ethnicity. If a university undergraduate can think that way, what can we expect from a person on the street?
It’s just too bad that the general non-Malay Muslim community in Malaysia is not very proactive changing the public’s misconstrued views. Perhaps ending up marrying a native Malay and living within the Malay community here somehow influences one to look, think and behave like a Malay. The general Muslim Malay community too seem to adhere to this concept. Baju kurung, a loose garment seems to be the accepted attire for Muslim women, so much so that I was expected to don it as a daily wear by some traditionalists. I was even given a kain batik sarong along with the prayer set by the religious authority, and what has a kain sarong to do with one converting to Islam? A tasbih or prayer beads would be a better gift than a kain sarong.
How do I cope more than a year after embracing Islam? Quite good actually. I don’t have a typical Chinese look so I can easily be mistaken as a fair-skinned Malay lady in tudung. I don’t even have a Chinese accent, most common among Chinese-medium school students. The only clue to my ancestry is when I choose to speak in Chinese to my friends and shopkeepers. Initially I would speak in Malay when I shop. Call it unfounded fears but I didn’t want to deal with frowns and dark looks from the non-Muslim Chinese public. Now I longer care. If they don't like me, I can take my money and shop elsewhere. Perhaps time and experience have given me more confidence to deal with the general public, hahahaa.
Well, I still prefer to wear the one-piece jubah than baju kurung, although a jubah is slightly more expensive and comes ready-made. I still ask for a pair of chopsticks (if they are available) when I eat noodles at halal restaurants. Of course, I have to remind myself to always enter food into my mouth using the utensil on right hand, not the left. Also unlike most Malays, I choose to eat with a fork and spoon at public places instead of eating with fingers, because I don’t want my hand to smell of ‘belacan’ or shrimp paste even after washing (I’m actually good at eating with fingers). At home, I try to cook Chinese cuisine whenever I miss Chinese food. And actually, I don’t miss eating pork and all those ‘haram’ stuff because I seldom took them during my ‘kafir days anyway.
Actually being a Muslim doesn’t make me loose my identity as a person. Islam doesn’t dictate that upon converting, one has to adopt the lifestyle of the native Muslims in the area. While I respect the Muslim Malays, I am quite happy to be myself. In fact, I think I have the best of both worlds. I still think and work like a Chinese. Yet I have learnt to adopt the Islamic lifestyle and in doing so, to adapt myself to the Malaysian scenery. Therefore unlike born Muslims here, I am not bound to age-old traditions and school of thoughts that may not truly follow the real Islamic teachings. Ironically, as a mualaf I may even have more freedom to practise the true teachings of the al-Quran and al-Sunnah, compared to my Muslim Malay brothers and sisters. My children, if Allah s.w.t. blesses me with them, will also be known as Muslim Malays although they may have slanted eyes. Nevertheless I hope to educate them to view the world through Islamic perspectives...insyaAllah.
Thursday, December 13
As it was Ramadhan, we were invited to a ‘Berbuka Puasa’ open house function whereby we were to be given zakat. As mualaf, we were eligible to receive zakat donations, the percentage and amount to be given decided by the religious authorities. Talking to the other brothers and sisters (almost 3 busloads of us) made me realise how lucky I was, being just a Muslim for less than a year. Some had been Muslims for three years but that was the first time they were invited to receive it. Of course, it was not the amount of money that we were at the function, we were more excited at the chance to meet other new converts (I haven’t received any letter at all from the religious authorities this year, so I suppose I’ve been forgotten :P). There was a Vietnamese brother, another Caucasian brother, bumiputra Iban brothers as well as Indian Muslims and Chinese Muslims.
Anyway, the function was held at a shelter home for new converts, a building quite far from the nearest town. A public bus passes every few hours. It was quiet and peaceful, and not only were there some sisters staying at the shelter, a few old citizens have made it their home too. I was told that quranic classes were held at night, taught by qualified ustaz and ustazahs. However, as I have no transportation of my own, I have yet to attend those classes. I also met a few Chinese sisters in their late teens and early twenties, who had embraced Islam despite family oppositions. With nowhere else to go, they stayed at the shelter home. However, I was quite disturbed when some think they had to embrace not only Islam but also the Malay lifestyle, the result of staying too long at the shelter, which was run by Muslim Malays. In fact, the formal invitation letter requires all ladies to wear the Malay baju kurung for the function, when just any attire that covers the aurat would do ( I had even planned to rebel by wearing pants and blouse, but on second thoughts I decided to follow the n0rm with due respect to the organisers)
I noticed that there was a blind sister, either in her late teens or early twenties, among us at the hall. She was guided to the seat at the front row by the organizing committee. From her fair looks, I knew that she was a Chinese. She was clad in baju kurung and tudung. Then after the welcoming speech, I was surprised when the ustaz formally invited the blind sister to the podium.
Masya Allah… although she was blind and could not see, her heart was not blind to the words of Allah. That sister recited ayat from the al-Quran for the next ten minutes. I don’t know if she was reading from a brailed quran or she had memorised the surah herself (sorry, I can’t remember which) but her recitation was good and clear, with very little mistake (another sister who could read the quran said so).
I don’t recall that sister’s name but I know that she’s under the guidance and protection of the religious authorities. They were to send her to the Kelantan state where she could further learn and improve her quranic readings. She’s probably there now, learning more about Islam. May Allah bless her.
Tuesday, December 11
The story of a sister who converted to Islam a few years earlier than I did, and the danger she had faced was conveyed to me by more than a person who knew her personally. I don’t have the opportunity to know her myself. Therefore what I’m going to tell here was what had been told to me.
Sister Ann* was a young undergraduate, the daughter of a rich Chinese businessman in Malaysia. She became a Muslim on her own accord, reciting syahadah at the Pusat Islam, the same place where I did mine. When her family found out about her conversion to Islam, they were furious. Perhaps they thought that she was influenced by a ‘bad person’. They might even had thought that she was under a ‘black magic’ spell , as most Chinese families simply refuse to believe that their children wanted to be Muslims because of the truth in Islam. I suppose putting the blame on black magic cast by another person was easier to deal with than having to accept reality.
Anyway, one thing led to another, and sister Ann found out that her own father wanted to force her to go home. Perhaps her family wanted her to be cleansed by their own religious experts and ‘cured of her madness’. I have heard of such rituals, usually performed under the full moon by Taoist monks to cast off the ‘black magic’ cast by an evil eye. However, the tight 24-hour security on campus grounds had prevented her family from forcing her to leave. Therefore her family shifted to plan B. They decided to hire thugs to kidnap her. If those thugs saw her outside the campus ground, they could force her into their vehicle and take her home to her family. As the policy here is to give advice and not to force, sister Ann had the liberty to wear whatever she wanted although she was already a Muslimah. She was not ready to wear the tudung, so she had not looked any different from her non-Muslim days. That made her easy to be recognized by the thugs who had her photographs. Therefore, for her own safety, sister Ann was forced to stay within the campus grounds. She could not walk out of the gate because the men would be waiting.
Alhamdulillah, her plight came to the notice of the university administration and Pusat Islam. As Muslim brothers, they were duty-bound to help her and they did. They met the thugs and warned the thugs to stay away from sister Ann. They protected sister Ann, provided her shelter and treated her as a member of their families. Later, with some assistance from fellow Muslims, sister Ann reconciled with her family. My ustazah said that her family members admitted that sister Ann had become a better person than she was before her conversion. Sister Ann’s own mother became very knowledgeable about Islamic rituals, halal food and fasting although she has not followed her daughter’s footsteps. She herself would remind sister Ann when prayer times approached, even before the azan could be heard. She would prepare halal food for sister Ann. Now I’m glad to say that sister Ann is happily married with her own children.
Monday, December 10
“Because I no longer believe in Christianity.” ( talking sensitive issues on the phone was easier than looking at her face, for which I was thankful)
“Why do you HAVE TO CHOOSE ISLAM? Why not other religion?” she nagged again.
“Why can’t I choose Islam?” I asked her back, knowing better than to mention Allah or Muhammad in any of our conversation, which might cause her to yell even louder into my ear.
“Haiyahhh… You are one stubborn girl ( I admit that, it’s true) Why must you choose THAT religion? And you have to pray five times a day, you know.”
“So..? That’s the problem? I’m praying five times a day, there’s no problem.” (quite true, although I still fumbled over my recitations, but then why should I tell her that?)
“There must be someone… who is he?” she changed the topic.
“There’s no man…Is it necessary for me to have a man in order to be a Muslim? If you want, I can go find one if that’d make you happy,” I replied, knowing very well how she’d react.
“No need, no need… no need marry at all. Malay men are not dependable.”(ouch! Sorry Malay readers, that’s Mum’s stereotyping)
“Mum, Malays are not the only Muslims in the world. There are about 50 thousand Chinese Muslims in Malaysia, and millions in China. What makes you think I’d end up marrying a Malay man? I might end up married to a rich Arab.” ( to Mum, a Muslim is a Malay)
“You don’t be the second or third or fourth wife and bring me shame. I will not tolerate that.”
I just smiled. “Can’t promise you that, Mum. I don’t even know who I’ll marry yet.” (marrying was almost the last thing on my mind then, I was trying to survive on my own)
“You don’t wear tudung ahh. If you wear tudung, you don’t come back, I won’t let you in.”
(sigh) “Why can’t I wear tudung? Anyway the Quran instructs Muslim women to wear tudung.”
“No, why must you cover up? You got nice hair, stupid to cover it up. Malay women themselves don’t wear tudung, so why must you wear?”
“Sorry, but I’m wearing.”
“Then you don’t come back! I will not have you enter the house in a tudung. What will the neighbours say…? (Additional words left unsaid: .. if they find out you are a Muslim now? Where can I hide my face?)
A few days later, another call.
“You sure you want to be a Muslim?”
“ I am a Muslim now.” (huh? What was she trying to imply?)
“ You’ve gone to the office? You know, if you haven’t you can still change your mind.”
“I’ve done everything officially. I’m happy as a Muslim. What’s the problem now?’
“ You know once you become a Muslim, you can’t turn back. You can no longer change your religion.” (Mum’s not stupid, Malaysia syariah laws allows Muslim murtad to be imprisoned)
“ I know. I have no intention to change. I want to die as a Muslim, ok? Are you all right?”
“I’m going to change my will. You’re no going to get anything.” (oohh now I get it)
“It’s ok, your money and jewellery anyway, you can do as you like. I respect your decision.”
“Ok fine. I’m just want to make sure you know.”
That’s my mother. Kampung-bred, lived among Muslim Malays for the first twenty years of her life and knows more about the lifestyle of the Malays than her own mualaf daughter. Problem is, she cannot differentiate between Malays and Islamic teachings. She has watched how Malay women changed from carefree lifestyle of the 60s, their tight-kebaya clad attire and permed hair, to a more subdued lifestyle, loose baju kurung and tudung of all colours and find the changes horrifying, ugly and unreasonable. And when her only daughter decided to be a Muslim herself, she did everything to prevent it, and she almost succeeded, for ten years. Then this disobedient daughter (me!) went ahead embracing Islam as her religion, and Mum got mad with anger and frustration.
I know what her feelings were. Shame, frustration and embarrassment. Shame because the relatives blame her for my conversion into Islam. They scolded her when they couldn’t scold me (not my fault, nobody bothered to ask for my phone number when I was a Buddhist) saying that she had made the ancestors turn over in their graves. Shame because they claim that she has failed as a mother to bring up her children properly. Worse still, her own husband, my often-absent father turned around and shifted all the blame onto her as well, for she had supported me while he had vehemently opposed my divorce.
Frustration because she had not touched an al-Quran all her life and the little knowledge she has about Islam, correct or misguided, is learnt from observation and her friendships with the Muslim Malays. She sees bad examples of Muslims and thinks that is Islam. She doesn’t understand the true Islamic concepts and she can’t see why I find Islam to be so unique. Frustration because she couldn’t barge into my university and stop me, because by the time she found out, I was officially a Muslim.
Embarrassment because the Chinese community still looks down on families whose children reverts to Islam. Muslim Chinese have little or no social standing in the Chinese community in Malaysia. We are considered outsiders, outcasts even because we no longer pray the same way, think the same thoughts, eat the same food, and drink the same drink. That’s why my mother prefers me to be a Christian than a Muslim, because half the Chinese community are indeed Christians. She also doesn’t want me to wear a tudung because it is a sure sign that I am a Muslim, and she doesn’t want to have to deal with neighbours’ gossips, and their demands to know if it is true that her daughter has discarded ancestral worship.
And how is my mother taking it more than a year after my conversion to Islam? Well, she’s slightly mellowed. She has finally accepted that she can't change the fact that I am now a Muslimah but she still nags about the tudung, and refuses to sit in the same car with me. It’s amazing how much controversy a 40’ X 40’ square piece of cloth can do. Of course, if she finds out whom I’m married to, she’d most probably kill me.
So when two of my close friends started to preach to me about Christianity, I was ready to be influenced. It wasn’t difficult to like the thought of being a Christian – I was already studying in a Convent school where nuns still commanded respects, read English books about Christian homes, and all my Chinese friends have chosen our own English names although not everyone was a Christian. We all thought it was fun to have English names. So being a Christian sounded like the most logical step at that time. There were Chinese Buddhists and Chinese Christians. A Chinese Muslim was almost non-existent during those days, at least in my world-view. So I listened as they told me about Jesus, the Saviour, and Trinity, and the uselessness of praying to manmade idols. Of course, not being taught about the Tao and Buddhist beliefs also made me vulnerable to such influences.
Conversion into Christianity was simple. I’m still amazed at how prepared both my friends were in converting me. They were ready; they must have had planned it all along for days with their pastor’s guidance. Anyway, all I had to do was to bow my head and repeat some lines after them, among them to accept Jesus as my Saviour. Of course, I was told that all my sins were forgiven. No need to go to church for confirmation, no need to sign any documents, no need to even note down my name at any church registration. Well, at least I was spared from all that. That’s how simple it was to be a Christian. Of course, I was only fourteen. It had happened to me, it could happen to any naïve child.
Naturally, I was invited to church. The church’s van would fetch me on Saturday mornings for Bible class. My mother knew but she didn’t oppose. Looking back, it was strange how my father seemed to be oblivious to my ‘disobedience’. He was never at home when the van arrived. The following year, I went to another church, and attended the weekly assembly for teens. It was clean fun; we sang songs, talked and shared stories. I even joined them for two excursions, all expenses paid for by the church. My mother signed the permission forms knowing that she couldnt afford take me to those places with her meagre salary, while my father thought I went on school trips.
Even then, I was already bold. I fear nobody but God. Problem was, I didn't know where God was. As I attended different churches and their services, I started to have doubts about Christianity. I wondered why they have so many churches and different ways of praying. Why they still have statues of Mary at Catholic churches. Why some have unmarried priests and confessions, while others have pastors with families. Why Christians from different churches don't agree on a way to pray to the same God. It was a nagging thought that delayed my baptism for years.
How did I live my secret life as a Christian in a family of Buddhists? It was easy, because I didn’t look any different. I ate the same food, wear the same type of clothes, and behave quite in the same way. Only difference was, I just went through the motion when asked to pray to the family altar, without actually praying. Then before I sleep, I’d pray the ‘Christian way’ and read the bible that my friend gave me. And yes, I read the whole bible twice. It was the Good News Bible, in English.
I lived life as a Christian until I attended college. Then my life took a different path. Before I could get myself baptised, I met someone who was to change my life, gave me happiness as well as great pain. Because of him, I ‘sort of’abandoned Christianity at the age of twenty.
Friday, December 7
Being born in a Nyonya family steep on traditions, I had watched how food is cooked in abundance, then arranged before the family altar to serve to the gods and ancestors. I learn that gods are also corrupted; they can be bribed with glutinuous cakes or ‘kuih bakul’. Then we had to stay up late to offer prayers to the moon goddess, even when each of us, my grandmother included, knows that men have landed on the moon’s surface and found no goddess there. Yet we held on to tradition stubbornly, continuing rituals that less and less people believe in but still maintain for the sake of appeasing the elders. It is like an invisible rope that binds us as a family; follow them and you are part of us, leave them and you have shamed your parents and your ancestor, you ungrateful child!
As times change and the younger generation learn more about Science and Technology, many no longer believe in the old ways. The younger ones no longer know nor bother to know the reasons behind the traditions. When we ask why, we usually get the answer, “Haiyah, just do it laa… everyone do it. Why you so busybody ahhh?” So we just keep quiet, going through each ritual because we were asked or forced to by our parents. Chinese New Year come and go every year when brooms are hidden, when hair cannot be washed on the first day, when the ringgit notes in the angpow packets keep changing colours – from blue to green to red. Cheng Beng or visits to the ancestors’ graves every April 4th is another money-spending event. Lots of food, hell money and paper gifts to bribe the dead so that they’d be happy, don’t bother the living relatives, and reward the givers with lottery win. Hungry Ghost Festival on the 15th day of the Chinese seventh month is also full of bribes. More hell money to burn, more food to offer to the lost souls so that they don’t harm the living neighbours.
So how can people accuse the Chinese Taoist for being money-minded and illustrious? They have to work hard to earn a living, to feed their own family as well as feed their dead relatives. Everything needs money. Inflation doesn’t only happens in the real world we live in. For Taoists, everything that occurs in the living world also happens in Taoist hell. Hence, paper gifts for the dead are more expensive each year as inflation grows, and the latest paper folded handphone and laptop would be burned into the bonfire to be sent to the dead souls in hell.
I watched and followed the rituals each year, and got more and more disillusioned. Then at age 14, I was introduced to another religion.
Saya sungguh bertuah kerana Allah memberikan saya pengalaman istimewa sebagai penganut tiga agama lain sebelum memeluk Islam. Oleh itu, saya dapat memahami sentimen serta kepercayaan penganut agama tersebut kerana saya sendiri pernah melaluinya. Syukur alhamdulillah kerana Allah s.w.t. akhirnya membuka hati saya untuk memeluk Islam, jika tidaksudah tentu saya masih sesat seperti para penganut agama yang telah saya tinggalkan.
Saya dilahirkan di sebuah keluarga berfahaman Taoist yang amat menitikberatkan upacara keagamaan. Setiap upacara keagamaan penuh dengan makanan yang dimasak dan dihidangkan di hadapan tokong keluarga, untuk dijamu oleh tuhan-tuhan dan roh ahli keluarga yang telah meninggal. Saya belajar dari kecil bahawa tuhan boleh dirasuah; jamu kuih bakul kepada tuhan dapur supaya mulutnya manis dengan kuih yang melekit sehingga hanya laporan baik yang dapat diberikan kepada tuhan langit yang merupakan ketua segala tuhan. Selain itu, setiap keluarga harus menyembah dewi bulan pada tengah malam, walaupun semua sedia maklum bahwa astronot sudah menjejak kaki di bulan dan mendapati tiada dewi yang tinggal di sana. Bukan semua yang melakukan sembahyang itu benar-benar percaya akan wujudnya tuhan itu tetapi kebiasaan dan mengekalkan adat lebih utama daripada logic akal. Tradisi dan adat terus dikekalkan, seolah-olah seutas tali yang mengikat ahli-ahli keluarga bersama. Dari kecil kami diberi amaran, “Kamu mesti ikut kepercayaan nenek moyang kerana siapa la kamu tanpa mereka yang mendahuluimu? Jangan derhaka kepada orang tua, ikut saja adat tradisi supaya tak menconteng arang ke muka ibu bapa kamu!”
Generasi muda kurang memahami adat tetapi mengikut setiap langkah demi menjaga air muka ibu bapa di hadapan saudara mara dan jiran tetangga. Usahkan bertanya, kami akan ditegur, “ Haiyahh.. buat apa lu mau tau banyak sangat? Ikut saja, mudah-mudahan tuhan berkati kita dan jadikan kita kaya.” Tak ikut tak dapatlah duit belanja, jadi mau tak mau ikut sajalah walaupun kadang-kadang timbul keraguan mengapa adat itu dijalankan. Tahun Baru Cina berlangsung dengan mengharamkan penyapuan lantai dan pembasuhan rambut pada hari pertama, pertukaran warna duit dalam paket angpau untuk anak saudara dari biru ke hijau, ke merah dalam tempoh sepuluh tahun.
Cheng Beng atau hari melawat kubur merupakan hari yang penuh dengan upacara yang memerlukan belanja besar dan berbentuk rasuah. Makanan yang banyak, wang keras neraka, dan hadiah dalam bentuk lipatan kertas diberi kepada roh si mati supaya mereka gembira, memberi berkat dan tidak mengganggu ahli keluarga yang masih hidup. Ada juga ahli keluarga yang memberi rasuah wang neraka dengan meminta nombor ekor dari si mati! Rasuah juga dilakukan pada Upacara Hantu Lapar, satu upacara yang menghidangkan khinzir bakar, makanan dan pembakaran wang neraka untuk menggembirakan hantu-hantu yang berkeliaran supaya hantu-hantu itu tidak mengganggu yang hidup.
Maka tak hairanlah kalau orang China fahaman Tao amat mementingkan wang. Mereka terpaksa bekerja keras mengumpul wang untuk belanja keluarga, juga untuk belanja sanak saudara yang sudah mati. Semua upacara memerlukan wang ringgit. Inflasi bukan saja berlaku di dunia nyata, bahkan neraka mengikut kepercayaan Tao juga mengalaminya. Oleh itu, setiap tahun semkin banyak wang neraka terpaksa ditambahkan ke atas unggun api, semakin mahal dan canggih peralatan elektronik yang dibakar sebagai hadiah untuk si mati, termasuklah handfon terbaru, laptop dan perakam DVD.
Saya semakin hari semakin tidak percaya akan adat kuno yang diamalkan oleh keluarga saya. Kemudian ketika berumur 14 tahun, saya dikenalkan kepada satu agama lain.
Thursday, December 6
Sebelum kupeluk Islam
aku tak kenal apa itu sejadah.
Kufikir ia hanya sehelai pelapik yang digunakan ketika solat.
Hanya sehelai pelapik lembut
untuk memastikan tempat sembahyang itu betul-betul bersih.
Rupa-rupanya sangkaanku meleset sama sekali.
Setelah menggunakannya baru kusedari
Kuhampar menghadap kiblat.
Kudiri di satu hujung mengadap Penciptaku.
Kuletakkan dahiku di atasnya tanda ketaatanku pada Tuhanku
Kududuk di atasnya membaca doa dan surah
Mendekatkan diriku padaNya.
Ia memerhati segala tingkah-laku aku ketika solat.
Ia mengetahui bila aku lalai dan ketika aku lewat.
Ia mendengar segala syukur dan pujian yang kuucapkan kepada Tuhanku.
Ia mendengar segala masalah dan aduanku kepada Tuhanku.
Ia merasai air mataku yang tumpah tanpa henti.
Ia paling mengerti diriku dan rahsiaku yang peribadi.
Ia menjadi saksi kehambaanku kepada Yang Esa.
Ia menjadi peneman setiaku ketika suka dan duka.
harganya tak seberapa,
rupanya tak secantik mana,
tapi jasanya amat tinggi,
tak ternilai rupanya sejadahku ini
hanya syukur terpahat di hati.
Hanya kepunyaan Allah syafaat itu semuanya.
KepunyaanNya kerajaan langit dan bumi.
Dan kepadaNya juga kita akan kembali.
Sejadah or prayer mat. Before I became a Muslim, I thought it is like just a floor mat; only difference is, it sometimes has the picture of a mosque or Kaabah on it. I knew its physical function, which is to ensure that the place is clean for prayer.
But after using a sejadah five times a day, I realise it is more than a mat. It is actually a platform. It acts as a platform that helps me to stay focus during prayers, keeping my mind at ease with the knowledge that the spot where I stood was clean.
My sejadah has been my closest companion during prayers. While I change my sets of telekong and kain frequently, the sejadah is always there for me, always waiting patiently to be taken down from its place in the cupboard.
It feels the pressure of my head as I prostrate during solat. It knows when I am careless and late for my religious duties. It knows when I take my obligatory days-off from solat. It witnesses my fumbling over unfamiliar pronunciation of surah during prayers, and it listens to my deepest hopes, fears and secrets which I communicate to my Maker. It records my doa to Him. It even gets wet from tears that flow down my cheeks each time I cry before my God; seeking an answer, seeking His guidance and asking for His help.
My sejadah is my constant companion during solat. It is a comforting friend, always there to accompany me during my happiest and saddest hours. Its presence is most reassuring during troubled times. It welcomes me back with its soft touch beneath my feet after my week-long absence each month. None other although more beautiful and expensive, can replace my sejadah which has served me faithfully since my first solat to Allah the Almighty. My sejadah may not cost much but it is more valuable than I had ever thought it would be.
Monday, December 3
Hari ini saya akan tulis dalam B.M kerana pada pendapat saya, perkara yang disentuh lebih mudah dinyatakan dalam bahasa ini.
Tape apakah yang saya maksudkan?
Bukan tape pelekat tetapi karenah birokrasi yang saling berkait, berlingkaran, dan mengambil masa lama untuk diurus.
Tape pertama: Mendaftar di Jabatan Agama Islam
Saya pergi ke sana dengan dua orang ustazah yang menjadi saksi pengislaman saya tempoh hari. Mereka juga ingin tahu prosedur yang perlu dilalui oleh seseorang yang hendak memeluk Islam. Ya la, bukan semua orang tahu tentang perkara ini. Kebetulan kami tiba agak lewat, maka proses yang dijalani kurang rumit.
Pertama, mendengar penerangan ringkas tentang konsep Islam. Saya angguk faham, mudah apabila dua orang ustazah memberitahu pegawai bertugas bahawa mereka telah memberi penerangan lengkap kepada saya lebih awal lagi.
Kedua, mengisi Borang Maklumat Diri. Sekali lagi dinasihati agar kekalkan nama keluarga.
Ketiga, diberi Surat Perakuan Masuk Islam Sementara yang mempunyai tarikh luput satu bulan. Surat ini penting, satu-satunya dokumen yang membuktikan keIslaman seseorang.
Keempat, diminta hadir kursus Fardu Ain untuk sebulan. Alamak, susah sebab saya tak ada pelepasan daripada pihak universiti, maklum saja semester baru bermula. Alhamdulillah ustazah-ustazah saya menawarkan diri untuk mengajar. Kelonggaran diberi dengan syarat kembali ke situ untuk ditemuduga dalam tempoh sebulan.
Saya pulang dengan satu beg barang saguhati peralatan ibadah untuk saudara baru iaitu sejadah, pakaian sembahyang, terjemahan al-quran, buku asas fardu ain, serta buku asas mengerjakan sembahyang. Terima kasih.
Tape kedua: Kena lulus temuduga untuk dapat Sijil Masuk Islam
Haiyah!! Kena belajar ekspres pula sebelum diakui orang Islam oleh Jabatan Agama Islam. Dalam tempoh 30 hari pula tu. Banyak pula yang kena tahu. Rasa-rasanya bukan semua orang Islam yang lahir dalam keluarga Islam yang boleh lulus temuduga klau disoal semua perkara berikut. Tak bolehkah beri tempoh lebih lama atau kurangkan topik yang perlu diketahui? Tensen jadinya, tambahan saya juga merupakan mahasiswi sepenuh masa.
Saya petik daripada Enakmen Pentadbiran Hal Ehwal Agama Isla Negeri PPinang:
Kaedah Jagaan Dan Pengajaran Orang Masuk Islam Dan Cara Pendaftarannya
(2) Mana-mana orang yang telah menghadiri mana-mana kelas Fardhu Ain di bawah perenggan 5 (1) (b) hendaklah ditemuduga bagi memastikan tahap kefahaman Islam orang tersebut dan soalan-soalan yang perlu dikemukakan ialah –
(a) pengertian Iman dan Islam menurut bahasa dan istilah syarak;
(b) huraian rukum Iman dan Islam;
(c) pengertian bersuci dalam Islam seperti Istinjak, jenis-jenis air dan jenis najis/cara- cara mandi wajib@ mandi hadas besar;
(d) pengertian wudhu’ dan rukun-rukunnya;
(e) cara-cara melaksanakan sembahyang 5 waktu dan sembahyang Jumaat;
(f) Bacaan-bacaan wajib dalam sembahyang (Tabiratul Ihram, Surah Al-Fatihah, Tahiyat/Tasyahud dan Taslim/Salam)
(g) Pengertian hukum dan pembahagiannya.
Tape ketiga: Dapatkan Sijil Masuk Islam
Alhamdulillah saya lulus. Disuruh oleh ustaz untuk membaca Tahiyat akhir daripada ingatan. Malangnya pegawai yang sepatutnya menandangani Sijil Masuk Islam saya bercuti dan tiada pegawai yang diamanahkan menggantikan tugasnya. Terpaksalah saya jadi orang Islam tak berdokumen pengenalan Islam selama dua minggu . Itu pun syukur kerana saya sudah bertudung. Andai kata ditakdirkan maut dalam keadaan tiada dokumen dan mayat diambil oleh keluarga saya yang bukan Islam, jadi pula kes rebut mayat. (huhuhuuu). Selepas menelefon ke sana ke mari meminta bantuan, barulah sijil yang ditunggu-tunggu sampai ke tangan.
Tape keempat: Surat Akuan
Terpaksa pula mencari Pesuruhjaya Sumpah untuk mengangkat sumpah bahawa saya telah memeluk agama Islam, dan bahawa saya telah menggugurkan penggunaan nama lama untuk dikenali dengan nama Islam saya dalam segala perkara. Wajib ada surat akuan ini barulah permohonan unutk kad pengenalan baru boleh diproses. Khidmat ini tidak disediakan di Pejabat Agama Islam.
Oleh sebab kesibukan studi dan kesuntukan masa untuk mendapatkan Pesuruhjaya Sumpah, akhirnya Sijil Masuk Islam dari negeri lain, Surat Akuan dari negeri lain.
Tape kelima: Borang Permohonan Pindaan Butiran Dalam Kad Pengenalan
Sudah tentu saya mahu membuat kad pengenalan yang mempunyai nama baru saya dan perkataan Islam tertera di bawah gambar foto. Lagipun tak elok gambar lama yang tidak menutup aurat dilihat setiap kali saya mengeluarkan MyKad. Saya sudah mulai letih menerangkan mengapa saya memeluk Islam setiap kali orang membaca nama lama saya dan melihat saya memakai tudung. Masyarakat kita masih belum bersedia menerima wanita bernama Cina yang memakai tudung, melainkan dia rakyat negara China.
Borang ini terhad di Jabatan Agama Islam. Saya minta juga kerana hendak menjimat masa dan tenaga pergi ke Pejabat Pendaftaran Negara, dan diberi borang terakhir dalam simpanan mereka. Borang ini perlu dilengkapkan dan dihantar kepada Bahagian Pendaftaran Negara di Putrajaya. Kalau pergi ke Pejabat Pendaftaran Negara yang terdekat pun, borang yang sama tetap perlu diisi. Dokumen-dokumen lain perlu dikepilkan sekali, iaitu:
- Surat Akuan Berkanun Asal
- Salinan Sijil kelahiran
- Sijil Memeluk Agama Islam
- Wang Pos RM10
Saya diberitahu oleh seorang saudara baru ketika menerima wang sumbangan zakat bahwa MyKad barunya mengambil masa selama 6 bulan untuk siap. Saya tak mahu tunggu begitu lama, jadi pada waktu cuti, saya turun sendiri ke Putrajaya. Alhamdulillah walaupun buat kali pertama sampai ke sana, dengan bantuan kawan saya Ija, saya berjaya menghantar sendiri borang ini dengan dokumen yang diperlukan kepada pegawai bertugas. Permohonan saya diluluskan dalam tempoh sebulan tetapi surat tiba dua bulan kemudian. Tak kisah lah, dua bulan lebih baik daripada enam bulan.
Tape keenam : Menunggu MyKad baru
Kena tunggu dua bulan lagi untuk siap. Sabar sajalah dan senyum simpul setiap kali apek teksi tanya, “eh, lu Cina atau Melayu ahh?” bila nampak pas masuk ke dalam kampus saya yang masih bernamakan nama lama. Nak senang, saya jawab, “Apek, bapa saya Cina.” “Oh, jadi lu masuk Melayu kah?” Nak selamat, senyum tak perlu jawab…
Alhamdulillah sekarang MyKad baru dah dapat, pas baru dah dapat. Lega sungguh kerana urusan seharian yang memerlukan pengenalan diri seperti urusan bank, paspot, dan sebagainya mudah dilakukan menggunakan MyKad baru. Tak banyak soal lagi.
Selepas melalui semua tape ini, barulah saya sedar mengapa masih terdapat saudara baru yang masih belum mengutip Sijil Masuk Islam mereka dari Pejabat Agama Islam. Mengapa ada yang dikatakan murtad, dan ada yang masih belum diketahui pengislamannya oleh ahli keluarga kerana pertukaran dokumen pengenalan diri merupakan pilihan individu itu sendiri. Juga mengapa masih ramai yang tidak menukar kad pengenalan untuk menyatakan secara tulis bahawa mereka sudah beragama Islam, kerana tak tahu prosedur dan tak dibantu. Sebenarnya kalau tak umumkan pertukaran agama, tiada siapa yang tahu atau ambil kisah, sehingga orang berkenaan meninggal dunia di hospital. Tape itu satu proses yang rumit, panjang dan lama. SEMUANYA KENA URUSKAN SENDIRI.
Friday, November 30
However, as Allah wills it, I was bareheaded for less than a week. I had put on a shawl as planned but it kept falling off my head, much to my frustration. A few days later, as I was fastening a brooch to hold my shawl in place in front of the mirror, a strange thought came into my mind.
I thought to myself, why was I wearing a shawl? What was the purpose of covering my head when strands of hair could still be seen above my forehead? Wouldn’t it be better if I had covered my head properly? I would be following Allah’s instructions if I did so. It would please Him, and pleasing my Lord is the ultimate goal of every Muslim. Therefore I decided there and then to cover my head each time I show myself in public. It was a quick and final decision. I surprised even myself by stepping out of my room with only my face and palms exposed. I learnt that by twisting and turning the shawl around my neck, I would be able cover my chest and hair properly. Alhamdulillah.
During that weekend, I bought a few 40 inches square tudung bawal and learnt to put them on. Nobody actually taught me how to wear one. I had watched friends putting them on. I thought to myself, ahhh a piece of cake, no problem la. I was so wrong! My first attempt was an almost failure. After 20 minutes of fumbling with the flimsy piece of material I had to ask for help as my hands had started to ache. The first week of tudung-wearing took about 15 minutes of trial and error each time. I would be late for classes, hurrying into lecture halls with a half-crumbled tudung.
Naturally my decision to be tudung-clad was greeted with showers of questions and sarcastic comments from family and friends.
“Why must you wear a tudung when other Malays women don’t?
Does anyone force you to wear?
Don’t you feel hot?
Do you get headaches?
Why must you look like one of them Malays?
You look years older when you wear a tudung.
So kolot, take it off.
Why must you cover your beautiful hair?”
My friends Muslims and non-Muslims, who had been shocked to discover my conversion to Islam had a tough time adjusting. They couldn’t recognise me. They had to get used to seeing my face without seeing my hair. My experiments of tying the tudung and shawl in several different fashions were not helpful. Some people started to avoid me because they didn’t know how to deal with me. A few Malay ladies who had worn tudung a year before because it was the dresscode for Muslim women at our previous institution, had taken it off when we entered the university freezone. They had decided to be tudung-free with their rebounded hair, so my unexpected decision to wear a tudung a week after being a Muslim, could be a slap in the face for them. Indeed others had begun to compare me with the former group, but I kept my silence. When non-Muslims ask why I chose to wear one, I would state that it is compulsory for Muslim women to cover their heads because Allah swt instructs in the holy Quran, and as to why some Malays are exposing their hair…well, the questioner would have to ask those women themselves.
I faced a problem two weeks after my first tudung. I have sensitive skin that reacts negatively to nickel and silver. After two weeks, the nickel brooches that I fastened below my chin to hold my tudung and shawls in order had caused a skin eruption. It itched like crazy and I got worried. I worried because I wish to wear tudung till my last breath. I didn’t want to take it off just because of sensitivity to nickel. I consulted my ustazah who suggested that I stitch all my tudung instead of fastening with a brooch. Desperate for a solution, I prayed to Allah swt for help. Alhamdulillah, the skin sensitivity vanished. Until today, I can wear tudung with a brooch fastened under my chin without any skin problem. Strangely enough, only the chin is nickel-tolerant. Wear a pasar-malam watch on my wrist, and I would be scratching away at the spot within hours.
The fact that not all Muslim women wear tudung had not helped mualafs like me. I found myself becoming a spokesperson for the tudung, making non-Muslim friends understand why Muslimahs need to wear one. The more I learned about Islam, the more I realised that it is not just the tudung that makes a Muslimah. Wearing the tudung is not just about covering the head, as some Muslim women in Malaysia seem to believe or want to believe. The al-Qur'an has clearly stated that Allah commands all Muslim women to cover their bodies except their face and the palms of their hands. That means even the arms should be covered till the wrist, and the shape of the breast covered with the tudung. The shape of the body should be concealed with loose and thick clothing. To forgo one characteristic means to be imperfectly clothed for a Muslimah, a sin and frowned upon by God.
Western fashion has influenced Muslimahs to have a relaxed attitude about their dressings. To some, beauty comes first before regilious obligation. My outlook has changed tremendously after my conversion to Islam. I notice that Blouses have 3/4 length sleeves and t-shirts seem to have shrunk in sizes. Even the shirts sold in Busana Muslim boutiques are actually transparent because they show the body shape of the wearer. Therefore, my own experience of
shopping for a suitable blouse or T-shirt that adhere to the Muslim dresscode is almost like looking for a needle in the haystack. Wear a baju kurung but the wider sleeves sewn according to the latest fashion actually expose the arm when it is raised. That is the reasons why we see some Muslims women, having laid-back attitude, go about their business in less than complete coverage of their aurat. Who is to be blamed-the women, their guardians or the fashion-designers?
Like the tudung, my decision to fully cover my aurat had been spontaneous. I started to don hand-socks a month after the tudung. I had followed my heart. It had not been easy, wearing hand-socks in Malaysian hot and humid weather. It is especially warm in the afternoons under the blazing sun. I continue to wear them because after wearing the first pair, it is hard to go out bare-armed. I’d feel exposed, naked if I were to leave home incompletely covered. I’d feel guilty if my wrist is exposed. It is true that I look out-of-place among my born Muslim classmates because I’d be the only one with the tudung at chest level and hand-socks covering my arms. But I don’t care and I try my best not to judge them.
They have reasons that only Allah knows. My ankle-socks, which complete the package, were added to my collection a few months later. My friends got used to my ‘fashion statement’ and thought somebody had influenced me. Yes, in a way they were right. Allah put the thought into my head, the realization into my heart, and moved me into action. I had prayed for His guidance and syukur alhamdulillah for everything.
Allah swt took the matter from my hands. My lecturer asked me during the last class, the day after my conversion, why I was covering my head with a shawl. I told the truth; that I was a mualaf. It sent shock-waveS across the hall as classmates and friends found out the meaning of the word ‘mualaf’. Within hourS, I was bombarded with questions, frowned at, and even a few actually scolded me as people recovered from the shocking news of my divorce and conversion to Islam.
“Why of all religion, Islam?
What is so special about Islam anyway?
Why choose Islam? Why not Christianity?
So are you a Malay or a Chinese now?
Who chose your Islamic name for you?
So who is your Malay boyfriend?
Have you told your family? What did they say?
So you have to pray 5 times a day la. Wow, once a day is hard enough for me.
Have you learned to doa?
Gosh, now you have to puasa la.
Won’t you miss eating pork?
Haiyahh too bad, now you cannot join us for makan-makan.
So have you gone for cutting? What’s that word, ohh.. khatan (hehehe).
Are you crazy? Have you gone out of your mind?
What is the real reason for converting to Islam?
You have disgraced yourself and your parents.
People are laughing at you. They said you are having an affair”
I answered as best as I could. I became the eye of the hurricane, remaining calm and collected while all around was confusion and gossips. Somebody actually took the trouble to inform my father and the next thing I knew, my mother called to inform that I was barred from going home. In other words, I’ve been thrown out of my family house. I had foreseen their reaction, so prior to that, I had taken most of my important possessions to the hostel. Being banned from the family home and unable to go back to my own because my ex-husband still resides there made me a hostel dweller for a year, shifting from block to block. However, I supposed I was better-off than most mualafs who had no friends, no job, and no place to stay.
Those were challenging days. My Malay friends tried to help but they didn’t know how because they had never dealt with a mualaf before. They too were afraid of asking too much, afraid of intruding. I myself didn’t know how to ask, and what to ask. Being alone and surviving on my own after my broken marriage had made me tough and independent, but also too proud to ask for help. I was the only mualaf undergraduate who was enlisted at Pusat Islam so I had nobody to share my inner thoughts with. Being born Muslims, they couldn’t understand the problems I was facing as I struggled to take wuduk, perform prayers and practise the Muslim way of life. I tried to remember the long doa makan, etc but often than not, I forgot because they’re just too long and too many to memorise in a short time. So I took shortcuts, remembering to say ‘Bismillah’ and ‘Alhamdulillah’ for the most common actions. I was also busy with my studies so I could not attend special courses for converts at Perkim. If I were absent from Pusat Islam, the staff there would not find me. Their jobs at the building did not require them to teach me to be a good Muslim. So I realised that if I want things done, I’d have to ask. I asked for Iqra lessons and was taught informally by the staff. I asked and was shown how to perform the prayer. I asked to learn to recite simple surahs and was taught al-Ikhlas and an-Nas. I learned within a month what took a born-Muslim more than a decade to master.
But basically I was alone. Being alone is dangerous for a newly converted Muslim. There are many temptations and a tendency to give up. I had ten years of knowledge about Islam but knowledge from books alone is not sufficient to help me perform the rites. Fasting is easier than performing the solat. Standing at the tap and taking the wuduk was not easy when born Muslims waited in turn for me to finish. I felt as if I was being assessed by pairs of eyes. Though I knew the steps, I was afraid of making mistakes. Also the telekong and kain were strange garments. The kain which my friends helped me to buy was just like a piece of sarong without strings nor bands, only longer and wider. I didn’t know how to wear the kain properly because my younger roommate couldn’t tell me either. Hers had a drawstring. Astaghfirullaahal adziim. I tied the kain like a sarong around my waist but it kept falling off until one day, a kind sister showed me the correct way of tying one before the terawih prayer at the mosque.
Memorising the whole surah al-fatihah and the tahiyat that are needed for solat took me about two weeks. It was painfully tedious because I couldn’t understand a word I was saying in Arabic. I would do the solat alone in my room when I couldn’t join my roommate for jemaah prayer. Armed with a piece of paper with the al-fatihah and the tahiyat in romanized writing, I would begin the slow uncertain steps. I didn’t want to wait to be able to recite both from memory before I perform my first solat on my own. I believed that Allah looks at a devotee’s sincerity rather than the ability to recite all the surahs in the Quran. I did the most basic, trying to remember every steps of solat each time. Alhamdulillah it became easier and easier as time passed.
If performing the solat in my room was tough, it was worse when I had classes before and after zohor. I would rush back to my room,did an express prayer and rush to the next class. Otherwise I would hike up the hill to my favourite surau which offers the most privacy. Even then, as I stepped onto the sejadah, I would say a silent prayer that I would not forget any of the verses during my solat nor recite them wrongly, for I would have to do pray without my trusted piece of paper. I was too embarassed to hold it during prayer, and I wanted to avoid being bombarded with questions when other sisters realized that I was a mualaf. Besides some Muslims, like an religious officer I knew, would consider my paper-holding action during solat as makrur and prevents one from being kyusyuk. But logically, they were in my shoes, what would they do?
Not everybody underwent the process the same way as I did. Some were lucky because they had adopted families to turn to. I don’t have an adopted family. Well, I just don’t. So I had to learn everything on my own; going through each step repeatedly until I mastered it. It was really tiring. I felt as if I was on a bullet-train, trying to make-up for my lost years by studying all I could, as fast as I could, as much as I could. With little support however, I almost gave up and had begun to sink into depression. Praise to Allah, I managed to control my feelings and got rid of the dark clouds. After two exhausting months of coping with academic work and religious studies, I learned to relax. By then I could answer almost all the basic questions about Islam, and could even explain to non-Muslims about the Hereafter (kiamat).
Thursday, November 29
Previously I had thought that it would be easy for me to be a Muslimah. Just recite the syahadah and automatically my marriage would be dissolved. The truth is, it is very difficult. Malaysian law stipulates that as soon as a spouse converts into Islam, he or she is no longer under the civil court. If I were to go ahead with my decision to convert without first divorcing my then-husband D, I would lose my right to divorce my him as I would be placed under the Syariah court. He would be the spouse with the right to divorce me, and only if he wants to. Otherwise, I would be bound to him by the civil law, and would have no right for another marriage, even through the Syariah court.
I was at a loss. I was studying fulltime, I didn’t have much time, I didn’t know any lawyer, and I didn’t have enough money to go to court. Besides, D might not agree to divorce me. My greatest fear was that I might end up in the grave as a non-Muslim, before I end up in the magistrate’s chamber. I needed help and fast. I said a silent prayer to Allah for his guidance and left to meet my friend, Z. Alhamdulillah, I met the right person. Z recommended me her own lawyer’s office in town. Within an hour, based on the address given, I stepped into the office. I told the clerk what I wanted to do, got a lawyer and an estimated amount of payment for the divorce proceeding to take place.
I had the will but I didn’t have the money. RM2500 may seem little but I was surviving on half-pay of RM500 a month. However, I managed to secure a loan from my mother and when my government loan arrived, I returned her the amount. In order to get D’s signature, I agreed not to ask for anything from our broken 9-year marriage. Besides, I was worried that should he found out about my intention to convert to Islam, he would not put down his signature on the documents. I didn't want to wait for another 5 years if he decided to challenge me in court. Material possessions were not as important as Islam.
Finally it was settled. The documents were completed. The lawyer told me that usually it would take about 3 months for the documents to reach the court, but mine took only 2 months. The waiting inside the magistrate court was 2 hours but it took only 10 minutes for the interview and for the magistrate to approve our divorce. But then we would had to wait 3 months for the marriage to be legally dissolved.
I couldn’t wait 3 months. I had waited long enough so I took my chances. A day after my university registration, I went straight to Pusat Islam which is in the campus ground itself. Unfortunately I was late and everyone else had gone home, except for a clerk. I told her my intention and she told me to call the next day. However as Allah wills it, earlier that day I had approached my tutor a Malay lady, and she recommended me another lecturer, who is also a convert. I had met this lecturer only once before but being the class representative, I had his phone number, so I messaged him and he told me to be at his office the next morning. So I met him at his office. The first question he asked was, when I wanted to recite the syahadah. I said I had waited for a long time and that I was ready. Immediately Dr.K made a phone call to Pusat Islam to fix an appointment. We were joined by another lecturer, and after 10 minutes at Pusat Islam, I emerged from the building as a Muslim. Alhamdulillah. I was later told that usually people who converted there took days to prepare for the big event but mine was simple and quick, witnessed by seven people.
Frankly, I wasn’t prepared to recite the syahadah that day. I had on a long-sleeved blouse and long pants, hardly the ideal garments one would wear on the day she is to be a Muslimah. In fact, I was still contemplating a suitable Islamic name for myself. I had wanted it to be my own, my own choice. The problem was, I had a few good choices. But when Dr.K asked me if I had chosen one, I spontaneously replied, “Yes, Aliya.” And Aliya it would be. Nur Aliya Yeoh binti Abdullah.
I had chosen Aliya because it has a nice ring to it, has a good meaning, and is easy to remember. Later I found out that it is a form of al‘Aliyy, one among the Asmaa-ullaah al-Husna. Syukur Alhamdulillah.
Two weeks after that, when my civil marriage had been legally dissolved, I went to the Islam Religious Office and officially declared myself a Muslim.