“Kak, I’d like you to change my particulars, please..”
“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.