"Teacher, do you understand Tamil?" asked Revathi.
I was with a small group of Indian students,on relief duty for an absent teacher.
"No, I don't understand Tamil," I smiled. I knew they just wanted an assurance that I would not eavesdrop on their conversation.
" Would you understand if I speak Chinese?" I asked.
Revathi's turn to smile.
"Teacher, you can speak Chinese?"
"Teacher is Chinese la," Ramanan answered for me.
"Really? I thought you're a Malay."
"I am a Chinese," my smile grew wider.
She looked puzzled.
"But... you are wearing tudung?'
"I am a Chinese Muslim... born in Malaysia. I grew up as a Chinese and later.."
"You converted?" Shanti chipped in.
"That's right. I wear the tudung because I am a Muslim woman. But I am still a Chinese and I can speak and understand Chinese." I explained slowly.
"Ohhh..." Revathi nodded slowly.
Ahhh... I've been in the school since 2010.
Taught the same students two years ago and strangely, they had not realise that I am a Chinese lady. The reason? I am wearing a hijab, or tudung.
Students, like most Malaysians, associate this garb with Islam and Malay. In many minds, if you wear a tudung, then you must be a Malay.
And in their minds, if you happen to wear a long tudung, then you must be specially religious Malay. [ see how they associate our clothing to religion]
Tudung = religious Malay woman = Islam
It's bad enough that Muslim and non-Muslim students are always separated during religious activities.
It'd be a havoc among other nonMuslim teachers if a nonMuslim student were to sit in the hall with other Muslim students, listening to a ceramah by an ustaz.
So I can't blame them for their lack of understanding of Islam.
They don't know much because we, the Muslims, don't do much. Sometimes we, the adults are not allowed to.
Students learn best when they mix with their own friends. Which is why our teenagers need to be exposed to doing Islamic dakwah work, and not be scolded nor discouraged just because they 'lack knowledge'.
I won't be surprised if the nonMuslim students think that China is made up of only Buddhist people. I used to think that way too, when in reality there are more Chinese Muslims in China than there are Malay Muslims in Malaysia.
I was told [in whispers] that there's a Chinese student who is interested in Islam. The ustazah doesn't know what to do. Till today, I'm still waiting for her to approach me.
It's always fun watching how Chinese students react when I speak Chinese dialects or Mandarin to them.
One day when I scolded a sleepy Chinese lad in his mother-tongue, Hokkien, and he was so surprised that he actually sat up straight.
And the Malay students?
They might suddenly realise that it's a fact that there are other Muslims in this country who are not Malay or Mamak. That there are other once-kafir people who have embraced Islam and are now their brothers and sisters in Islam. Because I'm a living and walking proof among them.
"So teacher, are you a Malay or a Chinese now?"
"I am a Chinese.. and my religion is Islam.There are more than 60 thousand Chinese Muslims in Malaysia today, do you know? "
Ahhh, life is never boring as a Chinese Muslim.
Xie xie, wa ai ni, Allah.