Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Test of Faith?

The month of Ramadhan has wheeled its way over again. To all our Fasting People, Muslim People, Selamat Berpuasa.

Born a Greek Orthodox, I was raised in a spiritual home, not that big on religious fervour, but one in which spiritual religion was lovingly taught to me. My dad, having being born in a burgeoning town in Sabah, grew up under a priestess mum who helped heal people through massage, ritual and herbs and a bit of drama. When he and my mother married, he converted to Greek Orthodoxy, though she didn't expect him to make any real religious changes.

My mum had no access to Greek Orthodox churches in Sabah in the early 70s, and she didn't quite take to the fervour with which the Catholic congregations liked to conduct their sermons and mass. So she set up her own little prayer shrine at home, and every Sunday morning we would awake to the strong cloud of incense she would burn and carry throughout the house, to clear it of bad spirits (I say that part of the religion is completely cultural. Sounds like a leftover habit of shamans or feng shui practitioners). Sometimes I would see her standing before her mini home altar, crossing herself and quietly mumbling her prayers. Then she would turn and see me and tell me what she had prayed for that day.

"Your exams are next week so I asked Saint Paraskevi (St. Friday) for her blessings" or something like that. I grew up with the notion that praying was like a direct line to God, and though it might seem like it's only a one-way communication, it is the act of praying that is significant. Not the result of it. Hey, if we all knew we would get what we prayed for, we might as well be amoebas floating somewhere. Being human is having uncertainty, but being able to get through it nevertheless. To strive for enlightenment I suppose.

Mum also taught me about intention, which has similar notions in Islam. Sundays is for communion, but mum believed that if you arrive at church with hatred in your heart, or have had a fight the night before and it is not yet resolved, then you are not spiritually prepared for communion. The point of it is to share and be one with God. How can you be that if you're pissed and meotionally miserly?

Very different from my experience in school, where communion was dispensed like chips. Everyone seemed to be more excited about having wine for breakfast than being one with God. Though I did enjoy the kind of zen, huggie feelie Anglicanism that my school priest used to teach us with.

Anyway, come fasting month, and I find the beautiful experience of choice in religion or spirituality is marred yet again by human desire for control.

I actually enjoy the act of fasting. I feel cleansed, I feel purposeful. And I do think of how grateful I should be that I can go hungry by choice, and not because I am forced to live in destitution.

And because I CHOOSE to fast, the experience has more meaning for me.

I just don't get why personal religion and choice has to be monitored by other people. Or even be made into a secular matter, complete with fines and finger-pointing and arrests for people who have the right to choose. Assumption and righteousness does not a good believer make.

My sister who is not a muslim, has been shouted at by strange people, old men in kepiaks who should know better not to judge others, for eating during the fasting month. And she, who was raised to believe in self-creation (that everything is your choice no matter what), could not bring herself to tell him she was not muslim, because she didn't feel she owed him an explanation - who did he think he was? Didn't stop her from feeling publicly humiliated and ostracised - and I don't think Islam is about shaming people into believing.

The point of fasting is to be able to withstand the temptation of food, drink, sex, cigarettes and thinking bad thoughts about others among other things. If you make the choice that you want to fast, it is relatively easy to do - because it is a test of faith that you have set for yourself. If you make the rather dubious choice of fasting-but-only-if-nobody-else-gets-to-eat-in-front-of-me-because-then-they-would-be-deliberately-tempting-me-and-rubbing-my-hunger-in-my-face - then that is a compromise on your faith and really, a sign that you haven't really chosen to fast for pure reasons.

Even people who cannot fast, are forbidden to fast, because they are ill or bleeding or travelling - they cannot freely eat in the open for fear of offending someone. Religion by force (or social pressure) just breeds more and more followers who did not make a personal choice.

Religion is personal. The more it is about social pressure the more politicised it becomes, the more rotten peoples' intentions are.

So if you see me sitting in a coffee shop with my friends during the fasting month, that's all I am doing. Unless I'm shoving cake and coffee down my gullet, please don't make any assumptions about me.

I hope that no tone of offense has come through, I am merely expressing my opinion and do not intend to rebuke, slander or offend anyone in particular or en masse. These are just my peronal experience and I hope they are taken as such.



Unknown said...

i'd agree that mingling with friends in a coffee house during a fasting day do not mean that you're not fasting yourself.

but ponder this: if you (a Muslim) chose to eat in front of another fasting Muslim, is like having a KFC meal right in front of a hungry homeless man without offering him some.

Just like assuming a guy in girl in the same darkened room to be doing 'something' although they might just be chatting.

it's not that we're not properly equipped to be as so liberal, but we're avoiding any consequences. like driving drunk. that's inviting a tragedy.

My friend, who's not a Muslim but have similar skin tone, have been treated similarly like ur sis, even after he said that he's a christian. I don't blame the pakcik, nor my friend, but some other so-called Muslims (they're may be called Munafiqs) who tried to escape the jbtn agama raid by claiming to be a non- muslim. I'm sure there's a lot of those cases in Sabah, as they were in Labuan, and Melaka.

We humans, think differently, so a certain rule and enforcement is necessary.

erm, did i went astray from your original thought?this is what i thought you wrote la..

btw, bila nak bbuka lagi?

TripleJin said...

I'm glad you brought this up. I recently went to a friend's place of makan and I asked if her maid was fasting. To my surprise, she said they normally don't. I was quite surprised. She said, they compensate by giving zakat (or something, forgive me, I'm not sure).

Sorry to be so blunt, but is that like cheating? Pls forgive me if I've offended u.

mamasan said...

not offended at all - after all, arent we supposed to seek enlightenment? If the asking of the question is offensive, then no wonder everything is so sensitive!

lizzam, I see your point in the KFC example, the only thing is that people who fast choose to do so, the hungry homeless guy isn't fasting, he's destitute. And actually everytime we walk past a beggar, we are ignoring them, puasa month or not.

I guess if someone is mean enough to gorge themselves in front of a starving person, they wouldn;t care less if they ate in front of a person who is fasting. But what I was really referring to is just the freedom to choose our behaviour and for others to accept that what we do personally, we will answer to God for. My point was do we really need to have moral police? Say for example, today I cannot fast. By right I should not because I am menstruating/sick/vomiting/travelling/whatever. Why couldn't I eat discreetly at a coffee shop, where no other fasting muslims would be anyway? And why would the shopowner be liable to the law for selling me food?

It feels like the only way to get muslims to do things properly is by forcing them or making religious things policeable (this isn;t the only issue, others like drugs, pirating etc also are a concern of mine).

We can never really force people to do things. However if people see the true justice, true logic or truth itself in something, they will willingly apply it in their own behaviour.

I just feel that this kind of thing is going to turn people off because of the "don't ask questions, just do or else" mentality and method of enforcement.

Phew! What a load off my chest!

Unknown said...

well, i'm glad u did too

"And why would the shopowner be liable to the law for selling me food?"

as per what i said, the law are actually a direct cause of those musllims who took liberty of their skin tone, whereabouts and other factors to skip fast.

this, in it's own effect, causes degradation in Muslim's image, and by being the upholder of the law, they're required to do something, event to the extent of stopping any Muslim short of buying food before 3.30 (if i'm not mistaken)

I'd say another analogy would be the LRT station in KL sentral. try boarding in the morning on weekdays, you'll see that they're lining up, since earlier on, they were ushered like not sure if it's still there, but here's a pic of it, albeit blurred

shamaine said...

hie christina...well written! enjoyed it! i wrote my take on religion in my blog as well..feel free to check it out..:D

mamasan said...

hiya sweets! thanks for dropping by - i will definitely check out yr blog today. Have fun in ozland!

Anonymous said...

Lizzam I have been thinking long and hard about your last comment and I understand the need to uphold a good image of the Muslim religion.

The religion itself is already good. All legitimate religions preach being good and striving to be better. It's the behaviour of its followers, who, yes, undoubtedly have the best intentions at heart, but mistakenly through their actions are infringing on the very teachings themselves.

Islam is a religion of tolerance, of seeking knowledge and truth and of finding god through acts of moral virtue, kindness and forgiveness, just like other religions.

But when people take it upon themselves to vet the religious behaviour of others, it doesn't make sense. None of us can ever really judge others in the name of God, can we? Forgive my ignorance but isn't that being self-righteous? In religous terms, I am a sinner (though in the vernacular sense, I consider myself not a sinner but just a human being trying her best and sometimes not doing so well), and I dare anyone to say here that they have never had a malicious thought, never forgotten themselves in the heat of anger, passion or recklessness, or simply made a mistake or acted out of cowardice or fear.

True, flaunting irreligous behaviour in the face of a devout person is callous, and frankly, pointless. But on the other hand does that give a devout person the right to decide what is best for someone else, without knowing the whys and wherefores of that person's character, life history and recent past?

I may not know the Koran back to front, but I sure know that God is supposed to be merciful and benign. Why can't we be that?

You said the laws in this country are a direct consequence of Muslims who have taken advantage of their un-Malay looks to get away with breaking their fast. Perhaps the issue then is the confusion of race and religion. And perhaps the policing of people's moral behaviour is not so much a religious thing but a societal characteristic. In simple terms, maybe people don't like other people to overstep the boundaries because they themselves are unhappy about having to toe the line - so why should anyone else get away with it?

I would really like to know what you think about that (I hope it doesn't piss anyone off!)


Anonymous said...

Hi Mamasan...

While I can understand your annoyance of being 'assumed' by these 'self-righteous' folks, I can only suggest that you do read the Koran back to front. So much of our thoughts n assumptions r often thru our ignorance of the actual message in the revelation. Although bearing the faith of Islam, we r sometimes swayed by the norms of society, in regards to the philosophies presented, to the point tht we don't realise we r actually going against wht is asked of us from God.

At one stage in my life, I did indeed questioned a lot why these 'self righteous' folks were administering such social policing of moral behaviour. It just didnt seem right! But my views changed once I read the whole content of the Koran. There were many eye-brow raising verses tht questions our faith and understanding, so much tht the whole idea of being a Muslim brought about a whole new deeper meaning for me.

As much as you believe tht religion is personal, you'd hv to take into account tht we as Muslims hv a duty to remind each other shd we perceive tht something is not right. Maybe the manner in which we r reminded by each other can always be done more maturely, but this social obligation cannot be neglected as doing so wd simply imply rejecting God's message.

On a lighter note, I ws a frequent chatter in the Yahoo chat rooms b4, a lot of fun talking crap mostly.. he he..but of course from time to time...there wd be an anonymous soul reminding the chatters not to waste time in the rooms. Naturally, this effort didn't go down well with the regulars in the room, and hence a barrage of obnoxious remarks were made.

Somehow rather, being reminded of the verses of the Koran..I realised tht this effort ws indeed a noble intention by the kind soul. Its not abt being self's about fulfilling God's command.

I see something similar in regards to ur experience.

Maybe we shd view things from another angle, and understand their intentions foremost.

I do hope tht my comments do not come off as being 'self righteous' to you or anyone. Just fulfilling my part as a fellow Muslim.

May Peace Be Upon You.

mamasan said...

Thank you Anonymous for your contribution to this discussion. I am sure we have very similar ideas about the moral standpoint we supposedly should all have.

As you say, there are mature ways to point out other people's wrong doings or mistakes. However I also believe that perhaps the act of pointing it out is kind of condescending and patronising in itself - it implies that morally the person who points out another's mistakes feels superior in some way - my personal opinion.

I would like to say in my defense that I rather do tend to see things from all angles, which is why I wrote that post - to point out that there are other opinions than the norm and the expected. I would say that my post was actually taking into account alternative opinions, to be frank.

Also, though I appreciate the tone of your post, perhaps you would not mind if I do point out that as Anonymous it's so much easier to present one's opinion if one is faceless. Most readers of this blog know who I am. If I were to say something stupid or ignorant, there would b no hiding that from the readers.

However, would you be willing to give your opinion out to the world and put a name or a face to it?

I know, by virtue of the logic of my argument, I am taking a superior stance, and I can't help it, but I am willing to put my name to it.

And it is this that I would like to highlight, that often, it is the faceless crowd which dictates, and that faceless crowd represents the fear of being different and having to stand up for what one believes.

It is not a criticism of you, just a logical argument in favour of asking you to identify yourself.

Hope to "meet" you in cyberspace soon.


Anonymous said...

Salam Mamasan..

My apologies for not identifying or introducing myself to u. I thought I hd the option to choose n remain 'Anonymous' from the little window tht pops up when making my comments.

Nontheless, my name is Megat Terawis, 41 yr old male from KL and involved in multimedia music production for a living. I don't think tht we've met in pleasure to meet u here in cyberspace.

You mentioned in ur latest post 'A Question of Interpretation' tht indicated I stated 'you' as being ignorant of Islam...I clearly stated instead, about 'our' ignorance in Islam, not abt 'you' personally.

If u could kindly read the 1st paragraph of my comment, I emphasized the word 'we' and 'our', in regards to being ignorant. That means all Muslims in general, including myself.

We are all ignorant of the full message of the revelation to a certain extent, and therefore there is a need of constant reminders from our fellow brothers & sisters. That ws my point. It wasn't a personal attack on you, sister.

My apologies anyway if I didn't structure my thoughts properly.

You also stated tht you don't know why it is assumed tht u havent read the Koran.

My reply tht you shd read the Koran back to front ws based on your own admission in reply to Lizzam.

U quoted .." I may not know the Koran back to front, but I sure know that God is supposed to be merciful and benign. Why can't we be that? "

Therefore from tht quote of yours, I only assumed tht u have not really read the Koran completely, so as to be oblivious of verses tht asks believers to remind each other. Yes, there ARE such verses. Hence, I reminded tht you shd read the Koran back to front. Tht was wht I meant. And naturally, by reminding you this, I'm reminding myself as well. No one is perfect.

In regards to ur view tht morally the person who points out another's mistakes feels superior in some way, my view is tht you shd again know the intentions. I'm quite sure throughout ur life you hv pointed out the mistakes of ur loved ones simply because you care for them. And does tht feeling of 'superiority' of urs imply tht u shd not correct them, and hence letting them do the wrong things when you know it is not right?

Wouldn't this contribute more to the infamous 'tidak apa' attitude tht our society is known for?

I'm quite sure u'll agree tht it's all about intentions. And by all means, if
one's intention is to uphold the noble Koran, surely it is a beautiful and noble deed indeed in reminding each other in faith, sister.

Just emphasizing my 'alternative opinions'...and I hope you don't kick my ass if we do bump into each other one of these days. (grins)

I apologise again if my thoughts are not conveyed well in text.

Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri to u and ur loved ones.

May Peace Be Upon You.

mamasan said...

Hi Megat,

Thank you for your post. You are quite right and I did reply in haste and with presumption. I do absolutely agree that intentions are what matters. However I do feel that the true nature of our intentions are revealed in the way we carry them out - and here I have made an example of myself by jumping to conclusions about your post. I thought my intention was to put things right, when really I was being defensive and trying to BE right. I hope I didn't come across as too rude and I apologise for that.

As you can probably tell I don't kick butts, I tend to butt heads!

Thanks for your good wishes and may you have a blessed Ramadhan and Selamat Hari Raya.



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