One good thing about doing MBA in UM is that I have classmates from many different parts of the world - Europe, Middle East, Australia, Africa even the USA. Let’s not even bother mentioning Asian countries - everywhere from Indonesia to South Korea to Pakistan and in between, you can find them here. Having such a good mix of people around you opens up your mind to new perspectives of life, if you are willing to take the time to befriend them. Of course, some people prefer to stick to their own crowd. But for me, if you have the chance to mix with somebody outside of your usual social circle, you should grab it. Didn’t Allah create people in different races so we could learn from each other?
This afternoon I had a discussion with a couple of classmates - a local Chinese girl and a Middle Eastern guy with a very Muslim-ish name. I didn’t plan to stay for too long as I wanted to go to Pasar Ramadhan to get food for iftar, so I wanted to know if it was okay if we speed things up.
Me: So, do you fast? *trying to start a conversation*
Me: You don’t? Are you Muslim? *gosh if he says no, I won’t be able to go home early, majority rules*
Guy: Yes, but I don’t believe in fasting.
Me: Why not?
Guy: In my country everybody’s forced to become Muslim. Even if we don’t want to, we have to.
What a shame. This is what happens when you shove things down people’s throat - they rebel. It doesn’t matter if what is forced upon them is a good thing or a bad thing. The fact remains that people hate being forced to do something.
After the discussion (which ended up early as I volunteered to do the finishing touches at home, hey I didn’t mind doing extra work as long as I don’t have to endure four iftars at the campus in a row, ugh!) I offered the guy a ride home as his stays nearby my place. In the car we continued talking about the Islamic practices in his country as compared to Malaysia. He told me that he quarreled with his wife earlier today as she wasn’t happy that he didn’t fast. “My wife is religious, she fasts and wears hijab,” he said.
It prompted me to ask about her praying habits. Does she pray five times a day? He then explained to me that in Shi’ah they only pray three times a day. Once in the morning (same as Subuh), once in the afternoon (combination of Zuhur and Asar) and once at night (combination of Maghrib and Isha).
He then told me that his country practices the culture of force - people are forced to become Muslim, to fast, to wear hijab etc. He likes Malaysia because our country is more open - people are allowed to practice what they believe.
I told him when it comes to religious practices like fasting, we are not legally forced to do it, but we are EDUCATED to do it. That’s the main difference. When you are trained as a child to start fasting in small steps (maybe half a day at a time, for a few days in a week), as time goes by it is instilled within you and you won’t see it as something that you are forced to do.
I find it sad to hear people being forced to adapt to the Islamic way of life, because one of the earliest things that I learned in school was “Islam bukanlah agama paksaan” (Islam is not a religion of force). You can’t force people to become Muslim, they have to embrace it at their own free will. What you can do is to educate them and make them feel interested to know more about the religion.
What’s even sadder is the fact that people who call themselves pious and “pendakwah” (missionaries) are not approaching their audience the right way. They teach people about Islam by scaring them with stories of how they will burn in hell if they don’t do this and that. And they expect people to change 180 degrees the moment they decide to return to the religion. Come on! Give them time to learn and adjust, will you?
And one thing I hate the most is when the so-called pious group fail to accept a person beyond naked eye. If you don’t wear hijab, you are suddenly second-graded. It’s worse when you are an on-off hijab wearer, people will start saying “si dia tu tak pakai tudung dah” (she’s no longer wearing hijab) without even realizing that what they just said was effectively “mengumpat” (badmouthing)! I had a chat with my cousin Farah about this recently and she shared with me a quote from an ustaz that I thought was spot-on:
“Just because they don’t pray and don’t wear hijab, don’t assume that they will burn in hell. You have no right to make that assumption, only Allah can decide on that. Yes, by not praying and not wearing hijab, that will lead them to hell. But if they REALLY will end up in hell, only Allah knows, for they may have done many good things in life that you don’t know.”
Just because you think you are a good Muslim, it doesn’t mean Allah thinks the same of you.
Just because you think another person is a sinner, it doesn’t mean Allah thinks he or she is worse-off than you.
For in the end, what you think doesn’t matter, because only what Allah thinks does.
P.S.: I had to decline the guy’s offer to have iftar with his wife tonight as I already had images of different types of rice in different colors at Pasar Ramadhan running in my head. Perhaps when I decide to accept his invitation one day, I will be able to share with you how Shi’ah believers break their fast.