Thursday, June 8, 2017

Where Does Hate Come From?

DISCLAIMER: This article is in no way researched and is wholly anectodal, relying exclusively on my personal experiences and what I have gathered over the years I spent growing up in Malaysia.

In light of the recent London attacks, I felt compelled to pen this short article.  I have said multiple times that the problem isn't with the religion, but with the people.  And that is true.  Up to a point.

Violence and hate isn't born out of thin air.  It is taught, it is indoctrinated.  And where does this indoctrination come from?  Sadly, the scholars, khatibs[1] and imams, the leaders of our religious institutions, the men who we trust to know the religion inside out.  Sadly, some of these men are the ones who will condemn terrorism and extremism, yet fail to realize their impassioned sermons convey the opposite message.

Back home in Malaysia, I never miss a Friday prayer.  There are so many mosques and the employers allow their Muslim staff to take some extra time off on Fridays.  For that, I am grateful.  They could easily have hired a non-Muslim and saved themselves the trouble.  But they did not.  Yet, there are times I have been reluctant to go to my neighborhood mosque.  At times, my blood boiled listening to the sermon.  Not because I felt the khatib's occasionally racist rants were true, no.  But because I was pissed off that the khatib had the gall to spew racist nonsense.  Right after reciting a verse from our holy book condemning such acts no less.  The hypocrisy, the indignation.  I hate saying I am offended, but I was genuinely offended.

The saddest part is, as a youth, and not an 'active' member of the congregation, if I try to say anything, the mosque's committee will close ranks and condemn me.  What saddened me was that I knew there were those in the congregation who are non-Malay Muslims.  New converts, people of mixed heritage, foreigners, or even simply those who are Muslim but not Malay.  The khatib uttered phrases such as "the Chinese are out to undermine the Malay Muslims and we must band together" "we must assert our dominance as Muslims to remind them who is in charge".  My blood boiled.  Ever since, I would simply sleep through the sermons.  That way at least I could go back home or to work with less stress.

I cannot speak for the other >1 billion Muslims, but in Malaysia, we also have this odd fascination with Arabs.  It is frequently implied that Arabs are the pinnacle of religious piety.  I vehemently hate this sentiment.  Arabs are people, just like everyone else.  Some will be a shining example of piety, whilst others will be an example of the absolute scum of the Earth, and everything in between.  Just like any other society in the world.

I have seen an imam berate a youth for wearing jeans to the mosque claiming it was 'unIslamic'.  Islam never mentions anything about dress code.  Even with the ever-contentious hijab.  The most that is mentioned in the Quran about the hijab is a verse about drawing a veil to protect one's modesty.  For me, there is no such dress code (there is also the concept of awra but that is a whole different can of worms).  That is simultaneously the beauty and the danger of Islam; it is very much open to interpretation.  A thobe is no more religious than a pair of jeans.  It's important to be respectful, yes, but I will never say an article of clothing is more religious or less religious than another.

[1] a person who delivers the sermon during Friday prayers and Eid prayers.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Lack of Options

I was inspired to write this after reading an article by my friend, Qyira, who is currently working with Teach for Malaysia.  TFM is an organization dedicated to engaging the youth in teaching future generations, to bridge gaps due to circumstance and to give back to society through education.

At the end of the article, she talks about how one of the students she interacted with had concerns about her future.  She was concerned that the stream she was in had no future options.  Another was worried that her passion for sports had no viable future.  This to me, highlighted an issue I've noticed since I was in high school.  Even with my privileged upbringing, mastery of English, and overseas-educated parents, I was also lost and confused, but over why there seemed to be so few options.

Almost every university that came to give a talk, every school program to help students determine a future path was focused heavily on either law, medicine, engineering, business, or mass communication.  We had one school come to talk about computer science but the alumni they sent regretted taking the course and it was more demotivating than anything.  We did, however, have time for dozens upon dozens of 'motivational talks', and religious sermons from random Sheikhs and ustaz.

There was absolutely zero talk about pursuing programs like computer science, psychology, economics, international development, biochem, or any of the other thousands of courses on offer in Malaysia and overseas.

It's something definitely that can be improved at the schooling-level and a move that I can see being a big boost to the nation's economy as it'll both cut down on the chance of an oversaturated market while creating a diverse pool of talent.