When I was small (I mean, smaller), dad used to drive down to grandma’s house in Pahang, passing by a small church and a Chinese cemetery.
Pahang people were very sempoi and laid back so nobody did any ‘peaceful’ church protest nor did any Muslims fell down to their knees, transfixed, started shaking and eventually proselytized due to the irresistible aura of the cross. Not that I know of, at least.
BUT PERSONALLY, I WAS AFFECTED. Not in the way that you think. But rather, I remember having so much resentment over the cross and the Chinese cemetery. When the cross entered my line of sight, I wanted to get a sniper and shoot it down. When the Chinese cemetery invaded my peripheral vision, I wanted to acquire a bomb and drop it like it was hot (a friend later commented that that didn’t help with the terrorist stereotype, I chuckled).
How did all these anger and resentment stemmed from a 7 year-old? Looking back, it was a product of an all-Malay environment. Growing up in that little bubble, I was told by families, neighbours, and teachers that everyone else is an outsider. If they’re not Muslims, then they are out there to get us, to cheat us, to attack our faith. Nothing good could possibly come out of a person who’s not Muslims.
Not until I started working that these preconceptions were disproved, one by one. Two people whom I value the most are a Chinese Christian and an atheist Vietnamese, and they practice kindness and empathy more than anyone else I have ever encountered. They impacted my life in a big way. Yet here I am, still a Muslim. A struggling one, but still a Muslim.
Labels aren’t entirely bad. As much as I label myself as a Malay Muslim, I also label myself as a human being. And these people regardless of their gender, ethnicity and faith are also human beings. As complex and as unique. These people are not ‘they’ anymore, but ‘us’.
Yet when I told this story to my dad, he was sceptical. He told me my friends aren’t going to be there when I need them. I was heartbroken. Not because I believe him, but because I could understand where he came from.
He’s a great man, but he also came from that little all-Malay bubble I was once in, a place of ignorance and apathy towards everyone else. I’m only lucky to get out of that place by a simple act of… making friends.
That’s what I’m gonna keep doing. Making friends with people regardless of their gender, ethnicity, upbringing, social status, sexual orientation, faith, their decisions to have kids or not, or musical taste; then break whatever preconceptions I’m still having.
Hopefully, as I’ll drive down to dad’s house in Pahang, passing by the small church and the Chinese cemetery, my children are gonna have a completely different view of the world. A much better one.