Wednesday, September 26, 2012

~Muslim Diversity~

Posted by M.S. at 3:04 AM

Unique Is What We Are; By RUMANA JUZAR

Diversity can be a glue to unite people anywhere, instead of a reason to pigeon-hole them according to stereotypes.

DARK brown eyes. Black hair. Medium brown skin. In people’s eyes I am an Indian. So yes you would think I worship the divine God Krishna or Ganesh. But, there is a but. For I am a follower of the Prophet Mohammed (S.A.W) & his waasi Ali Ibne Abitalib ~  Islam is my religion.

For many of us with our straight-laced conventional thinking, if you are an Indian, you are automatically labeled a Hindu. As an example, take me. I am a Gujarati from the North Indian sect. That is my race. But I follow the teachings of Allah. And that is my religion.

So when people ask me what I am exactly, I confidently reply that I’m a Gujarati-Muslim. To be even more specific, a Dawoodi Bohra. That is my unique identity.

The frustration of being pigeon-holed in the stereotypical context of Malaysian society is what I’ve had to endure my whole life, living in Malaysia. Even though it is a peaceful country that boasts a myriad of cultures and religions, her citizens are still very much ignorant when it comes to the subject of diversity.

Throughout my school life, schoolmates were puzzled by my origins. I had to endure the torture of being stared at and scrutinized a fascinating object of gossip during assembly. I can still remember the quiet whispers by some tudung-clad students: “Budak tu India, buat apa dia berdoa? Islam ke dia?” (She’s Indian. Why is she praying? Is she a Muslim?)
That was why during assembly, the ritual of the dua recital was a truly painful experience for me. I was scared to even lift my hands as I hated the curious stares and whispers.

My hands in prayer always looked small and clenched; it was as if I was ashamed of who I was. So I resolved to go to great lengths to make my teachers and fellow classmates understand the truth of my individuality.
My struggle for my identity did not end there. However, I had a different experience when I entered university. During my bachelor degree years in a UK campus here in Malaysia, I was mostly in an international environment. I was not so much an “alien” then as everyone was unique.
There were Muslims from different branches of the faith from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Kenya, Tanzania and other nations. There were many Indonesian Chinese, Africans and South Asians. I hardly got inquisitive questions from them.

But of course, when it came to some of my fellow Malaysians, I had to wipe off the puzzled looks on their faces when they found out that I am a Muslim, and why I do not speak Tamil.

The best time I had when it came to celebrating diversity was during my one year in Britain, when I was doing my masters. There, I met people from one end of the world to the other. It was an amazing experience, being part of the richly diverse potpourri I was placed in.

I had great friends from other Gujarati-Muslim groups. One of my closest friends is an Orthodox Christian Romanian named Ana. I met intriguing and eccentric Iranians. The South Americans were a nice lot.

My classmates were a real colorful group originating from Nigeria, Russia, India, Germany, and so on. I cherished the melting pot of cultures immensely, as the diversity was like a breath of fresh air after being “enclosed” for so long.

The “wonder year” came to an end as my carefree student days morphed into the responsibility of working life. I returned to Malaysia, and the demons of my identity came back to haunt me. Again I was the subject of confusion and ignorant questions.

I was greeted with surprised glances when it became known I am a Muslim. Colleagues often infuriated me by asking: “So if you’re Muslim, that means your parents converted? Is your mother or father Malay?”
And again I had to explain the “origins of my species”. I would start with the early history of how the Aryans conquered India from the Dravidians; of how, probably, my ancestors embraced Islam even before its influences reached the Malay archipelago, up to the time my father of Indian nationality married my mother and settled here.

There is a wide ground of stereotypical perceptions and misunderstanding of culture and religion in this nation, as well as others. The sole cause of this? Pure ignorance.

However, narrow-mindedness is also an advocate. People need to open their eyes, minds and hearts to embrace the differences in the world. They need to educate themselves. If not, how will they grow as individuals, as a society and as a nation?

That said, I cherish my identity whole-heartedly. I could never say that I am, or be, someone I’m not. From my experience, there are many individuals who do not express who they really are. For instance, a long time ago, my own brother once agreed that he was a mamak (Indian Muslim) when asked whether he was truly Muslim. Today, I’m happy that he is confident about his uniqueness.

People should be aware of who they are, and others around them, and not hide in the dark for fear of how the world might judge them.
In the end, our identity is what belongs only to us. It is the only thing that can distinguish us from others. So let’s look deep inside and appreciate who we are and who others are.

Always Dream

I want to curl up here and enjoy my leisure time with a book and cup of hot chocolate /coffee late and relax whilst the Sunshine warms me and the breeze plays through my hair.

My Dreams:)