Friday, July 29, 2011

Inter-faith interactions.

During the past two weeks, I had a brief glimpse into what it's like to be in an intercultural relationship in Singapore. In the Netherlands it's much more common to see people from different cultural backgrounds together, and in different permutations too. But here people stare, and keep staring.

People have different reactions to conversion, or reversion (depends on how you see the issue! I use the term 'convert' because it's more recognisable) to Islam. Some give undue credit to people around the revert for having the powers of argumentation to convince him/her to embrace Islam. Such thinking also makes invisible the effort that the convert makes to rationalise arguments about God or Islam, and his/her own efforts to learn more.

In my opinion, people can only be good or bad examples of Muslims, but ultimately it is God that guides someone onto or off the straight path. Someone can be forced physically into signing something, but no one can change what is in someone's heart. So saying that we selamatkan ('save') or guide "lost souls" is using a Christian concept of salvation - while in Islam, only God can 'save'.

Some try to scare the convert by highlighting the juicy but fortunately untrue things they hear about Islam. These are the top two issues that I've heard so far: 1) men having to undergo compulsory circumcision, and 2) being restricted in food and drink.

The first issue is actually one of the most popular questions that young and old non-Muslims ask about Islam, from my experience giving tours at a mosque-museum for two years. In fact, circumcision is a Jewish tradition dating from the time of Prophet Abraham and has been passed down as a recommended act (sunnah) as it does not appear in the Quran. In Singapore, male babies are often circumcised at birth, or as a rite of passage around the age of nine. Older converts in Singapore don't have to do it, but those who wish to can do so (and even have it paid for!).

The second issue is often brought up with jokes. For example, someone might say "I can't be a Muslim because I love bakwa (dried pork) so much" or "When you become a Muslim you can't eat bak kut teh (or insert any supposedly delicious pork dish here) anymore!". When we get this question during tours, we like to say "Actually, Muslims can eat pork (wink wink)... only when there is no other food around!"

Sure, if you look at the restrictions, Muslims can't eat pork, blood, carrion, food without the name of God pronounced on it, and alcohol. But if you look at what we can eat: food dedicated to God, grains, vegetables, seafood, bloodless and ethically-raised meat, dairy products, eggs, fruit, chocolate... There are so many people in the world who eat different variations of a diet that doesn't include meat anyways.

I hope this can help us have a little more understanding for people who are not similar to us.


Syuhada said...

The "haram everything" phenomenon is so true, and I see it even more in the States where there are more traditional/conservative Muslims. I absolutely loved it when Ustadz Usama Canon reminded us during a talk that people are so fixated on what is haram that they forget the many things that are halal!

Sya said...

I know right, a seafood + egg + dairy products diet is completely possible. Meat is overrated!


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