English: There, here and over there. Basically, in a sense, to mean restless. A collection of thoughts, musings and ramblings...

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Fine Line

Many years ago, I was living in Sunway as a student. For me, the fast, chic urban lifestyle was so different from the life expected in sleepy, easygoing town of KK, which was in many ways a huge culture shock for me. One of the things I found so different was the way how people mingled - back home, it never seemed as if race or religion was a huge dividing factor.


One day, I was going out to have lunch with my roommate - a nice girl, who was raised in Singapore, and in a far more religious family than I. We were scoured the mall for a restaurant to choose to have lunch in, and her question would usually be "Is it Halal?"

At that time, that question seemed very foreign to me, and I responded with a little laugh "Sure it is! They don't serve pork UNLESS it is stated on their restaurant entrance".

"Really?" she responded. "In Singapore, all restaurants are not Halal, unless it is stated otherwise"

It then got me thinking about how applicable would my statement be in a relatively foreign place like KL. After all, this wasn't Sabah and everything that I was used to. I knew that back home I wouldn't have such doubts, and thought longingly of how all races could all sit together in a restaurant and still be perfectly happy. It was a huge source of pride, that we Sabahans could do just that.

Then a few days ago, I felt .... betrayed. Violated.

I have never been particular about labels of Halal or Haram, and neither am I too particular about which restaurant I dine in. But I do have one requirement: that I am not served with pork. I know some may frown on what I am about to say, but I have no qualms with eating in a restaurant where pork is served, as long as I am not served with any. I'd be happy with eating vegetables instead or fish. And be with friends.

I am not one of those people who are truly religious, or are completely agnostic. I feel that I fall into a very grey area where I believe in God, I feel blessed, but I just am not fully religious. But here's the thing: At the end of the day, I would still like to observe the Ramadan month, and join in the festivities after. But how can I enjoy these moments, while forsaking one of the most basic of elements that makes me a Muslim? Something that I was brought up believing?  I would definitely feel like a phony claiming myself as a Muslim just so I could "enjoy" the good parts.

Above all that, I am thankful to God for the reminder to live healthily and eat well, which I trust is the reason for all the restrictions He places on us. That is me - I believe that everything has a reason. And that is why I avoid pork and limit my alcohol intake. Because I truly believe that it is good for me.

I don't see a reason to distance myself from other cultures, races or religions. Or to shun eateries and homes of those that serve pork and alcohol.

But how many Muslims would see the world like I do?

For months I've noticed the trend of more restaurants serving items of forbidden ingredients, but it didn't matter to me. Because I am not going to eat it, and why should it stop others from consuming what they wanted? Until I was served with something I was not supposed to eat, minus the label. I was NOT forewarned.

What if that had happened to any other Muslim but me? It upset me a great deal, because to me it reflected a great deal of insensitivity or ignorance that not everyone is able to eat pork. Especially not in Muslim-majority Malaysia. It made me feel as if I was pushed aside, unimportant and left out. Does it mean that Muslims should only eat at "Malay restaurants" or other Muslim-friendly outlets? 

I vented, and it seems like no one could understand how it feels, ridiculing my thoughts and feelings because I was just the bitch who believed in taking away their pleasure. It was very upsetting for me that instead of trying to understand my view as a (not even moderate) Muslim in laidback Sabah, people took to attacking me personally.

Why was it so different years ago compared to now? Why didn't it feel so shockingly insensitive back then?

Then the answer came to me: Clear boundaries.

We could all eat together in the same table, because we could be so upfront with each other with what we could /could not eat. It 's about trust and honesty.

Back then, I felt that everything was a lot clearer and stated. If restaurants served pork, it would be informed clearly. It just felt.... a lot more comfortable for people like me.

Having clear-cut boundaries means acknowledging limitations yet allows one the option to make a personal decision whether or not to say "heck with it" and just step beyond the limits. It's all about being able to make informed judgments. I would so much rather know that a certain place is not acceptable for my religion, and decide that I would still go anyway because I made the choice.

I don't know if it makes sense for anyone else, but it sure does for me.


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