Around 60% of the population of Malayisa are Muslim, and Islam has a special relationship with the state. It’s evident as soon as you come to Malayisa. There is an Islamic banking system, Malay children learn Arabic, pork and booze are not easy to find. Almost all Malay women cover their heads and necks. Muslim men can have up to four wives. Character’s relationships to Allah seemed to play a major role in the only Malay feature film I’ve been to.
Most prominent though, for me, is the adhan , the call to prayer, which echoes around villages and cities alike, 5 times a day*. I haven’t made a recording of my own, but this recording I found on youtube captures the everyday nature of the adhan here.
The call is the shahadah – the statement is that Allah(God) is good, Allah is one and only one, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. It is also a invitation to pray (including a suggestion that prayer is better than sleep, in the dawn version!).
This side of Islam speaks to me. The adherence to customs such as headscarf-wearing and halal (which, I discovered, extends to rules about avoiding wet dogs) makes a bit more sense in a context of overall obedience to what is recognised as the divine.
From what little I have picked up, prayer seems to be about humbling oneself before a greater power, physically, verbally and spiritually. It has this deep modesty in common with other of the five pillars of Islam – pilgrimage, giving to charity, fasting and the shahadah itself. Many of us, obsessing about what we can achieve on our own, could perhaps learn from this humility about our own powers and goals.
*The predominance of domes in Islamic architecture, I am told, is due to their effectiveness as amplifiers for the voice, including the adhan. Nowadays, of course, it’s microphones and speakers.