Islam in Malaysia: my experience.

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Putrajaya mosque, by xiquinhosilva (CC non-commercial)

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.

Family stay: Similiarities

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Election flags in satellite town of KL

The kids laugh lots (and fight a little).

The women work in the kitchen while the men barbeque the meat over an open fire.

K always says he’s going to learn a musical instrument but never gets around to it.

Piggy in the middle, peaknuckle, tumbling with the toddler.

Every party’s slogan seems like a meaningless platitude.

Family stay: Differences

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Eat with your hands. K says “your fingers release enzymes that help with digestion, especially if you lick them”.  It also means it’s harder for me to burn my tongue by putting something too hot in my mouth.

When one shakes the hand of a respected elder one can (should?) also kiss it.

Electioneering continues on election day.

Bidet-type hoses and water buckets, not toilet paper.

Kampong Rice and salted fish for breakfast

Rooster in the suburbs.

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Johor Baru (Malaysia)

Today I travelled across the Causeway from Singapore to Johor Baru, Malaysia. Johor Baru is a massive city right next door to Singapore. Since many people work in Singapore and live in JB it is probably one of the busiest border crossings in the world, so it was very streamlined. People actually ran through customs to get back on the same public bus  (fare, $1.50 to cross the border) they arrived on. I was too slow and had to wait 10 minutes for  the next one.

All of a sudden I feel like I am in real Asia, not “Asia Lite” as K called Singapore. And Malaysia, like Singapore, houses three major cultures – Malay, Chinese and Indian. But here they cultures are a little more obvious.  Street stalls featuring booming Tamil music and people making flower garlands for puja, carts selling Chinese claypot dinners down grimy alleyways, women in headscarfs and the occasional full veil.

I’m on my own now, having said a sad goodbye to my kiwi friend in Singapore.  The change is both enlivening and a little unnerving.

I’m ready for this journey.

The Singapore-Johor causeway, spanning across ...

The Singapore-Johor causeway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)