Sunday, 13 July 2014

Islam vs Christianity?

When I told my mother that I wanted to marry B and converted to be a Muslim, my mother was stunned. She didn't say a word. For a good 5 minutes, she struggled to find the right words to say no but the only thing that came out from her mouth was, "Are you going to be one of the terrorists?".

Growing up in Bandung as a minority Chinese, I witnessed and experienced a lot of hostilities, discrimination and threats from the Muslims.  Walking home from school to my house I had to ignore men shouting "Cina, Amoy, kafir" almost everyday.  Some of them tried to touch parts of my body that I had to run very fast.  My parents told me to never fight back or I would ignite a riot.  My mother's friend had her shop burnt down by the Muslims just because she caught a person stole from her shop and scolded him. The thief went out from the shop, shouted to the public that the lady insulted Islam.  The mob came so fast and burned down the shop.  The fire raged to the nearby shops.  At the end of the day, 6 shops were burnt down. Police didn't do anything and the event was not reported in the media. Everyone, except the victims, ignored the fact that it was against the law to destroy someone's properties.

I can remember vividly when my mother's shop had to close for a week.  Muslims threw stones to shops that belonged to the Chinese. We used to live behind our shop so we could see from the peephole how the people vandalized the shops. It was a scary sight. They chanted "Allahuakbar" every time they threw huge stones to the shop. Again, only those living in our area knew about this as no media reported the event.

Going to church on Christmas Eve was very risky.  There had been a few occasions where Muslims threw molotov bombs to the church compounds. Church care takers would extinguish the fires themselves as they could not rely on the authorities to take actions.

Since my mother is a Buddhist, I often had to follow her to a temple the night before Chinese New Year.  We often heard explosions from molotov bombs and Muslims shouting racist remarks.  Before they threw the bombs, we could hear "Allahuakbar".

Growing up in those situations, I could understand my mother's reservation.  She always wants her children to be good people.  She told us millions "Don't do this" and "You have to do this" so we could grow up to be the kind, polite and good people who won't embarrass them. My mother told me that if I did something bad, it would reflect bad on her as a mother. Although she has a lot of good Muslim friends, she lived to witness that there are more bad Muslims than good Muslims.  We used to have very bad impressions when people say "Allahuakbar".  We grew up believing that the God of the Muslims was an evil who instruct His followers to hurt people.

Before I converted to be a Muslim, I read a lot of books about Islam and I had countless discussions with my Muslim friends about the religion.  I also learned about the history of religion and how the teaching evolved from Judaism to Christianity to Islam. I read the English and Indonesian translation of the Quran twice to understand why Muslims behaved in such violent ways and why Muslim women were (presumed) oppressed. It surprised me to find how easy it was to read and understand the Quran compared to reading a Bible. After I read the Quran twice, I couldn't find any verse in the Quran that asked its followers to destroy churches and hurt people.

In fact, I found a lot of similarities between the Quran and the Old Testament of the Bible. Both acknowledge the same God.  Both require their followers to worship only the God (Allah) who created the world, the God who was worshiped by Abraham, Moses (Musa), Daniel, Noah (Nuh), Joseph (Yusuf), David (Daud), Jesus (Isa) and the other prophets.  The first instruction Allah gave to Moses in 10 Commandments (of Bible) : I am the Lord, thy God  (Akulah Tuhan Allahmu). The second instruction : Thou shalt have no other gods before Me (Jangan ada Allah lain di hadapanKu).

Both books teach about the importance of kindness, charities and being respectful to parents. Both books require their followers to obey the teachings of the prophets so that they can live peacefully in this world and hopefully, in the afterlife.

After countless discussions and a lot of readings, I found it easy to convert to Islam.  I thought that the teachings were simple.  Most of the rules and regulations specified in the Quran make sense. They are necessary to bring orders and to prevent chaos in this world. If everyone follows the teachings, we would be living in peace.

But when I started to live as a Muslim, I found it extremely difficult to be a Muslim.  My life turned upside down. It was not as easy as I thought.

I was told that I could not enter a church anymore.  My sister got married in a church.  How could I not join my family to witness the most important moment of my sister's life?

I was also told that I could only pray to Allah in Arabic, a language that I couldn't understand and master.  When I was a Christian, I used to "talk" to Allah several times a day, in a mixed language of Sunda, Bahasa Indonesia and English. Now, I had to learn Arabic first before I could pray and talk to Him. It would take me years to do that.

I was also told that as a married Muslim woman, I was not allowed to have male friends.  I should keep a distance with male friends.  I grew up with a lot of male friends. In fact, when I was in college, I was constantly surrounded by 10 boys everywhere I went. Since I was the only girl in the group, they were like my "body guards".  They were my best buddies.  Now all of us are married and lead separate lives, but they are still my good friends.  One of best friends is a male friend whom I met when I was in high school.  Until now we still text each other, exchanging stupid jokes or updating where to get the best sup kepala ikan or sambel terasi frequently. He is one of the very few friends who still call me "Nong" (which means forehead).  Every time he calls me Nong, I am reminded again of my younger days when friends used to tease me for having shiny broad forehead. It was a bitter sweet memory from my high school. Thanks to that Nong nickname, I learned how to conceal my broad forehead by having a hairstyle that has a fringe.  Nobody really notices my broad forehead anymore now. So, I can't imagine ditching him as my close friend.

Someone also told me that I should never go to clubs or hotel lounge to dance and enjoy music anymore.  I should only listen to religious songs (nasyid) instead. I grew up with Indonesian, Chinese and English music. I remember my parents playing music from The Beatles, ABBA, Theresia Teng's and Chicha Koeswoyo when I was young.  I enjoy the beats and the happy lyrics of those music. In my teenage days, I started to love Bon Jovi, The Police, Air Supply, Chrisye, Titi DJ and Madonna. I was glued to MTV when I was in college. I was never exposed to nasyid music. Because of that I can't enjoy nasyid music at all.  I can't appreciate Middle Eastern music either because I can't understand a single thing from it. I believe every one has his/her own taste of music.  A taste is not something that can be forced. I love durian tremendously but I can't force my Iranian friend to eat it. She could throw up just by smelling it. I believe taste is very personal, be it in music, food or fashion.

Although my husband, B, always reassures me that I am doing OK as a Muslim convert, I still think that I can't never be a good Muslim.  He told me so many times to ignore what people say and just concentrate on the teaching of the Quran.  A lot of things that the Muslims do are not based on the Quran but based on the cultures, traditions and habits of the people which are misinterpreted as Islamic practices.

Last year on my birthday, a dear friend gave me this book:

(click the picture to see the preview)

When I read the book, I felt my burden was lifted.  I was not alone.  Imran was born as a Muslim in Pakistan but grew up in England. Even as a born Muslim, he had the same confusion about Islam too.  We share the same doubts and questions about the practices done by the Muslims. Both of us struggle to be the "real" and good Muslims.  Both of us believe that we should enjoy our lives instead of despising simple pleasures and treat them as the worldly sins. Both of us like Simon Templer from The Saints. Both of us were born in the month of September (as well as B) which make us introverts who prefer to "talk" with our writings instead of our voices.

In his book, Imran reminded me the importance of seeking knowledge and the dangers of having blind faith. By seeking knowledge, we can understand and appreciate our religion better.  AlQuran clearly mentions the  obligation of every Muslim to read and seek knowledge (in verses 96:1-5, 17:36 and many more verses).

The Muslims who burned my mother's friend's shop should be ashamed to call themselves Muslims.  The Muslims who chanted "Allahuakbar" before hurting people are ignorant human beings who don't practice the teaching of Islam.  Those who said that I could only pray to Allah in Arabic forget that Allah is the Great and the Mighty who can understand all languages. He even hears and understands the unspoken whisper in our hearts. Abraham, Noah, David and Jesus didn't converse in Arabic and yet, they are the messengers of Allah.

Those who said that I could not enter a church forgot that in the early days, a praying hall is used by people from all religions.  Muslims, Jewish and Christians used to share the same place to pray.

Many Muslims make an effort to recite the Holy Quran during Ramadhan every day, with the goal to finish the whole Quran just before Hari Raya. While it is a commendable act, I know a lot of them recite it without knowing or understanding the meaning. If only they understand the meaning, they would know that the religion never asks its followers to destroy or hurt people.

This posting is a bit heavy compared to my previous postings.  It took me a long time to write this post as it is rather sensitive. I apologize if any of you find this post as offensive.  I never intend to hurt or insult anyone or to appear like holier than thou. It is just another ranting of mine.

Thank you for reading my blog.  Have a great week ahead, my friends....

PS : please share this blog if you know anyone recently converted to be a Muslim. I hope this blog can help her/him ease the transition.

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