Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Divisive Religion or Religious Division? (1)

During the last couple of decades or so, there has been a far greater religious consciousness in Malaysia. By using the word ‘consciousness’ I have been more than generous. I find it difficult to call it a ‘renaissance’ or even an ‘awakening’ for the reason that the acute awareness has more to do with ethnic polarisation than spiritual enlightenment – the rise and rise of ‘they & us’.

For example, on meeting each other, Malays would address Muslims friends and Muslims strangers with Assalamu alaikum, which in Arabic means peace be upon you. I must say it’s really a beautiful greeting. We all could do with such wishes. The appropriate reciprocation is of course Walaikum assalam.

This greeting is not been new, and has been used in Malaya/Malaysia for hundreds of years by, though not all, Muslim. In reality, it's used on an everyday basis by Arabs, even Christian ones - well, at least those that I know very well.

Unfortunately today, one can sense and observe the users treating it as a greeting exclusive only to Muslims, like a membership gold card of a very special and segregated club.

One day I saluted my favourite bank teller, a sweet Malay lady, with this Arab felicitation. Having a sweet eye for her, I had preferred to see her for my bank withdrawals rather than use the faceless auto-box. On hearing my Arabic greetings, she showed her surprise, though she swiftly reciprocated.

While working out my paltry withdrawal she said – and I still recall this most vividly - "Sir, it's so sweet of you to wish me that but you shouldn't because you aren't a Muslim. Just a Selamat Pagi or Good Morning would do." Then she smiled dazzlingly at me as if to take away any sting of her sweet and gentle rebuke.

Aaah, my heart did a magic somersault, and for the 15th time that morning, I felled deeply in love. Her dark doe eyes seemed to smile too, so much so that I was quite tempted to leap over the counter to be beside her, except that a bank guard was eyeing me all along, with suspicion on his face – blast, I am just that sort of bloke who has always invited the wrong kind of attention.

However, back to the issue - I didn't have the heart to remind her it's just an Arabic salutation and not a Koranic phrase, or that it meant 'Muslims of the world, unite' or 'Saladin was a jolly good bloke with a nifty slash, thrust and parry!'

Why didn't she accept my Assalamu alaikum? I thought I did say it rather smartly and sincerely ;-)

To be continued with Part 2 ........


  1. I believe I heard a Muslim friend of mine say that there is some Quranic basis for Muslims to not reply a 'salam' given to them by a non Muslim.Not sure of the validity of that statement though.

  2. emmanuel : Poppycock and balderdash.
    The 'salam' is universal, I believe

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  6. I have deleted the above 3 comments for commercial spamming ;-)

  7. In the Middle East, you would be rebuked with "In your country no manners?", if you did not answer the locals 'salam'. Wish our local muslims could live there for sometime and see how the various religions co-exist.