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 ........