johor is a pretty religious islamic state. it’s compulsory for muslim children to attend a religious school at one time or another in their years of formal education and there are notices in restaurants reminding followers of islam to pray. the christian equivalent would be a sign saying “have you had your quiet time? fulfill your obligations to Him first!” looking right at you as you tuck into your roti pisang.
it even extends to the delivery suite, where muslim mothers are encouraged to recite from the quran as they anticipate childbirth. pray out loud, urge the midwives. pray and take a deep breath and push! when the baby emerges, a chorus of “assalamualaikum!” rings from the ward and a doctor or nurse says a quick prayer of thanks while attending to the child.
for some reason, i find it extremely comforting. say what you want about muslim extremists calling for the heads of the infidels or non-muslims freaking out about the islamisation of malaysia, the muslim faith, the malay culture that i have observed embodies nothing but grace, warmth and a genuine devotion towards their god.
i spent a weekend with a middle class malay family that makes a living running a restaurant in a pretty large kampung just outside batu pahat. they are honest folk who tell their children to study and work hard. one of their daughters scored straight As for spm and obtained a scholarship to study pharmacy in australia. the family lived in the area behind the restaurant and gave up one of their two rooms for my friends and i to spend the night. they (force) fed us well, took us in as one of their own, they appreciated the fact that the organisers of the project scheduled the cultural night performances at 9pm after the maghrib prayers, and they were so humble and generous that i felt embarrassed about receiving so much.
so these are the muslims i know: the ones who love their god and show it by being obedient followers. the ones who take in strangers and make them feel welcome. those who encourage each other to seek comfort from their god in moments of unbearable pain. being in johor has allowed me to see islam at work in the everyday people who believe. it’s one of the best things about being here.