One Man's Meat

Published: Saturday June 27, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday June 27, 2015 MYT 9:51:14 AM

It’s all about discretion, not compulsion

Non-Muslims may avoid eating or drinking in front of their Muslim friends during the fasting month, as a courtesy.

ON the first day of Ramadan, I did a spot check on Sekolah Kebangsaan USJ 12 in Subang Jaya. I wanted to check whether my Year One daughter was allowed to eat in the canteen during recess.

In a perfect world, I wouldn’t be worried about whether Apsara could eat or drink in school during Ramadan.

But it is not a perfect world. We live in a world where non-Muslim primary students from SK Seri Pristana in Sungai Buloh, Selangor, were told to eat in the changing room during Ramadan two years ago.

Recess bell rang. And non-Muslim kids marched to the canteen. I was relieved to see that the main canteen operator had opened his business.

I sat with Apsara who ate food prepared by her mother – egg and rice, yogurt and chocolate milk bar – and drank Vitagen. She shared her banana with her best friend, who had pocket money but was not keen to buy the limited selection of food in the canteen.

After recess, I walked back to my car, telling myself I was overly concerned about my daughter’s welfare. And that I had not walked what I talked.

During the SK Seri Pristana controversy in 2013, non-Muslim friends had asked me whether Malaysia was becoming a Taliban state. I answered that it was an isolated case.

“There will always be Taliban – even Christian Taliban – among us but they are the minority in Malaysia,” I said.

Three days after I visited Apsara’s school, as if to prove me wrong that the Taliban were the minority, another controversy erupted.

A teacher at a high-performance cluster school in Sungai Petani allegedly told non-Muslim pupils to drink their own urine if they did not have any water with them.

The next day, Kedah Education, Transportation and Public Works Committee chairman Datuk Tajul Urus Mat Zain said the teacher was actually joking.

“What he said was jangan minum air ken­cing kamu pula (don’t you instead drink your own urine) which was misinterpreted by the pupils,” said Tajul.

I didn’t know which was more appalling – the teacher’s “joke” or Tajul defending the teacher?

I wonder how many parents would think it funny when a teacher tells their child not to drink their own urine.

(The Kedah Education Department and Education District Office have been tasked to look into the case.)

Deputy Education Minister Datuk Mary Yap was dragged into the controversy.

Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru criticised her for telling non-Muslims to avoid eating in front of fasting Muslims. Thiru said Yap’s statement “only serves to prod misguided Malaysians into imposing their beliefs upon others”.

I WhatsApp-ed Yap yesterday to get her side of the story.

The Tawau MP said she did not use the word “should” (which conveys the element of compulsion) but what she wrote to an online journalist was “out of respect to our Muslim friends, we, as non-Muslims will avoid eating or drinking in front of our Muslim friends. Non-Muslims need to show discretion on this matter during the fasting month.”

Yap added that she made this statement “based on my experience as an ex-principal, an ex-teacher and as an individual on my practice of respecting my Muslim friends and colleagues during the fasting month”.

“This practice of mine is built upon values like mutual respect, tolerance and acceptance of each other’s culture, which has resulted in harmony and peace wherever I have served,” she said.

“My practice has been accepted in good faith.”

She continued: “Hence, as the Deputy Minister of Education today, the same values continue to be practised.

“When we avoid eating and drinking in the presence of our Muslim friends, there are polite and discreet ways to do this, like sitting at a different table in the school canteen.

“It is not about hiding away from them or eating in inappro­priate places like the toilet.”

I wonder what Thiru and other critics will say after reading Yap’s explanation. I support what she said as I too practise it.

During the fasting month, to show respect to my Muslim friends, and not because I think they are weaklings who will break fast at the sight of me eating roti kahwin (bread with butter and kaya), I don’t eat in front of them.

Going back to my belief that the “changing room” and “urine” incidents were isolated cases, I WhatsApp-ed a Twitter friend of mine to get his point of view on the “urine” case. I’ve never met @RaisHussin in person but I was curious on the opinion of a Twitterer whom I had pigeon-holed as a “clever Umno man”.

“To me, the teacher shouldn’t have said what he said. However, since he had said it and there’s nothing he can do to change what he had said and since he has been repri­manded, we need to move forward,” said @RaisHussin who turned out to be Datuk Rais Hussin Mohamed Ariff, an entrepreneur and political analyst.

“We cannot go on each other’s jugular vein every time an isolated incident like this happens. Investigation done, reprimanded and time to move on.

“During the fasting month, Muslims cannot force a non-Muslim not to eat or drink in front of them.

“However, there’s also sensitivity. For example, when a non-Muslim wants to eat Baskin-Robbins ice cream in front of a Muslim,” he added.

The majority of us in Malaysia, according to Rais Hussin, want to live in moderation.

“The overzealous hardliners are a minority, but they are profoundly loud,” he said.

“The silent majority are moderates and it is time for them to speak up and speak up loudly to drown out the loud hardliners.”

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Tags / Keywords: Philip Golingai, columnist

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