Matters of opinion that enables me to understand or make some sense of my country- Malaysia

In my school days, school canteens used to sell both halal and non-halal food in stalls side-by-side. No Muslim children ever bought from the non-halal stall, but non-Muslims did buy food like nasi-lemak from the Muslim stall. Then they sat at the same table to eat. There was no question of hurting the sensitivities of anyone.

FMT LETTER: From Ravinder Singh, via e-mail

So-called “religious sensitivity” is a thing of the mind. It is not something external like the heat from a fire that one can feel, but purely a state of mind. It is what one chooses to make of something. A thing done or said by someone to another of a different race or religion is seen one way by a broadminded person and another way by a narrow minded person. It is seen one way by a wise person and the opposite way by a fool. A rational person interprets it differently from an irrational person. In interpreting one should take into account the manner, tone, context, occasion, etc. in which it is said.

It is akin to a normal person seeing a rope for what it is, and a psychiatric patient seeing the same rope as a dangerous snake and trying to kill it before it attacks him. Remember, the mind is not only capable of playing games under different conditions and circumstances, it can also be conditioned into such a state by external hypnotic pressure. Such pressure can even make a normal person who is unable to resist such pressure, see the rope as a snake.

People’s minds can be manipulated by those who have power over them by the constant harping on something. Teachers, including BTN teachers, therefore have the great power of making or breaking a nation by what they teach their charges. Politicians, as leaders, also have such power. Knowing this, our former medical doctor Prime Minister had chosen the way of running his administration on the premise that telling a lie and repeating it would finally have the people believe it is the truth. But repeating lies is like blowing and blowing into a balloon. Some day it will burst.

One question of “religious sensitivity” is that of eating and drinking by non-Muslims in the month of Ramadan. It is now being bandied about that for non-Muslims to eat or drink when in the company or presence of Muslims is to hurt the sensitivities of the Muslims. This was never an issue in the good old days. Muslim scholars have said that Islam does not forbid non-Muslims eating in the presence or company of Muslims in the month of Ramadan. So who started this nonsense and why?

In my school days, school canteens used to sell both halal and non-halal food in stalls side-by-side. No Muslim children ever bought from the non-halal stall, but non-Muslims did buy food like nasi-lemak from the Muslim stall. Then they sat at the same table to eat. There was no question of hurting the sensitivities of anyone. The Indians did not say that by eating beef next to them the Malays children were being insensitive to their religious beliefs (it is pantang for Indians to eat beef). Similarly the Malay children did not complain that the Chinese students, by eating pork dishes next to them, were not being sensitive to Islam as pork is haram to the Muslims.

So how and why did the question of non-Muslims being insensitive to Muslims by eating in their presence or company become an issue?

Last week, I was at the BNM Penang branch for a discussion on a banking matter. Two officers attended to me, a Malay lady and a Chinese lady. As we sat down, the Malay lady put a plastic glass of mineral water before me and said “this is for you”. I felt so touched by this gesture and respect shown to me as a non-fasting person who would need to quench my dry throat. Did she, as someone who was fasting, do something wrong by giving me the water?

Yesterday I was at another meeting in KL at an office manned by a dozen staff. It ended at 2pm and a non-Malay staff and myself went for lunch nearby. The staff said she was so hungry as she had not taken any drink or snack the whole morning as she was afraid of doing so in the office (it has a coffee corner) during puasa month as it would be insensitive to the Muslim staff. I was taken aback to hear this. How the words and actions happening around us today have put the fear of offending Muslims if one were to eat in their presence.

Why should it be insensitive to my Muslim friends if I have to eat or drink in their presence? As a non-fasting person, my mealtimes are morning, afternoon and evening. When mealtimes come, I feel the pangs of hunger. A fasting Muslim, as told to me by fasting Muslim friends, does not feel the pangs of hunger during the daytime. This is because the body has received the normal amount of food, with the difference that meal-times are changed from daylight hours to night-time hours. Within two or three days of the start of fasting, the body adapts to the new schedule of mealtimes.

So could Muslim scholars please put this issue in its proper perspective. Do I have to hide myself from my Muslim friends when I am eating during fasting hours in the fasting month? Why should they feel I am being insensitive to them if I eat in their presence?

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