JUNE 21 — “What do you think I am?”
I was having coffee with a newly-made friend, who had contacted me via social media, to seek advice on a project she was working on. She, like many young, observant Muslims, wore the tudung. The tudung was simple — I did not think my new friend was one of the trendy hijabbis. She spoke very well, and her accent denoted time spent abroad. Her resume was impressive.
“What do you think I am?” she asked again.
I did not answer. What did she want me to say? I waggled my hands, to show that I did not understand her question.
“I’m agnostic,” she told me.
My head spun. The agnostic in front of me wore the tudung, how could she be irreligious, and wear the hijab?
The last time my head spun this way was years ago when I met two young women wearing the hijab who confessed that they were in a relationship with each other. Then two years ago, I met with one or two who offered me pot. Now this. (On a side note, I wonder what other hijabbis will confess to me!)
“What’s the difference between an atheist and agnostic?” I asked plaintively.
“I still believe in God, but I do not believe in any religion. Atheists denounce God.”
She wore the tudung to please her family and to remain undetected.
“There are many of us, Kak. We just don’t tell people.”
She was the product of private Islamic schooling, and went to all the right universities. Her friends were of similar backgrounds.
It was when they began working and mixing with other people, even Muslims, who were not from their backgrounds, that they began questioning. Why was there so much hate? There are many good people out there.
My new friend could tafsir the Quran that many Muslim Malaysians cannot. Her Arabic is flawless. Because of her linguistic skills, she is able to dissect the intricacies of the Arab language.
I asked whether she was frustrated with just the Muslims, and not the religion per se.
No. In her travels, seeking peace and faith, she found more comfort in non-Muslim places of worship.
My eyes popped. “You better not declare this to the Malaysian public.”
I came home, all intrigued, by this admission. That very evening, my cousin Justin Johari of Crescent Collective, posted a Salon.com article (http://www.salon.com/2014/06/12/atheism_explodes_in_saudi_arabia_where_just_talking_about_atheism_is_illegal_partner/) “Atheism explodes in Saudi Arabia, despite state-enforced ban” on his Facebook wall.
The article spoke for itself: a growing number of Saudis are declaring very quietly their disenchantment with their faith.
“The idea of being irreligious and even atheist is spreading because of the contradiction between what Islamists say and what they do,” he said.
That was what my new friend said too.
About a week prior to this meeting, I met with a friend, who wanted to talk about the state of Islam in Malaysia. M is a moderate, though when it comes to the practice of his faith, he considers himself conservative. He is one of the few people I know who is able to see the forest for the trees, despite his religious convictions.
“I promised you I’d tell you about these people,” he said over lunch. The restaurant was loud, and served the typical hipster Western fare that passed off as food.
Had I ever heard of the Orang Matahari? The People of The Sun?
Some years ago, he and his family were back in kampong, to attend a funeral. It was there that he first heard of the Orang Matahari, Malays who looked like Malays, professed to be Muslim but aren’t.
“They don’t pray the way we do. I mean, they don’t pray at all. But in their hearts, they prayed.”
This was a matter of national emergency as far as he was concerned. I looked at my friend — by nature, he is not reactive. He is stoic. In this case however, he was passionate — how would we know if a friend or colleague was not one of them? Like all of us, the Orang Matahari married and bred “… to put it crudely…” and all of them looked “… like us.”
The Malaysian Ummah is in trouble. It will be splintered. At least with the Christians, Buddhists et al, you knew where you stood. They at least declared their faith. What about these Malays, who tick “Melayu” and “Islam” in their ICs and forms, but aren’t?
“You got to go to Kampung Seronok in Penang. That’s one of the hubs.”
I stared at him. This People of The Sun sounded too far-fetched to me. I knew Sun Salutations, but this?
Like my new friend, M said something similar: “There are many of them. They just don’t tell people.”
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.