They’re from Australia, you know!

JULY 23 — I’m in a familiar place again. 

I’m sitting at the doorstep of a house, accompanying a friend who has a spiritual ailment. I am good at this: sitting on doorsteps and staring at the dark sky, and thinking about anything that strikes my fancy. If I am younger, I would probably use this opportunity to write very bad, painful and angsty poetry and then Instagram it.

When you are sitting on a doorstep you start to think too much. You think about why you’re at this place, when your friends are now enjoying the fruits of their marital and professional labour, and you shake your head. Some things never change, hence you sitting at the entrance of the house of a healer.

A Malay family is being attended to by the healer. I look at the children who have come with their parents, and wonder how they become obese at such a young age. The mother keeps poking at the husband’s back, telling the healer that the husband has been lethargic lately and unmotivated to work. Someone has cast a spell on him. The healer tells her that there is nothing wrong with him, he didn’t need healing.

I look at the husband and see a sloth instead.

Healers. They do not only have to deal with the other realms, but also act as marital counsellors. And their lives are dominated by the woes of their patients, which at most times, are trivial. I can understand and sympathise with illness, evil eye and the ramifications of black magic, if such a thing exists, and the need to dispel all these when everything, including modern science, has failed. 

But who are we to say?

The family’s problems may be trivial, but in their world, they are huge and insurmountable. If I were to categorise the family I witness now, they would be working class, living in predominantly working class Malay area and have little political or religious leanings, in spite of the mother wearing the tudung and husband wearing a kopiah. They are the typical Malay family who may spew ultra-nationalist statements when they are angered, or feel that their rice bowl is affected, but most times, religion and politics exist only on television and the Malay papers.

In another world, where everyone is a devout Muslim, and privileged, such healings make an appearance too, but in the form of expatriates.

Recently a relative invited me to attend an exorcism being conducted by Australian Muslims. I didn’t go because I wanted to see a kuda kepang performance brought in by Pusaka at Publika, but I was intrigued.

“Why?” I asked. What was the difference between a Malay healer and an Australian one? They shared the same religion, didn’t they.

The relative clucked. Tsk, she said, you know how the Malay ones are. Silap silap ada jinn, you know we Malays still have kurafat beliefs. Australians ni, clean. They really follow the Quran and Sunnah, plus they speak English, easier to understand. I tell you, these reverts, they really are true to Islam.

Oh. Gitu.

A week later, I was asked to blow up the Quranic verses “big big tau, kita ni dah tua, tak nampak sangat alif ba ta tu” the Australian healers had given them and make copies. I did and realised that blowing up the verses worsened our eyesight and tajweed.

Itu tanda atas ke bawah? Kaf ke Kha?” I squinted. The Arabic language is unique in the sense that it has phonetics written along in their sentences.

Alamak. Macam mana nak baca ni, buat besar besar pun tak boleh baca!”

“Are you sure these are Quranic verses! Silap silap puja jinn Australia, susah tau!”

Esh you ni. Istighfar banyak-banyak.”

“Are you sure these people are kosher?”

“You! These people are from Australia, you know!”

So now I’m left with two huge posters of verses that the husband and I can’t read, because everything is so blurry. And I’m sitting on this doorstep having this epiphany: it won’t be the non-Muslims or liberals who will or may be the undoing of Islam and Muslims in Malaysia, but the more privileged and observant ummah, who sneer at the simple, average Malay who’s only worried about bread and butter issues.

The Malay family with obese children? We will cease to see them, because they and their working class bomohs are the uneducated mass. Their voices will be hidden.

The Privileged Ummah? You’re hearing them already.

“There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” — Arundhati Roy

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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