Tuesday, January 18, 2022

What we believe in

We are reflected in how we see others, and we will find our beliefs constantly challenged.

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“Aku tengok Kak Nisa dengan Kak Nur tak pakai tudung semua, tapi baik. Macam tak percaya.”

I laughed at Adni’s disbelief at the people who had helped him. It was a simple statement, but it reflected the way he had been raised and what he was taught to believe in.

Adni was a kampung boy. But unlike Lat’s famous Kampung Boy, he did not experience a life that allowed him to see those who did not wear tudungs as people who could be nice. Neither did it let him perceive a life out of the Islamic context as an acceptable path of value.

Islam was the main theme of his kampung life, but it was also a life without a father, and a mother who stayed in his mind even after her death.

It was also where he was unable to finish school, and forced into a life that froze his perception of the world through only an Islamic lens. His life in the kampung was a struggle that shortened his reach towards understanding life outside the microcosm of a Muslim kampung, and it shaped the way he carried himself when he had to integrate into the foreign cosmic of the city.

Having been raised in a suburban family, I did not have much exposure at first to the ways of others, just like Adni. My family is a modern, practising Muslim family. My life as an adolescent was a few hours a day in religious school – the rest was filled with the contemporary pop chants and games that I felt were much more entertaining that the tedious religious life to which I was reluctant to submit.

My measure of life’s worth at the time was what could best entertain me, and what was worthy was the joy of an un-Islamic life.

But unlike Adni, I was able to perceive and bend my beliefs from the people and circumstances I had experienced. Boarding school was an opportunity for me to be included in a melting pot where I faced others who were raised out of a suburban climate. I had classmates from a kampung life who spent their post-class boredom in the mosque. Imagine how baffled I was to learn that a teenager my age would rather be in a mosque than enjoy an evening nap.

Still, I had a hard time believing that anyone other than myself could have a different mindset as a teenager and go as far as to say that an Islamic route could be fulfilling. Although I had the opportunity to face such people, I made the mistake of invalidating their experiences and beliefs.

Boarding school was not the only moment of exposure I had. As soon as I finished my secondary education, I was so determined to fulfil my vision of becoming a medical graduate that I ended up in a kampung.

I believed that my achievements deserved a great career pathway, and a scholarship placed me there – in a kampung so secluded from the rest of the country that I could easily travel a few miles and find myself in another nation.

The small college in that kampung was dissatisfactory, but I soldiered through my bitterness. I still complained because a suburban boy who does not complain is not really a suburban boy.

But the complaining reflected me as well. It reflected my inability to see the worthiness of life outside of the context of a modern lifestyle. I look back at kampung college me with disappointment as the only satisfaction I hoped for then was a chance to get out of there.

I was still a downer when I left that kampung college for medical school. I was stuck on invalidating the experiences of close acquaintances so that mine could be the beacon of righteousness. I thought that to be good was to be progressive and modern. To be useful was to abandon what I deemed conservative, and any trace of life before there was anything modern.

That was my belief for the longest time – until I found myself invalidating my own experiences and beliefs. I failed medical school after thinking that I deserved to be there and to stay until the title was mine. I found myself continuing my studies in a career that I thought was beneath my past achievements, yet I enjoyed it. I found that people had bent my past beliefs about them.

Just as Adni was surprised to find that a woman who wore no tudung could still be nice, I could see my old self thinking that a woman who wore one could never be progressive. I have since moved on from that belief, and now believe in the validity of anyone’s perception and stand without the need to deny the experiences that shaped their beliefs.

Adni experienced a life that made him believe in the need to live life according to the way he had been taught in his kampung. He found himself in struggles that could even strengthen his beliefs. I had no right to say that his were wrong just because I experienced a different lifestyle. The only thing I had the right to say back to his remark was: “Itulah orang” – an addition to his experience without invalidating the people he had faced and who formed his perceptions.

Just as Adni will continue to meet people who will shock him by their kindness although they do not wear tudungs or are not Muslims, we too will meet people who challenge our beliefs with a righteousness that goes beyond any one belief but is still just as valid as our own experiences. We can only hope that invalidation of belief will not be a part of our experience with them.

Until then, semoga kita terus berbakti.

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