Happy Deepavali

If I were Muslim, I would have just done grave wrong.

According to Takaful Malaysia's Syariah department head Fauzi Mustaffar, Deepavali is a religious festival where Hindu deities were worshipped. Thus wishing Hindus was like syirik (practising polytheism - that's the translation, I swear!) to Muslims.

Quote. Unquote.

This was hurriedly decried by someone in the Prime Minister's department as being not fatwa (Or edict - I've always wondered what fatwa meant. Sorry for being ignorant.)

Speaking of ignorance, I also recall the (dare I say it) "controversial" (I said it!) decision by the National Fatwa Council about Muslims not being allowed to conspire (they used that word, not me) to join in the celebration of the festivals of other religions, including Chinese New Year.

(Never mind that Chinese New Year is a cultural celebration, not a religious one.)

Both issues, of course, were followed by a barrage of Letters-To-The-Editor, Tell-Us-What-You-Think, Public-Poll and So-And-So's-Opinion type articles. Each bellowing the writer's vehement outrage at such audacious decisions.

"We live in a multi-racial, multi-cultural nation." "We must respect and tolerate each other's beliefs." And so on, went the comments.

The debate raged for a few days/weeks. And then, like how most issues do in Malaysia, died down.

But some damage had already been done. One that ran on a deeper level. It hovered on our subconscious. Suddenly, we were reminded about each other's skin colour. On how we must Respect Each Other's Belief. Living In Harmony became hard work. It became a conscious effort.

When we say this or that, will we be insulting our friends from other religions?

Should I do this in front of my Indian colleague?

Oh no, I am eating a meat of suspicious origin in front of my Muslim friend.

When I was little, about knee high, I had a Malay best friend. (Her mom also happened to own the kindergarden I was attending. But that's another story.) We would run around in the playground during recess and climb the monkey bar. We shared our packet of UFO rings. I copied her homework. Happy childhood stuff like that.

I recall lots of friendships like that. Even now, as an adult (ok, ok - I am trying to be one; stop twittering), I have friends who are Malays and Indians. Not because I am putting on a pantomime to prove to them naysayers that I am Living In Harmony.

But because, let me see, how do I put this? Because they are my friends.

Many people I know don't look at skin colour when making friends. Or think thoughts like, "Ok, let's see. I need 3 more Chinese and 2 more Indian friends to Live In Harmony."

They just see the other person's smile. Warmth. Friendliness. Generosity. Intelligence (where applicable).

When did living in harmony become a conscious effort?

Hmm. Maybe I do miss writing festive/Merdeka scripts after all.