Monday, September 19, 2011

Malaysia...mothers, daughters and women of Islam


In the courtyard of the Masjid  Jemak
I have recently returned from having a great week with my daughter in Malaysia.  While I had previously visited Kuala Lumpur to make presentations at conferences and visit clients when I had an office in Singapore, I had never had the opportunity to explore the city.
And what fun we had! The shopping was amazing…ranging from Chanel and Gucci boutiques to the stalls of Chinatown with the “knock off” Longchamp and Louis Vuitton bags, badly copied CDs and millions of copied watches.  But unlike Bali, the street vendors were not “pushy” and loud, but respectful as we wandered around the colourful and lively stalls.

 The city was decorated everywhere we went with Malaysian flags, draping from all the buildings, whether they were in the city centre, Chinatown or the Indian section of the city.  The Malaysian National Day was celebrated on September 16.


During our selfstyled  “cultural tour”, where we walked for kilometres exploring this fascinating city, we were fortunate to arrive at the central Merdeka Square when hundreds of school children were leaving the area having taken part in rehearsals for the National Day Festivities . We had so much fun with them;  the children were completely relaxed with us, interested in where we were from, and eager to have their photos taken with us.   It surprised me, as it was almost as if these children were not used to seeing tourists…
End of rehearsals at Merdeka Square
But perhaps the most interesting part of the couple of days for me was living with, and learning about, the Islamic life, its rituals and religion.  We visited two mosques.  At the first one, Masjid Jamek, we were able to wander around the grounds, covered appropriately with clothing provided by the mosque.

The second visit was to the National Mosque, where once again we were provided with covering garments;  but where we also met a fascinating old man, who had served as an Exchange Officer with the Royal Australian Air Force, and who for half an hour or more spoke with my daughter and me about Christianity and Islam.  We both learnt a lot and left the Mosque with a genuine desire to understand more.
The great Prayer Hall of the National Mosque
Certainly to Western women, unfamiliar with the cultural norms of Islam, some of the guidelines, and etiquette instructions we encountered seemed unusual.  But, in the city where so many of the young, female school children had their heads covered by their scarves, and then by their baseball caps we understood and appreciated the culture we were encountering.
One of the many colourful shops
After two days we left for the island of Langkawi.  And it was perhaps here, even more than Kuala Lumpur that I encountered the differences between the Western woman and the Islamic woman.
A mother in her "burquini"
There were mothers with children who wore their “burquinis”in the pool;  and the young new brides who wandered a few steps behind their new husbands on day one, but by day two were holding hands;  all the time furtively glancing out from their black Abaya and Niqab.
Young honeymooners
And for all of we women there was a commonality.  For the mothers, like me with children,young or adult, we had mutual respect and interest.  And for the young women, fully covered in black I had as much fascination as they must have had for my daughter and me in Western style swimming suits.

Confucius said apparently:  “All people are the same;  it is their habits which are different”.  My week in Malaysia certainly reinforced this sensibility.

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