There's a difference between tradition and religion
US Ambassador to Malaysia Datuk Paul Jones and his wife, Catherine, wore baju
Melayu and kebaya respectively to his investiture on the birthday of the Sultan of
Pahang in October last year. Such gestures show respect for the culture and
tradition of the Malaysia.
We can show respect for other cultures without affecting our faith
IN 2007, there was a local Malay drama which featured a storyline about a Chinese convert who faced a dilemma when she had to fulfil her mother's dying wish.
Her mother was initially reluctant to allow her to embrace Islam for fear that the daughter would ignore her own biological family. It was only when the daughter explained that Islam was against this that the mother relented.
However, she requested that after her death, her daughter and her husband accompany the cortege to the cemetery and wear the gunny sack robes during the funeral.
When her mother died, she reminded her husband of the request, only for him to kick a big fuss over it. She couldn't fulfil her mother's request as her husband did not allow her to go to the funeral.
They quarrelled and her husband, because of his own ignorance over the entire issue, eventually divorced her.
I was reminded of this drama titled Permintaan Terakhir (Last Wish) following the recent controversy, if we can describe it as that, over the kurta worn by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak at an event during the recent Thaipusam.
The point I am making here is that there is a need for us to be able to tell the difference between tradition and religion, not only of our own race but of others as well. As the recent controversy showed, it could spark an argument if one does not know the difference.
The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defined tradition as "an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behaviour". It is a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable. It is handed down as information, beliefs and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction.
The same online dictionary defined religion as "a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardour and faith".
I personally think it was a nice gesture on Najib's part to wear the kurta at the event. This not only shows his respect of the tradition of other races but also his understanding of their religions as well.
Similarly, I get overwhelmed when I see my non-Malay friends wearing full Malay attire -- songkok and sampin for the men and the selendang for the women -- when attending Malay weddings or Hari Raya open houses. There are some Malays who attend weddings wearing collared T-shirts and jeans.
However, living in a multiracial and multi-religious society, it is understandable if confusion does arise. This is due to the lack of understanding of other peoples' race and religion.
Even among the younger generation of Malays, they don't know what constitutes tradition and what the religion dictates. In most Malay weddings I've attended, I see families putting more emphasis on the tradition instead of what the religion decrees.
We can see some of our traditions in other races as well, such as the wearing of henna by both Malay and Indian brides. This again is tradition and has nothing to do with religion.
As such, I think there is a need for the respective authorities, be it those in the Religious Department or the cultural experts, to come up with some sort of guide on this matter, especially for the reference of the younger generation.
For a start, they can write about the kurta. A simple search on Google will show you that the kurta is not a religious but a traditional attire.
According to Wikipedia, a kurta is a traditional item of clothing worn in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The website also showed pictures of Muslim scholars in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) in 1960 and Muslim Pahari (hill) women in Kashmir in 1890, wearing kurta.
It further says that the kurta was fashionable in the 60s and 70s as an element of hippie fashion, which has become fashionable again now.