Christmas 2016 is just a few days away. As with many places around the world, lights and tinsel seem to be in full swing. I chuckle as I walk through shopping malls and watch young women in hijab taking photos of each other in front of large Christmas trees with their fingers flashing the peace sign. I desperately want to take a photo of them taking a photo. That is what it is all about. Peace, acceptance, tolerance. The spirit of the season.
I have been asked a few times what it is like to live in a Muslim country. I have to really think about the differences against a cosmopolitan city like Toronto. Penang is probably the most diverse part of Malaysia – with many beliefs accepted. According to Wikipedia:
“Malaysia is a multicultural and multi-confessional country. As of the 2010 Population and Housing Census, 61.3 percent of the population practices Islam; 19.8 percent Buddhism; 9.2 percent Christianity; 6.3 percent Hinduism; and 1.3 percent traditional Chinese religions.”
Fundamentally there is not really much of a change in our lives. There are restaurants that don’t serve alcohol, some that are just vegetarian or don’t serve pork. There is the sound of the call to prayer that I hear as an early riser with my windows open along with the chirping of a large flock of birds that wake up below my window.
As far as fashion, some women cover their heads and one very rarely sees a woman fully covered in a burka. Unlike my experience in the UAE, we never see the men in thobes. I have observed some more traditional Indian clothing as well – which looks far more comfortable in this hot climate that any Western clothing.
There are many holidays here – for all groups. Diwali has just finished as we move into Christmas, and then Chinese New Year. In between we have had public holidays for Mawlid. A public holiday just means more people on the roads, kids off school, and a plethora of fantastic decorations. Fireworks are a thing – and they are seen and heard constantly. When we first arrived I asked what they were for. I was met with a shrug and an overall “holiday – someone celebrating”. Seems one does not need too much of a reason to have sparkly lights and big bangs.
The overall feeling here is live and let live. There is interaction between all people, and no real fuss. What is evident is that there is always a reason for people to get together and celebrate life and love with one another.
And isn’t that the spirit of any season?