Saturday, October 09, 2010

Living In Malaysia: Yawning Chasm of Cultural Divide

My friend Fred* is Malay, a devout Muslim, and although he's liberal in his views, he comes from a fairly traditional background.

I'm a Western European atheist, feminist, rebel at heart, with views that on bad days run to the right of Attila the Hun.

Although we're almost complete opposites, we have worked together happily on various projects for almost 10 years now. We also discuss religion, politics, race, and culture with one or both of us squealing "But how can you SAY that?" or "How can you BELIEVE that?". 

I find our chats very instructive. For one thing, I can ask Fred to enlighten me on all sorts of sensitive things that many other people in this country are too shy to discuss. But sometimes I am aware of this yawning cultural divide between us. Like the time we were working on some TV scripts together.....

We had about four mornings of work to do on a project, and as I have a home office, Fred was going to come to my place.  But when we were making arrangements, he became a bit twitchy and confessed he was worried about khalwat.

As Wikipedia notes, "Khalwat is the Sharia  criminal offence of "close proximity" whereby two unmarried non-relatives of the opposite sex are apprehended after being found "in compromising positions" by state religious police."

Even though Fred's wife gave her blessing to our meeting up for work, Fred was worried he'd be arrested for being in my house even though there isn't anything in the least "compromising" about our relationship.

The concept of khalwat is so alien to Western European culture that it is at these points you have to make a decision. You can either decide it's just too difficult and walk away, or you decide that your friend's worry has to be yours too.

Fred is my friend so I was prepared to offer a solution, but being me, I couldn't help teasing him. "You know I don't find you sexually attractive, right?" I asked him innocently.

Poor Fred went white, red, and then burst into laughter when he realised I was teasing.

We got round the khalwat thing by working in the house while my other half was at home marking exam papers and preparing lectures.

It's situations like these that make me realise what Kipling meant when he wrote, "East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet."

14 comments:

Brian said...

Yea, but at least the twain are talking about it, that's progress!

BeadedTail said...

At least you were able to come up with a solution and it's good that Fred is such a good friend that you can talk about things like that with him. Such a weird rule - does it really stop whatever it was intended to stop?

Khyra And Sometimes Her Mom said...

Sharla pawed it well!

I do imagine it makes for an interesting time for you -

I like how you think - actually, quite a number of similarities!

Have a great weekend!

Khyra's Mom

GRAÇA said...

Venho desejar um bom fim de semana ai para casa
Ronrons da
Kika

Katnip Lounge said...

I think it's great to have a friend like Fred...the best way to get rid of prejudices is to explore them.

mizzyN said...

to avoid being caught in close proximity muslims must bring a companion along. for couples they bring their brother or sister along.

Neri said...

i like this article very much :)

Whisppy said...

LOL! I can just about imagine the khalwat scandal on your street.....

lupie said...

Hehehe - Ellen, you'd be on first page of Metro if it happens.

Hahaha ... oooppps just joking laa...

Dennis the Vizsla said...

"... and if they do meet, it will be under strict supervision."

Kitikata-san said...

All that stuff you talk about, I don't know much about. What I do know is that you should talk about cat treats for the cats. Meow!

~Covert_Operations'78~ said...

Ah! Khalwat! The wonderful "criminal offence" which accords police the authority to stop the cab that I was travelling in with my disabled friend Hisham on grounds of suspected khalwat! And we were rushing to the hospital then because Hisham had another epileptic fit, and I was half dead from worry and panic! Wonderful country that we live in, no wonder burglars and snatch thieves reign like kings! Because the police are too busy minding unmarried couples (of which at least one party is Muslim), Muslims having a beer and a quiet chat in pubs and Muslims eating in the daytime during Ramadhan!

~Covert_Operations'78~ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Admiral Hestorb said...

That was fascinating! I love reading these things, speaking as the Admiral's mommy. By the way, I get that 405 or 504 (or something) error..page not found when I comment for several weeks now. I am about to learn to copy the remark so I don't have to keep typing it out. Grrr.