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."