HOLY MEN, HOLY WOMEN: A JOURNEY INTO THE FAITHS OF MALAYSIANS AND OTHER ESSAYS
As a multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-faith country, Malaysia is a place where magic happens. First came the magic, then the traders and merchants from China and the Arabian Peninsula. Over time, Islam found its way into the country’s arts, culture, politics, administration and law. Beliefs trickled from the thrones of rulers to the streets and were eventually enshrined in the Federal Constitution. Our law today protects freedom of worship. Islam in Malaysia has been nurtured over centuries and passed on through generations. I was born and raised as a Malay, in a culture that has absorbed a cornucopia of cultural mysticisms, so religion is a way of life for me.
I remember, as a boy, arranging seven types of flowers of different colours in a bowl wet with morning dew, as my grandfather, a local witch-doctor, or bomoh, prepared to help the sick and the anxious. Through word of mouth, people came from far away to seek his healing powers. As the woodchips burned and spells were cast, I watched in awe as the believers, in a trance, were put in touch with spirits and supreme beings. It could have been “God” in Arabic, al-Lah, because the spells sounded, to a boy, like verses from the Quran. I grew up believing that the colours of flowers are a language, and that spells worked because spoken language creates vibrations in the air; vibration creates energy and energy produces force, thus the healing.
Healing is holy. We are all looking for the same healing but through different beliefs. Such a wish — to find a cure — is a mission of adaption, of survival. Today there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world; some are endangered and some are being strengthened and reformed. Religion, unlike God, is mortal, because it is a belief system. Such a system, to survive the decay of time, obeys the long course of Darwin’s natural selection.