I have been reading through the letters published recently on love, conversion, compulsion and apostasy.
Before, I would not have given a second glance at these issues, as they were irrelevant. Now it is. I am a Chinese Malaysian, in a loving relationship for about a year with a Malaysian Muslim Malay man. I had not planned to seek love with a Malay Muslim man as I knew the problems, yet we fell in love.
Contrary to the norm, my liberal-minded parents have absolutely no objections to my relationship with a Malay man but are happy as they know that he has been nothing but gentle and kind to me. The big BUT is, they are aware of the implications of conversion and is understandably wary of the syariah laws and how oppressive it is to women compared to the civil laws.
The irony is that the very liberalism they have brought me up with that allows them to accept my choice in a partner, is the very liberalism they do not wish to see me lose as a Muslim woman in Malaysia. They would rather I do not convert and see my civil liberties and how I want to dole my assets out after I leave this Earth decided by what is already set in stone, irrevocably.
As a matter of unofficial policy, as a non-Muslim, I have no say in the religious matters of Muslims and how it affects them. I have no comments about it but that doesn't mean I want to be a part of it. Therein lies my delicate problem.
I do see myself sharing my life with this man, who has made me a very happy woman but lament that policies have to encroach on what is simply a private matter between two people in love. However, in order for me to share my life with him, I would be required to convert into a religion which I have absolutely no interest in practicing and believing in (I do not adhere to the school of monotheistic thought and found much of life's answers in Theravada Buddhism).
Marriage in this country is out of the question. Cohabitation is more out of the question as at any time of the day or night, he can be hauled off and charged for khalwat or at worse; zina and it would certainly break my heart and his should he be subjected to such an embarrassing situation.
Less liberal-minded Muslims would perhaps question, if you love this man so much, why not you just convert for him? On the same token, I can also ask him, if he loves me so much, why not he convert for me? Of course, I would not do that as I respect his beliefs as much as I would expect him to respect my beliefs.
Would it please Muslims to see me not practicing the religion though I am a 'Muslim'? Is hypocrisy not a kind of sin? I only ask that I be allowed to be with him, to take care of him, and to make his life as happy as he has made mine.
As to questions on whether I suffer from xenophobia or object to lifestyle changes. Well, for the past 18 years I have not eaten pork and other meat from four-legged creatures. I also abhor alcohol, as I do not like the taste of it and the subsequent sickness that comes with it.
I happily wear the kebaya as my grandmothers did before me, two of my best girlfriends are Muslims and spend much time at their parent's homes and have participated in weddings, thanksgiving prayers and other Muslim fests. Needless to say also, as a Peranakan, I have also adopted many Malay habits through my grandparents.
Having been exposed to the culture and religion from young, I do have a higher than the average Chinese Malaysian understanding of the religion. Let me reiterate, that doesn't mean I am
interested in practicing the religion.
Our alternative is perhaps to get married in a foreign country and subsequently live miserably in exile. What makes Malaysia certainly unique is; our matrimonial status would be recognised worldwide but not in Malaysia and perhaps Saudi Arabia. Our other alternative is to end our relationship, but that would certainly hurt as terribly as we are like soul mates, so different in so many ways, yet so meant for each other.
Not many people have learnt the true essence of William Shakespeare's cautionary tale on love. That it transcends all boundaries. And to stand in its way, will only bring tragic consequences.
We love, despite.