To quote the last sermon of the Prophet Mohammad SAW:
“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.”
I was sat between my 9 year old cousin and my 75 year old grandpa (nini) on a handcrafted wooden bench outside one oddly chilly evening on nini’s verandah -or pantaran as we call it- when an Indian textile seller who walks around the kampong was about to pass by on the titian (wooden bridge) across us.
This is Kampong Ayer mind you, where small scale businessmen in my memory would brave the scorching hot sun and humid weather lugging heavy fabrics, ice-cream in coolers complete with cones and cups and still manage to be friendly to sometimes rude customers despite being clearly tired. Most of these sellers were Indians, which comes as no surprise. This was more common and routine back in my primary school days, more than ten years ago, but this is a rare sight nowadays.
I was suddenly nostalgic and was about to greet him with salam when out of the blue my nini uttered that he hopes the K_____ would turn the other way, he didn’t want to do business today. My little cousin reciprocated this sentiment with the same word. I was not shocked at this but it felt odd and I was angry yet unsure at whom and or exactly what was to blame. This was and is the norm of the society today. By no means does this only apply to my family, the K word unfortunately for many Bruneians is and for me was what we refer to them on an everyday basis.
“Kadai K_______” we would say when it was time to get groceries.
I was only stunned that two different generations were oblivious to this. The poor man was at that point in time within earshot when I felt I had to diffuse this situation. I smiled, waved and greeted him as though trying to compensate for my years of ignorance. I felt my two beloved companions sitting next to me fall silent.
For the most part we never knew it could be casual racism. Even if we had no condescending or xenophobic motives behind it, using the K word is rude. I never knew this until my own awakening. Islam taught me we are equal. Praying side by side with people from all over the world and from different walks of life taught me we are created by The Most Merciful to not isolate one another, no “them and us” mentality. Many occurrences during my time at Masjid An Nabawi and Masjidil Haram led me to appreciate this ayat more:
O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. (Al Hujurat 49:13)
I was waiting for my friend by the shoe stands in the Prophet’s masjid, smiling at passersby while looking for her- when an elderly woman pat my head and my cheek and smiled. Some stranger handed me water to wash my face when I was half asleep waiting for Fajr. A guard -who despite hardly understanding any English- had to work with my very limited Arabic and successfully, helped me with directions.
Most of all it was the sight of the sea of white clothing all coming together to worship that etched this ayat in me.
I now address who I could when I hear them utter casual racism unaware or otherwise. Most of the time people don’t know any better. They may have been brought up that way- maybe so did their parents and the generations before them. With the climate of hatred and bigotry so prominent in the world today, we should not be silent observers who enable this.
There I was, a Gen Y adult educating baby boomers and Gen Z kids-who for the most part just lack the knowledge and vocabulary of what to call our fellow Indian Bruneian citizens and residents in the Malay language.
Let us stop this now,
Religion aside, this is just being humane.
Nabilah Jipli was a freelance writer for Muslyfe.