Having Faith, in Faith.

Learning to have Faith, in Faith


A former pupil of mine from when I taught in Malaysia, Marina Mahathir, has written a perceptive and interesting — in her words — ‘musing’ on having more faith, in faith. The article is posted below, but copied from the website Sisters in Islam

It is when we share an experience together that we are brought closer together.

— Marina Mahathir

It is not that often that we hear this kind of Muslim voice; even though there are many devote Muslims who will share similar lines of thinking as Marina. It is just that these kinds of voices are not as loud and strident as some others.



We have to stop falling for ploys that divide us and resist by coming closer together to be more united.

From age three until I was 15, I went to a Convent school in my hometown, Alor Setar.

There, both nuns and lay teachers taught me and the few other Muslim girls in the school, perhaps four or five in each class.

As far as I know, every single one of them has remained Muslim to this day.

Our school building had a large cross on the roof and photos of Jesus on the walls.

At school assembly, we listened quietly as other students sang the Lord’s Prayer.

The nuns were covered head to toe in white and we liked some and feared others because of their strictness in class.

But mostly, we were used to them and didn’t have much curiosity about their lives.

We did not, however, grow up totally devoid of our own religion.

We had compulsory Ugama classes and on Saturdays, we had Quran-reading classes.

This was in addition to whatever classes our parents might arrange for us at home.

Nobody ever accused us of being less than regular Muslims, with less religious education than those who went to other schools.

And we got on with everyone.

If I went to a birthday party at a non-Muslim friend’s home, they made sure the food was halal.

During Ramadan, we still went to the canteen but simply did not eat.

None of us looked in envy – or resentment – at our friends eating. For that month, that was just the way things were.

I don’t remember that we had to be protected from the sight or smell of food.

Our parents had taught us that what fortified us on those hot days was our faith and our niat or intention in fasting.

Nor do I remember any of our friends trying to tempt us into breaking our fast by dangling food in front of us.

I wish I could recall what we did on the days when we couldn’t fast.

Did we simply go to the canteen and eat?

Could it be that in the years since I was a child, despite being subjected to more religious education, our faith is on more shaky ground than before?

That it needs to be protected by indestructible walls built by the state because none of us can be trusted to believe on our own?

Today, everything is apparently a threat to our faith, from yoga, dressing in non-gender-specific ways to seeing people eat when we can’t.

Nobody has any faith in faith any more.

Fasting, for example, is hard only for the first few days.

After the body, and more importantly, the mind, adjusts, life goes on as normal.

There is no necessity to constantly guard against temptation unless we want to imply that we are weak creatures and it won’t take much to make us fall off the wagon, so to speak.

There is, therefore, no need for the astonishing amount of grumpiness from all sides this Ramadan.

Instead, we should be endeavouring to make things light and easy for everyone, do charitable work and bring people together.

Yet, we see the opposite happening, whipped up by some of our leaders, including religious ones who really should know better.

I think it is time we built a resistance to the false causes that our leaders sometimes impose on us.

On a day-to-day basis, we all get along, just as we did in my childhood.

Yet, things have also changed a lot, and it is understandable that many of us get frustrated and furious with it.

But as that old adage goes, “don’t get mad, get even”.

We should get even by resisting being manipulated into the fears that our leaders want us to feel.

We should refuse to fall for any of the games that they play, which result mostly in making us feel more angry and fearful.

We have to stop falling for ploys that divide us and resist by coming closer together to be more united.

There are plenty of ways in coming together if only we thought more creatively.

This week, many of us Malaysians of every race and religion got together to spend one day of fasting together.

Muslims who are fasting anyway reached out to their non-Muslim friends to share in either having the pre-fast meal or in the breaking of the fast together.

Non-Muslims joined in fasting to experience what it feels like to not have any food or water from sun-up to sundown.

It is when we share an experience together that we are brought closer together.

Today there are so many ways in which we are far apart, that we don’t understand one another any more.

We need to take action to change that. We need to resist.


Dr. Ida Glaser
Academic Director, Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies

Comment (1)

  • Ida Reply

    There is a concern here that, at least in Malaysia, people understand each other LESS than they did 40 years ago. Yet there has been so much development in ‘dialogue; since that time. It seems that we need to actually live together and do things together (like studying!) more than we need to do ‘dialogue’. Maybe one of the problems is that, at least in Malaysia, the whole social and political system – not to mention the changes in language use – has worked to make people live separate lives?

    August 7, 2013 at 4:51 pm

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