My name is Jennifer Tai, and I am a Malaysian Chinese. Malaysia is a moderate Muslim country, which means its official religion is Islam.
However, I am not a Muslim. I grew up in a small town named Ipoh, and I attended a Methodist Church for a number of years. There are no laws against being a Christian, or a Buddhist, or a Hindu, or anything else you want to be – unless you’re a native Malay, in which case you’re automatically Muslim. So, there’s relative freedom of religion in my country.
Malaysia claims to be a secular state, and for the everyday Malaysian living in the more urban areas, the country and its laws do feel secular, which means non-Muslims do not walk around in headscarves and are not subject to Sya’ria laws.
The reason why I’m blogging about this is to share with my American friends that there is NOTHING to fear about Islam. ABSOLUTELY ZERO. I am a non-Muslim who grew up, lived among Muslims all my life and I am still alive. I was not converted. I’ve never been oppressed. I ate pork and consumed alcohol and partied like it was 1999 (I did). I may not agree with a lot of the things the administration of the day has implemented, but that has nothing to with Islam, just dirty politics.
NPR reported today that 10 per cent of Americans think Barack Obama is a really a Muslim even though he isn’t, just because of his middle name, Hussein. To this 10 per cent, here’s what I have to say: There must be billions of Chinese in America and around the world who have English or American first names, whether or not they’re Christians. You don’t see people questioning my right to the name “Jennifer” when I’m not 1. English or 2. a Christian.
I remember, in college, having met two Chinese Christian brothers whose parents named them Shamsuddin and Jeffri (that’s how the Malay version of Jeffrey is spelt). These are typically Muslim names but Sham and Jeff were not Muslims. It was just the way the parents embraced being Malaysians.
So, in summary:
IT’S JUST A NAME FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!