Hi, Hello and Assalamualaikum! I’m Aina and welcome to ‘Life Without A Rubric’!

Hey Aina, why do you start this blog with ‘Hi, Hello and Assalamualaikum?’

I’m glad you asked!

          Starting off plain and easy, ‘Hi’ and ‘Hello’ are two of the most commonly used greetings in the English language, especially amongst the ones that I use in day to day life. My first language is English. I was raised speaking the language although I am Malay by birth. The other options of greeting I use are as follows:

  • Hey (number of Y’s may vary)
  • Heyo (number of O’s may vary)
  • What’s up?
  • Whassup
  • Halo (number of O’s may vary)
  • Helo (number of O’s may vary)
  • Good morning/afternoon/evening

Then what about the third greeting you may be wondering?

What is ‘Assalamualaikum’ and what does it mean?

          ‘Assalamualaikum’ (assa-lam-mu-alay-kum) means peace be upon you in Arabic. It is often used as a greeting amongst Muslim communities and as you may be able to deduce, I am Muslim. Fun fact: ‘Islam is Malaysia’s official religion and is followed by about three-fifths of the population. Islam is one of the most important factors distinguishing a Malay from a non-Malay, and, by law, all Malays are Muslim .’ (taken from Britannica) I know there’s a deeper history behind Malaysia and its relationship with religion but I’m not well educated on that topic so I’ll let you discover that for yourself.

          My decision to use ‘Assalamualaikum’ lies within my relationship with my culture and religion.

          It’s a pretty complicated one personally speaking.

          Rooting itself from my childhood outside of Malaysia, my identity was moulded around: people from different countries and cultures; foreign and often Western T.V. shows; and a lack of exposure to my own culture on a day-to-day basis. Sure, I came back to Malaysia once or twice for roughly a year in between moving and that was just enough time to remind me about how different I am. About how much I don’t belong in a place I’m supposed to call home. 

          I’m supposed to look at my childhood as a blessing and I do. Not many people get to experience what I experienced and I have/had so much that so many don’t have or never will have. I have to be grateful and I am. I really am.

          I don’t want to say but, 

but there are times I feel ‘downsides’, so to speak. 

1. In the stares I get from strangers when I speak English. There was this one time my mother paid for pastries we bought and was already walking away when the guy at the register called me back. I thought we had forgotten something but instead, he asked me, ‘Where are you from?’ In which I assumed he was asking which state I was from because obviously, I’m Malaysian. Am I not? When my mother asked me what was that about, I told her what he had asked. It crossed me as weird because why would he suddenly want to know which state I’m from? Then she highlighted to me that maybe it was because of the way I spoke to her while waiting for the change. I didn’t realise that he could be asking where I was from, as in what country I was from. It really hadn’t crossed my mind but now that it had, I began to overthink: am I that whitewashed? 

2. When I attempt to speak Malay I get teased. I get it, I have an accent when I speak Malay on the fly and yes, it does sound like a foreigner is trying to speak Malay especially with all the mistakes I will make but at least I am T R Y I N G. I don’t have the vocab necessary to speak full conversations stored in my brain. I also forget simple grammar. I don’t speak Malay at home so yeah, I sound pretty damn funny speaking my own native tongue. It also kinda hurts when people are having a conversation in Malay and when I react according to the topic going on, they’re then surprised that I understood what they said. Yeah, I may not speak the language in front of your faces but I do understand what you’re saying. I think the worst one now is when people ask, ‘Do you understand?’. Not because of the question itself, please, I know that people who ask this are usually just being considerate. It’s the implications I take from it, showing that the assumption isn’t that I know Malay, it’s that I don’t. This is only the worst one because people are accommodating to me and sometimes I wish they didn’t but it’s not their fault because I really do act and sound like I don’t speak the language.

3. The ‘International School Malay’ Stereotype. This stereotype, like any, has probably changed over the years and isn’t held by everyone. However, like any stereotype, it exists in the minds of those it’s been exposed to and has its effects towards the people that may be labelled as such. It has its core aspects, that being: ‘most likely drinks’, ‘most likely smokes’, ‘may do drugs’, ‘highly likely doesn’t speak Malay’, ‘doesn’t abide by Islam very much’ and ‘thinks they are better than locally raised Malays’. Some people might hold some of these in their minds and others not, but this is generally the impression I’ve gotten over the years. There are many arguments to this but I don’t want to write an entire essay about this, how I feel about it and the psychological effects I believe underlie this (i.e. The Interaction Effect or Self-Fulfilling Prophecies). To sum it up for the sake of this post, this stereotype has played into me refraining from speaking Malay or acting in certain ways to either disprove or prove what people may believe of me.

I can think of two significant experiences pertaining to this identity crisis of mine. 

          Let me set the scene for this first one because it was a while ago. Currently, it just serves as a story for me to tell when I want to relate to my friends who complain about bad teachers. I was eight. I was in math class at a local government school. My teacher had seen me using my fingers to count the five times tables because unlike the rest of the kids, I hadn’t memorised mathematical times tables. He asked me to come in front of the class and asked me, ‘what is five times five’. As expected, I used my fingers and counted: 5, 10, 15… Before I could finish, he looked at the class and said a sentence that used the word ‘bodoh’. Most, if not all, my classmates laughed. Eight-year-old me thought in pure, innocent confusion, ‘why did he just call me dumb?’ I went home and told my mum. Let’s just say they had a colourful interaction inclusive of him being surprised I understood what he said to me and then talking to my mother in Malay expecting her not to understand either… 

          The following incident is much more recent. I didn’t recognise a certain Malaysian pastry. I had my assumption of what it was but because I had never seen it in that form I asked the lady behind the counter, ‘Kak, apa tu?’ Very simple conversational Malay meaning, ‘What is that?’ I was alone. I wouldn’t have asked if anyone else was there. It would just be between me and the kind lady I was used to ordering my food from. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise that someone was approaching the stall from behind and had heard what I asked and saw what I pointed to.

Here’s my recollection of the dialogue that ensued:

Them: You don’t know what that is?

Me: I mean… *smiles nervously*

Them: That’s cekodok, it’s a simple common Malaysian food. *states firmly*

Me: I know! *laughs trying to shake it off*

Them: Then why did you ask?

Me: I’ve never seen it in a ball before and I just wanted to double-check it is what I thought it is. (hoping this comedic yet truthful sentence would end the conversation)

Them: *laughs* (but take note, I’m afraid so I saw it as menacingly) What school were you from again?

Me: (not having a clear mind because I’m freaking out that this person is talking to me and I am very nervous at this point) Which country? (WHY DID I SAY THAT?)

Them: How many countries have you lived in? (them asking in slight disbelief, probably expecting the one correct answer I should’ve answered)

Me: *not thinking just to answer in number form and replies in name form instead*

Them: Oh wait, I remember, you’re from ‘mentions my school’. You must be one of those 1%-ers.

          After that line, I zoned out and anxiety took the wheel. I grabbed my food and left with the strongest attempt of a convincing I-am-totally-unaffected-by-our-conversation smile on my face. There were so many things that I took away from that conversation and most, if not all, were negative. From my retelling of the experience, I am sure you can tell it left a mark.

          With regards to Islam, even though I’ve never experienced it first hand, I know that Islamophobia exists. That the stereotype of what a Muslim is exists in the minds of a number people. I’ve watched quite a few T.V. series to see that Muslims are represented through negative connotations such as terrorism or as terrorists. It’s these stereotypes that I know aren’t true but can’t help but be afraid that one day someone I know or even I will experience discrimination because of the religion we believe in. 

          I may have digressed from our topic at hand.

The question was: why do I use ‘Assalamualaikum’ in particular?

          Especially since it’s not specific to Malays and it’s not specific to Islam either. 

          It’s a part of my identity that I want to stop repressing. I want to at least say it loudly and proudly when I enter my house because God knows I don’t. To this day, I still can’t say it loudly and I can’t reply appropriately loudly either. I always do it under my breath. Why? It’s a subconscious thing I’m battling that I’ve never really addressed until now. I want to be able to use Islam related terms like ‘InsyaAllah’ and ‘Alhamdulilah’ without people being surprised or  shocked that I used them or tease me on the fact I am using these terms. I also want to stop having this feeling of slight repulsion when my own siblings use them, trust me, I don’t want it but it’s there. I want to be able to integrate this into who I am as a person. By using words associated with Islam, I can only hope I’m helping dissolve the stereotype that some people may hold for what a Muslim is. I am trying to mend my relationship with my culture and religion and I believe this small step of using it as a greeting that I am not necessarily saying but standing behind in the ‘public eye’ will help me further embrace this aspect of who I am and break down the subconscious wall I have against it.

          And, ‘Hi, Hello and Assalamualaikum!’ has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

          You’ve made it this far and I thank you for that. May I leave you with these words by American storyteller and writer, Dorothy West:

“Identity is not inherent. It is shaped by circumstance and sensitivity and resistance to self-pity.”

Music Recommendations:

  1. ‘Guiltless’ by Dodie is a simple two-chord song that I’ve returned to repeatedly as a source of comfort and reassurance about who I am and why I am. Dodie is an artist I’ve loved for a few years now especially due to the depth of meaning her songs have and her voice in general. I’ve seen her grow from a youtube artist to her debut album next year and I’m so excited about that!
  2. ‘Dingga’ by Mamamoo is a fun upbeat song with a really catchy groove. I recently learned some of the choreography to this song and it makes it that much more enjoyable. It’s a song that reflects on the common struggles that the pandemic has brought upon most of us at home and just reminds us that we’re not alone. 
  3. ‘Blue Hour’ by Tomorrow X Together is a refreshing song with an alternative name of ‘You and I found in the sky at 5:53’. The disco vibes that this song emit are emphasised with the background synth and percussion. Themes of imagination and magic run deep through the song especially with the time, ‘blue hour’, being alternatively known as the ‘magic hour’. This group just makes me happy, so please have a listen!

Aina’s Monthly Playlist 

Currently Reading: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski 

Life Status: life dipped for a second there, I’m coming back

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