So must the Malays abandon all their cultural values to embrace Islam in its totality? This is obviously undesirable, but as much as it is undesirable, it is not necessary. Islamic teaching is not a word-by-word instructions that tells its followers how to go about their daily life to the letter. It is rather a set of core principles to serve as guidance when making decisions about how to live our life and our decisions. Islam did not set out to produce a world made out of a single homogeneous group of people. In fact, it encourages diversity, so far as the diversity agrees to its set of core principles, which again, is not a word-by-word instruction telling people how to live their life to the letter.
It is therefore imperative for the Malays to recognise and learn to differentiate between the actual Islamic teaching and the Malay’s cultural values and rituals. Many of these cultural values – the values that define the Malays and make them unique than the rest of the world – sometimes become so restrictive when they are misunderstood to be Islamic teachings, because unlike cultural values, religious teaching often brings about a certain sense of obligation. It is my belief that only when culture and religion are not mixed up and misunderstood to be one another that both of them can flourish.
A few Malay cultural rituals often misunderstood to be Islamic obligations:
- The wearing of baju melayu when performing prayer
- The almost-instinctive aversion to dogs and pigs
- Many of the beliefs regarding superstition and mystical powers
Just on a side note, I once looked up on the internet and on a few well-known websites for Islamic resource for any reference to the Malay belief that sleeping in the late afternoon (around 4.30 to 7.00 pm) is somehow bad for your mental health. I found none whatsoever.