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Malaysia – people, prayer, politics and parades

Malaysia – people, prayer, politics and parades

Malaysia is a multi-ethnic country, with Malays making up the majority of about 50% of the population. About 30% of the population are Malaysians of Chinese descent, while Malaysians of Indian descent comprise about 8% of the population.

All ethnic Malays are declared Muslim by law of the constitution. The Malaysian constitution mentions freedom of religion, at the same time making Islam the state religion. However, the majority of the Chinese population identify as Buddhist and the Indian population follow Hinduism. Malay is the national language.

This is how Malaysia likes to present itself. A multicultural society with equal status of all minorities. Interestingly, the Indian girl, representing a small minority is placed in the centre, then there is the Chinese girl to the left and then a Muslim Malay kid, a boy, so there is no female dress code issue, as not every Malay girl is wearing a headscarf.

multiculture Malaysia

 

The constitution defines that Malays must be Muslim, regardless of their ethnic heritage.  Otherwise, they are not legally Malay. Further, non-Muslim Malays are not granted ‘bumiputra’ status and do not benefit from ‘affirmative action policies’. These shall restore ‘balance’ and ‘enhance’ Muslim Malay economic and political power. The reason is that Malays show lower income rates than the traditionally business-competent Chinese, who make up about one-third of the population but account for most of the country’s market capitalisation.

Affirmative action policies provide preferential placements for ethnic Malays, so that they are awarded 95% of all contracts for the army, hospital nurses, police, and other government institutions.  Additionally, there is a 30 % Malay ownership quota. This has led many Chinese-owned companies to avoid expansion. Universities have enacted admission policies favouring ‘bumiputra’ students which causes racial segregation in schools and universities.

There are also tensions with the Indian minority, who saw several Hindu temples being demolished in 2006. Although over a hundred years old, the government claimed that they were illegally build.

Malaysia has got a double system of jurisdiction, the secular law and the Islamic religious court, which has authority upon every Muslim in Malaysia. There is the Department of Islamic Advancement of Malaysia, that ruled against Muslims practising yoga, because yoga has elements of other religions that could corrupt Muslims. And that’s just as crazy: if a non-Muslim desires a dog, they must obtain the permission of their Muslim neighbours.

Religion is a ‘capital’ business. Islamic banking approved by the Shariah body.

Sharia law Citi Bank Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

 

Surrounded mainly by Buddhist and Hindu countries, remarkably, in Malaysia Islam is central and dominant in culture. Mosques are an ordinary sight and the call of prayer from minarets are heard loud and clearly five times a day, which also means night. Getting a good nights sleep largely corresponds to smart location choice.

Masjid Jamek Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

 

Masid Jamek was built in 1909 by British architect Hubback. It is the oldest surviving mosque with cupolas and arched colonnades.

Masjid Jamek Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

 

Being welcomed by a lot of do’s and don’ts and a caution note to ‘be alert and keep your valuables safe’. I was wondering about the difference of wearing shorts just above the knee as to just below the knee, the indecency of T-shirts with images of a Tiger or ‘Punk’ Logo and the obsessive habit to cover female hair, as indicated on the chart. The hairstyle of students is also given attention by the Ministry of Education.  Schools do not allow students to colour their hair and boys are not allowed to wear long hair. Some prohibit even girls from having long hair. Wearing make up in school is prohibited.

Masjid Jamek Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

 

Muslim principles of modesty apply not only to dress code but public behaviour in general. Similar to the expectations in most Muslim nations, males and females are discouraged to socialise or engage in small talk. Public display of affection is forbidden. Islamic police monitors the Muslim population and regulates sexual activities among the Muslim population. Laws prohibit unmarried couples from occupying confined spaces, to prevent acts considered islamically immoral.

On the train.

Indecent behavior sign Malaysia

 

The well informed tourist knows that in Malaysia…

…the Muslim population does not drink liquor nor alcoholic beverages (officially), despite many temptations right around the corner, such as bustling Chinatown with cafés and restaurants.

…sitting crossed leg is not an acceptable way for a lady to present herself, who should sit with her legs tucked to the side. Otherwise, we were told, she would have trouble finding a husband. The relevance of female gender sitting position and the effects on marriage procedures have been largely underestimated in the western world. And so it happened that I slipped through the net. Tomek has gotten himself a cross legged girl.

…pointing should be done with the thumb, not the forefinger. I can just about manage to get fine motor movements to cooperate, as the task and literal meaning of the forefinger in Germany and Poland is the ‘showing finger’.

…when giving or receiving, use your right hand. The left is used to clean your base, with the aid of a water hose, in the prevalent squat toilet. At touristy Central Market I was surprised by the choice of water hose versus rationed sheets of toilet paper, which helpful male staff  hands out personally in carefully folded portions. Having back up napkins is recommended.

… use your right hand when diving into your food and rolling it into mouth-sized balls. Eating with the hand is a common custom and an everyday challenge to hygiene. For the concerned and fussy tourist, cutlery is provided. Chinese influences have enriched eating habits by chopsticks, available in most restaurants.

 

For the time being let’s visit some uncomplicated religious temples. Take off your shoes and be welcome. The Sri Maha Mariamman temple. Build in 1873 it received a back entrance from a shopping arcade in 2012. Decorative gopuram gate tower at the front entrance.

Sri Maha Mariammam Temple Kuala Lumpur Malaysia Sri Maha Mariammam Temple Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

 

Sandwiched in by modernity. The temple houses a golden chariot that carries the Hindu deity Lord Muruga to the holy Batu caves during the Thaipusam festival pilgrimage, starting right here every year.

Sri Maha Mariammam Temple Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

 

Hindu deities are well taken care off. Looking their best, being decorated with flowers, face painted and dressed up in Saris or wrapped with tiny body garments. Hindu temples are just neat.

Sri Maha Mariammam Temple Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

 

Flower jewellery and individual garments for Lord Muruga (?), Lord Shiva and Goddess Lakshmi.

Sri Maha Mariammam Temple Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

 

Ganesha symbolism. Elephant head: think big, large ears: listen more, small mouth: talk less, small eyes: concentrate, trunk: show high efficiency, one tusk: keep good but throw away bad, big belly: peacefully digest all good and bad in life, foot on mouse: ride desire but keep it under control.

Ganesha Sri Maha Mariammam Temple Kuala Lumpur Malaysia Sri Maha Mariammam Temple Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

 

Having a relaxing chat among divine company.

Sri Maha Mariammam Temple Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

 

The lady was wrapping up little packets of kumkum powder paint.

Sri Maha Mariammam Temple Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

 

Kumkum paste to put the third eye on your forehead. Red dot indicates ‘married’.

Sri Maha Mariammam Temple Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

 

The inside is not as stunning as in temples we have seen in India but reflects the strong tendency to striking colour compositions.

Sri Maha Mariammam Temple Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

 

Marketing for the target customer at the temple.

Sri Maha Mariammam Temple Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

 

One day we bumped into a parade right outside our hotel.

July 2012 Chinatown Kuala Lumpur parade

 

There were a lot of flying, turning, walking dragons.

July 2012 Chinatown Kuala Lumpur parade

 

The dragons like to follow the over-dimensional lollipop.

July 2012 Chinatown Kuala Lumpur parade

 

Dragon action.

July 2012 Chinatown Kuala Lumpur parade

 

And another dragon group performance.

July 2012 Chinatown Kuala Lumpur parade

 

Accompanied by drum rhythms.

July 2012 Chinatown Kuala Lumpur parade

 

The highlight of the parade were those (Hindu? Chinese?) devotees who, after putting themselves into a trance like state, have their mouth pierced.  It looked a bit like the Thaipusam festival, which is regarded as a celebration of good over evil, but practised mainly by Hindus in the first months every year and it was definitely the 2nd of July.

July 2012 Chinatown Kuala Lumpur parade July 2012 Chinatown Kuala Lumpur parade

 

That’s some really freaky stuff! Those huge metal skewers with pointed ends are pierced through the cheeks or tongue. Ouch.

July 2012 Chinatown Kuala Lumpur parade

 

There are aids with chairs and water looking after the well being of pierced devotees.

July 2012 Chinatown Kuala Lumpur parade

 

Victory over stalks and pain.

July 2012 Chinatown Kuala Lumpur parade July 2012 Chinatown Kuala Lumpur parade

 

Did I mention that dragons were an essential part of the parade?

July 2012 Chinatown Kuala Lumpur parade July 2012 Chinatown Kuala Lumpur parade

 

Sweet girls.

July 2012 Chinatown Kuala Lumpur parade

 

Sweet boys. (And more dragons.)

July 2012 Chinatown Kuala Lumpur parade

 

Consecrated statue got the best seat.

July 2012 Chinatown Kuala Lumpur parade

 

The banner probably says what kind of parade that was. Can someone translate, please?

July 2012 Chinatown Kuala Lumpur parade

 

In the evenings there would be a traditional open air dance show in front of Central Market.

Traditional dance show Central Market Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

 

Each dancer had a go up front.

Traditional dance show Central Market Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

 

My favourites, the small but quirky lady in black high heels and the kid that looked like a tribal rapper.

Traditional dance show Central Market Kuala Lumpur Malaysia Traditional dance show Central Market Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

 

These boys were giving out promotional flyers for a 20% discount stay in our hotel. Too bad we had already booked for a week in advance.  What’s with the fancy dress? Language barrier didn’t take an answer. The guy in the middle is actually smiling.

Dressed up Malays

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