Its raining again. There goes my plan to do some outdoor chores. Its Deepavali again and my mind drifted to certain encounters with some strangers and some not over the years.
I remember my trip to Bali in the early 1990's. Back then I was stationed in Surabaya, East Java and my portfolio also covers Bali, an assignment which I took great pleasure in executing. It was then still rather "original" for the lack of a better word. On one of those trips I had my parents along who happened to pay me a visit. I cannot say that my mother enjoyed the trip very much.
She was totally disoriented by the fact that the Balinese looked exactly like Malays (well ethnically they are Malays) and they wear traditional Malay attires, kebaya, samping tanjak and all,speak Malay or Bahasa Indonesia, but were blissfully paying homage to various idols and piously carrying roasted piglets on their heads to their temples. Welcome to the world mum. I guess she prescribed to the standard Malaysian definition of Malay, i.e. people who speak Malay, follow Malay customs and are Muslim.
Anyway, that's beside the point. I had chance conversation with our tour guide who is a Balinese Hindu of course, and I asked him about Hinduism and its various pantheon of Gods and Goddesses. His reply was not something that I had expected. Contrary to what I had always believed Hindus, according to him believe in only one God. Now that was something.
What then of Lord Vishnu, Ganesh, etc. Who are they? Well, according to my guide, these are nothing more than personification of the various attributes of God. So if someone wants a particular attribute he would focus his attention to that particular personification, etc, etc. If that is the case I told him, some people, like me for example, might think that these personification are multiple Gods not just attributes of the one God. Malangnya bagitu Pak (unfortunately, that is so), he replied.
I then told him that Muslims have 99 names for God, each name describing a particular attribute or essence, but none of these attributes have been personified and as a result we have never confused these 99 names with the one single God. He nodded and acknowledged the similarity in the beginning and the divergence in practice between Hinduism and Islam. Very enlightening and enjoyable discussion.
The next incident was when I went to the wedding of my daughter's teacher. God, that was years ago when she was just a little girl with pony tails, and now just last week she nervously broached the subject of her boyfriend whom she wanted me to meet. Must be serious. I don't like him already.
Anyway, at the wedding, a typical Hindu wedding, I noticed a couple of things. First was the circumbulating of the sacred fire. Both Bride and Groom each holding one end of the "thali" went around the fire. I stared at them for a long time. This circumbulating action looked very familiar, similar to the movements Muslims make around the Kaaba during the Haj. Later I asked one of the learned Muslim teachers about this circumbulating movement. He explained to me that the action of going around something is one of the earliest physical form of worship. Hmmm, interesting.
The next thing I noticed was the attire of the Hindu Priest. He was wearing nothing more than two stitches of cloth, one wrapped around the body and the other around his waist. Except for the Gold trimming the cloth was of pure white. Then it hit me. It looked just like the Ihram, the attire male Muslims wear when they do the Haj.
The third thing which suddenly lighted up in my head was the name of the Priestly Caste. They are called Brahmins. My mind went on overdrive. Could Brahmin be the shortened and adjusted version of Ibrahim or Abraham. Now this is where pure speculation takes over. Could it be that thousands of years ago some students from India traveled to the Middle East and understudied Ibrahim or Abraham and later returned to India and are known as the students or disciples of Ibrahim, and gave birth of the Priestly Order called Brahmins.
No, no, I am not trying to be smart or cute, just musing on this very wet day. Still it is something which has been pricking at the back of my mind all these years. Maybe someday someone will be able to connect the dots, if any. After all, Hinduism is so old that it predates Islam, Christianity and even Judaism. And it will not be the first time that something grew out of something. Buddhism for example grew out of Hinduism.
And NO, for the diehards, I am not making the case that Hindusim and Islam are the same. It is just that through the thousand of years of human social intercourse ideas and practices gets passed on from one region and one group to another. Afterall the Quran did say: "And we made you men and women and from you we raised various tribes and nations, so that you may learn from one another"
I think the point to remember is not so much to seek out the differences but to find common grounds. When we seek out differences we will find conflicts, when we seek out commonalities we find friends.
How we choose to see God is our own individual choice(Surah Al Bakarah 256), for if God had wanted so He could have made all Man Muslims (submitting to Him), so He said in the Quran. But if He had done so, i.e made all Man submit to Him willingly or unwillingly, then the essence of Man disappears. Because then he is no longer able to exercise his capacity to think, reason and decide, i.e. the exercise of God's special gift, given to no other creation but Man. The gift of intellect. It is by using this special gift that Man would be able to reach the stars and be in the company of angels or descent to the lowest abyss of decay and have maggots for friends, thereby proving to himself his individual worth, and be held accountable for his deeds. Cause and effect, maaa!, basic science.
The rain still has not stopped, but I will stop here with something to ponder:
"The blind and the seeing are not alike
Nor are the depths of Darkness and the Light
Nor are the shade and the heat of the sun
Nor are alike those
That are living and those
That are dead. God can make any that He wills
To hear; but thou
Cannot make those
to hear who are in graves"
Surah Fatir, verses 19-22
Salam and Happy Deepavali to my Hindu brothers and sisters