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Festival of Lights October 21, 2006

Posted by elizabethwong in Malaysia, Note2Self, Race Relations.


The Festival of Diwali or Deepavalli is the most popular festival with Hindus. In Nepal, this is known as Tihar, where the celebrations continue for at least 5 days, with many who live in Kathmandu and smaller towns, returning to their home villages.

It is also known as the Festival of Lights. Metaphorically, it symbolises the triumph of good over evil, as in Ramayana when Lord Rama killed the demon Ravana and rescued Sita. In the legend, it was said that the people of Ayodhya lit their homes with oil lamps in celebration.

Hindus are joined by Jains, who mark their New Year and Sikhs, during this festival.

When Takaful’s Syariah head issued the now infamous letter, which forbade its staff from greeting Hindus during this festive season, not only were Hindus insulted, many Malaysians felt this had gone too far.

Wishing someone a Happy Diwali doesn’t cause the ‘greeter’ to simultaneously convert. It’s not a form of cultural self-combustion. I have greeted my friends since I was in school, lived in Nepal for more than 2 years, and I am no closer to converting into Hinduism, than to Jainism.

And let’s face it – Deepa Raya is a construct of the retail industry. No one can possibly take that seriously. Really.

This week on Tuesday, a small group of Hindus protested outside the Takaful office. They were allowed into the building and were able to have a meeting with some Takaful representatives, including those from the Syariah section.

One of the protestor present told his personal story:- One of his closest friend, a Muslim, was critically ill. Like any other friend, he gladly donated his blood. Unfortunately his friend did not survive.

This man asked the Takaful staff, “Are you telling me now that my blood, which I gave to try to save one of my closest friend is haram?”

Those present said the Takaful staff’s faces changed and they looked sheepish. Whether that was true or mere wishful thinking, later that Tuesday, Takaful issued a full apology.

It’s pointless to sing praises that Malaysia is a multi-cultural plural society when there is still far to go. Multiculturalism in itself is a fairly new and somewhat controversial concept even with anti-racist activists. Similarly with pluralism and that rather silly word – ‘cosmopolitanism’. Sometimes we have to take a couple of steps back in order to make inroads.

Unlike some, who have been quick to proclaim this as a lost cause, that the idea of multi-culturalism and plurality is ‘dead’ — the best thing, in fact, for these people to do is to shut up, and let those, who are struggling to make this country a better place for all, do their work. It is an idea. And with all ideas, we build on what we have and layer with better ideas.

Dreams cannot fade.

Ideas cannot die.

Come nightfall, we dream, sailing into a better world ahead. And tonight, may your journey be guided by a sea of lights.

Happy Deepavali!



1. Malaysia Blog Digest - Festival of Lights - October 24, 2006

[…] Those present said the Takaful staff’s faces changed and they looked sheepish. Whethe … Posted by elizabethwongVery interesting.Link to original article […]

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