By Eka Tharudin
It was my second week in IIUM as a student, following my long unwanted vacation after I have completed my diploma. Coming from a small state, being schooled in a religious institution, furthering my study in a university with an Islamic branding, and having friends from other ethnic backgrounds, have somewhat been an alien experience for me.
Just a couple of weeks after I enrolled in IIUM, I met someone whose existence in my life as a faithful friend, has later changed me to be a better practising Muslim.
I first met her during a preliminary physical test for IIUM ROTU Air Force. It is rather strange to see a free-haired girl in here. I tried to approach her to be my pair for the sit-up activity, and wariness died as we said hello. She introduced herself as Priscilla from the state of Perak who is younger than me by a year, majoring in Communication programme. It was a delightful encounter, knowing that I had gained a new friend in the same major, and at that very moment, our differences seemed to be non-existent.
Both of us were accepted into ROTU, resulting in us moving into the same mahallah, and that is when I realised that God had placed her in my life for a reason. Priscilla is a demure Indian girl who you might come across as unapproachable due to her shy character. She rarely disagrees with anything that I said, no matter how ridiculous it may seem. She never failed to laugh to her heart’s content, revealing her straight teeth at my dumbest jokes. Basically, she is the kind of person who you will never have dispute with, because you just keep on being too nice to each other.
I tried to be “that” friend whom she can always rely on or the one whom she is comfortable to hang around with. Despite my usual outgoing personality, I am a loner and a pessimist at heart. There are times when our mutual characters are just too unbearable for each other. Whilst she needs someone who can constantly approach her with warmth and positivity, I need someone who can empathise with my negativity, and be a wet blanket together. There are times when we just cannot fit into each other’s emotional needs, leaving both of us tired in our own companion.
It is great that we are placed in the same mahallah, yet we managed to have our own space by being separated in different rooms. It enabled me to keep being her friend, yet allowing me to have my own space, and observing her personality from afar. Three years had passed and the only word that I can describe her is “astounding”. Priscilla comes from a very religious family that initially opposed the idea of her pursuing her studies in IIUM. There had been various occurrences which had made her disheartened to stay here in this university. Still, she managed to pave her way slowly, and now she only needs to brave through another three semesters before getting her degree.
She is just an ordinary girl who possesses ordinary abilities just like any other students whom I had met before. However, the way she influenced people around her with her nothingness, managed to leave me in awe for a long time. I find it funny how a Christian girl became one of the biggest drives for me to change into a better Muslim, compared to fellow Muslims around me. While I had met a few people who scornfully told me off for not being the best Muslim (as opposed to the way I dressed), Priscilla always had a way to remind me that Allah will not judge me for trying and failing. To remind me that Allah is The Forgiver and Hider of Faults.
Priscilla does not feel burdened by the dress codes or the limited interactions with the opposite sex. Those are the things that she grew up with and the regulations and Islamic conducts mostly fitted with her lifestyle. Since she grew up in a Malay community, she is well versed with the way Malay and Muslim people live their everyday life. Her amazing insight, however, could lead to honest questions that make me flustered, unfortunately.
“Are they allowed to behave like that with each other? I genuinely thought you need to have limits when you are mingling with opposite sex,” she once said to me, forehead scrunched in confusion.
Another genuine question I had heard from her include, “Hey, I thought you need to perform your prayer early in the morning. Why do you wake up so late?”
Seeing how she dutifully wakes up in the morning to pray in her own way makes me questioned my own responsibility. The way she carefully articulates her words, be it in her speeches or writings, makes me questioned my self-composure. The way she expresses her hatred through silence makes me questioned my demeanour as a Muslim. There are a lot of things that I am lacking, and she managed to knock me out of my bubble by simply being herself. It is amazing to see how she carries herself in a more Islamic way, compared to myself who is a born-Muslim.
I cannot help but feel the need to be extra mindful with my attitude whenever I am with her. Some might say that I am being hypocritical, when in fact I do not want to be the reason for her to shy away from Islam. It is my biggest fear to have people misjudged Islam, as they equate my lowly behaviour to the religion itself. While I cannot help but to spit profanity when I am too tired during tedious training, I managed to hiss the words under my breath when I am with her. Things like that actually trained me to leave those horrid behaviour and motivate me to wake up as a better Muslim every day.
She never thinks herself as someone better than the rest, but those around her can clearly see how she radiates with her modesty, leaving most of us abashed with our own behaviour. Despite the need to struggle in Islamic related subjects, she never whines about the hardship. She managed to turn all the burden into her motivational stance.
“I’m an Indian, a Christian and the only Malaysian non-Muslim in my batch who was chosen to be here. I want to graduate as a Christian well-versed in basic Islamic studies and have the ability to speak in Arabic,” she once told me when we were heading to our first class of the semester.
I silently applaud her non-stop efforts to stay in a place that is so foreign to her religious and cultural upbringing. I silently applaud her struggle to learn all the Arabic alphabets just to understand a single word from a 256-page text book. I also applaud her for silently teaching me to appreciate my religion and the university that I am placed in. The only way that I can return all her favours, is by silently praying for the truest path she could ever lead in her whole life.***