Since I was hungry (I had hardly eaten anything because the buffet line looked so daunting), I made my way to the “halal” table and started pointing but before I could say anything, I was told “Ini makanan halal” or in English “this is halal food”.


My daughter is enrolled at a Chinese medium national type primary school.

I sent her there because whilst being a Chinese by race, I hardly speak any Chinese worth being proud about, and my level of reading is limited to writing my own name and identifying some few Chinese characters, which means I probably wouldn’t survive a day in China by myself if no one spoke to me in English.

It does not mean that I am not proud to be Malaysian. It just means that I am proud to be Chinese too and I would like to give my child some of what I could not achieve.

My personal background is unique in that I have studied Islamic Studies (at my own father’s insistence) when I was in secondary school. I have a credit in the old SRP (now PMR) in Islamic studies and I did not continue Islamic Studies because when I applied to take up Islamic Studies as a subject for my SPM, I was not allowed to do so by the Ministry of Education on the grounds that I was not a Muslim.

At one point I almost converted to Islam. Obviously decisions by authorities such as mentioned in the previous paragraph influenced my decision not to become a Muslim as it felt like I was being blackmailed into becoming a Muslim.

In saying that, I do not place blame on Islam as a religion, but rather the practice and extremism of certain members of the faith had caused me to lose my faith in the promise of Islam as a religion.

Put also into perspective that among my peers I am sometimes not considered a pure Chinese because of my beliefs and the way I run my life.

Yet today, I am at ease, eating any kind of generic food found in Malaysia (I do not consider the eating of exotic animals to be generic), eating with my hands, or with chopsticks, or even with spoon and fork (our colonial history at play).

What my background means is that I feel that I am in a unique position to comment on what happened recently at my daughter’s school during a celebration of the Chinese mid-autumn festival.

The school had made arrangements to have a big do for the mid-autumn festival. Among the arrangements was a pot luck, where all the parents would bring their own food to the table to be shared, which is key to my story here.

On the day of the festival celebrations, I made my way to the school which had much fanfare, children running around happily with each other, parents looking on them adorably.

PTA/PIBG organizers were conspicuous by a uniform t-shirt which they all wore.

Interested, I went to have a look at the food arrangements.

Food was arranged buffet style on tables arranged in the canteen. And quite properly in my opinion, a separate table set apart for “halal” food, which was being hovered over protectively by some Muslims. Not surprising to me as there were probably 30 to 40 Muslims in a crowd of over 700 and care should be taken to ensure that there was enough food for EVERYONE.

The festivities opened up with speeches, and some minor performances by school children, and the buffet was declared opened.

There was a rush for food and my criticism of that is that no lines or crowd control was effected, but in general everyone was having a rollicking good time.

Among the chief dishes was satay, being grilled by someone hired to grill satay, and I found out later that there had been two (2) satay stalls arranged, one by Chinese parents (whom I assume are not Muslims), and another by Malay parents (whom I assume are Muslims).

In short order, all the pre-grilled satay available was finished, with the satay grillers frantically grilling as fast as they could, probably some 100 sticks at a time (which if you know, takes 10 minutes off the line to be cooked enough to eat).

Yet, I saw at the “halal” table a tray containing perhaps 200 sticks.

Since I was hungry (I had hardly eaten anything because the buffet line looked so daunting), I made my way to the “halal” table and started pointing but before I could say anything, I was told “Ini makanan halal” or in English “this is halal food”.

And this by one of the organizing members of the dinner, who was almost definitely a Muslim (he looked Malay and therefore I assume he is Muslim).

I was initially stunned to say the least, upset, and also angry at the same time.

I almost retorted but I did not want to make a scene, and considering the small-mindedness of the statement, chose to ignore it, and rather lined up waiting another 20 minutes for some hot delicious satay instead of insisting on some cold satay.

Why did this stun me? Why did this make me upset? Why did this make me angry?

1) By saying that the food is “halal” (when there is a big sign made by the organizing committee that the food is “halal”, does it mean that I am not fit to eat “halal” food? The last I checked parents of a Chinese student who was not Muslim had taken the thought (or at least I hope there was a thought) to order halal food for the celebrations in order to be all inclusive.

2) At the time of my asking, the buffet had already been in progress for about an hour. Most guests had already eaten at least part their fill, and food was starting to run out. It was apparent to me that the demand for food at the “halal” table was more or less past its peak. I could see that there were about 8 Muslims sitting at the table chatting and not one of them eating.

3) There was ample satay at the table, offering it to a majority who had none would have been a kind gesture, especially since there was more satay on the way.

4) Again coming back to the fact that there was satay grilling on the grill, and ample satay on the “halal” table cooling down. Why have cold satay later when you can have hot satay? If you are not eating the food, why let it’s taste be ruined by letting it cool down? Why not get replacement satay later?

5) If you (I am referring to a specific person), the PTA committee member who is a Muslim and who told me that the “food is halal” is such an extreme Muslim, then, what were you doing attending a supposedly pagan festival and even encouraging Muslim children to play with lanterns (which I saw with my own eyes) in celebration of the festival? A contradiction of the highest order and display of lack of understanding of one’s own religion, beliefs and tolerance of.

6) Did the Muslims at the school not notice that the school administration had taken pains to ensure that their rights to eat halal food had been protected? Did they not see the forest when they noticed trees in front of them, or were they so overwhelmed by the trees that they thought they were in a haunted forest?

7) My wife who had earlier attended the PTA/PIBG meeting earlier in the year when the committee was being voted in had specifically heard the headmistress apologize to the non-Chinese speaking parents and advised them to move their children to governmental Malay medium schools if their children could not cope as the methods of teaching in a Chinese school may be too different for them to cope, yet at the same time welcomed the challenge of teaching these students. As far as I am concerned, if you are willing to exact your children to non-conformity in order to expand their mindset (just as my father did to me and 2 of my sisters), then you yourself as the parent must be ready to make the leap of faith into non-conformity!

I won’t go on further except to say that it is disappointing to see such myopic thoughts in a country which is supposed to be multi-racial, multi-religious, and multi-cultural, and especially is supposed to have such harmony and tolerance for all things racial, religious and cultural.

This small incident among such a happy evening for my family ruined the event for me personally as I feel that such insensitivity should not exist in this country in this day and age.

Looking back, it may have even been me personally who was too sensitive towards an innocent insensitive gesture, but I reserve my right to feel aggrieved as I do not feel that I had offended anyone (unless someone tells me logically why I may have done so), and I feel that the gesture was made with the lack of common sense or forethought for the consequences.

I am not asking the reader of this article to become angry. I am asking the reader to understand the morale of the story.

What the purpose of this article means to make clear to the reader is that we all, ALL peoples of Malaysia, have to use their common sense in reacting to the various elements of race, religion and culture in this country as it is what is supposed to make us strong.

By the same grace, I commend:

1) That we do have Chinese-medium education systems in our country and that our government allows for such systems.
2) That non-Chinese elect to place their children in Chinese-medium education systems to further broaden their mind, which is not to say that non-Chinese medium education systems are inferior, it is just that it is different and provides a different mindset as part of conditioning.
3) That the parents of non-Chinese background enrol their children and support their children by participating in school events such as these despite these incidents, which minor as they seem, can become a bone of contention in the future and should be weeded out as soon as possible before they become exactly that, a divisive element.