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November 10, 2010

Adjusting to “new” fangled ways…

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – As part of the preparation of the birth of my son, I am trying to understand some of the local Borneo customs. One of them needed modification for my American sensibilities.


My wife informed we would have to give some food to the poor as required by the Qu'ran. Fine, I thought. I would go to the grocery store purchase some food and find a charity that deals with those less fortunate. Simple enough.


No, that wouldn't do. We have to find a cow or goat. Okay, so a few beef steaks from Ting and Ting (a local grocery store that carries western food) or kambing (goat) curry from the Indian kedai (restaurant) should do the trick. I will throw in some chapati as well.


"What do you mean it has to be a LIVE goat or cow"? I said in amazement. "You have to sacrifice the animal while whispering the name of the child in the animal’s ear."


“Like hell I do" was the reply. "I thought you said all we have to do was give some food to the poor," I protested.


"In Allah's name, why? I don't remember reading that in the Qu'ran," I protested still. "It's in there," she insisted. One thing I have learned is never ask a person to give you chapter and verse like we do in the Bible. Big insult.


"Dzul (the name of my soon to be born son) needs something to ride into the afterlife," she said. I had a bit of a problem imagining a person riding a goat or a cow anywhere, let alone the afterlife.


I saw it was VERY important to her. I knew I was not going to get out of this one. "Where am I going to find a goat or cow, and how am I going to keep it?" I could not see quartering a goat or cow on the 10th floor balcony of my condo.


The family was consulted and had a big meeting chaired by my mother-in-law, who I told in no uncertain terms that I had no intention of participating in the slaughter of an animal. I guess she thought this strange but accepted my decision; one of the quirks of an American.


Apparently, a modification of the ceremony was in order. She suggested I take the goat to the government religious office and let them do it. Again, images of me dragging a goat through the city streets or trying to get one into a taxi, then into an elevator of a government office and presenting it to a government official floated through my head.


While shopping, I met a friend of mine, who is committee member of the Surah (small mosque) across the river, and he said he would bring it up to the governing body. The Imam had participated in my wedding, so I hoped that was my way out. I met him the next night while getting dinner, and he informed me that the committee had agreed to perform the ceremony. The Imam would whisper my child’s name into the ear of the goat and the meat would be distributed to the poor.


"But where was I going to get the goat?" I asked imploringly. Another night passed and a kampung member told me he would sell one to me. Case closed, I hoped.


A family meeting was called and I was told the Imam would take care of the ceremony; the meat would be distributed to local poor people in the kampung. I liked the idea of people I see and meet everyday getting the food.


All agreed. I also asked that anyone who wants to attend the ceremony could, but I still wasn't going to be there to whisper anything into the goat’s ear.


I am sure this will be continued


…Life is good


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