To illustrate, my vision of trekking through the jungle, sleeping in the canopy, eventually finding a secluded village and learning their culture first-hand materialised as a 2 1/2 hour hike up a mountain with an Australian family and an overnight in a village that saw a new tourist group every day. To attend to my desire for extremes was no doubt possible, but I lacked the knowledge, experience, and courage to pursue them.
Fortunately, things have changed both internally and externally. My expectations have shifted and, with a few months experience behind us, we are better able to identify activities that we enjoy and pursue them.
Kuala Lumpur provided an excellent avenue for these expressions and perfectly reconciled our desire to be immersed in the local culture, to feel safe, and to be relatively confident about how to conduct ourselves. It is developed enough to eliminate the need for separate local and tourist infrastructure so every bus, LRT, restaurant, sidewalk, and market is teeming with cultural diversity. Simply wandering the streets is enough to awaken and enliven the senses.
We spent our Sunday just so. From Chinatown we headed south where we found impressive municipal structures designed with heavy Islamic influence: magnificent archways, spectacular geometry, and large domed ceilings.
In the heat of the day, we were drawn to a fountain at the end of a soccer pitch. It was encircled by wide white pillars and a trellis upon which a hardy flowering vine grew, providing shade for the seating area around the fountain while sunlight was admitted directly into the water making it shimmer.
A group gathered around the water to meditate. They encircled the fountain cross-legged and transitioned through mudras (hand gestures) slowly and synchronously. Meanwhile, two children ran about, noisily playing in and around the devotees. Their behaviour drew little attention until the older boy fell into the fountain getting completely soaked. I enjoyed studying the reactions of the meditators as their awareness was diverted towards the children.
I am sure that if the same thing occurred in a western Christian church, the children would have been the subject of many angry glares and be taken away by their parents to be scolded. Here, the reactions were varied. Some smiled or laughed out-loud while others remained in meditation. I didn't see one nasty look. What's more, it was impossible to tell who the parents were. One man helped the boy out of the water, another got him out of his wet clothes, and yet another supplied him with something to drink. There seems to be an understanding that kids will be kids, not little adults.
The second highlight to our day was visiting the National Islamic Art Museum. We saw literally hundreds of Qur'ans, each an amazing piece of historical artwork with intricate patterning, delicate calligraphy, and expert binding. Furthermore, we saw beautiful examples of textiles, household items, military equipment, and scale models of holy sites.
|Qur'an $ 547|
|Ceiling of Museum|
We admit to being quite ignorant about Islam and the trip to the museum was a welcome initiation. That said, I see the knowledge as a means of engaging Muslims rather than as a basis from which to adopt it into our own lives.
David J Parker