Lifestyle, Travel

Moving to Malaysia – What’s It Like?

22/01/2014

Travel has always provided me with inspiration.  

I believe that there is nothing better than exploring the world, it’s countries, cities, people, cultures and food. Deep down I have always desired to uproot and move to another country – to completely lose myself in another place, another culture.

I’d like to introduce you to Khadija, who has recently embarked on a sea change – moving her family from Australia to Malaysia. Here, she shares with us her experiences. 

You were born and raised in Australia. What made you decide to move to Malaysia?

I lived in Australia my whole life – 31 years to be is exact. My husband Ariff and I had toyed with the idea of relocating to Australia for eight years before we actually made the big move to Malaysia.

There were a number of reasons for us moving to Malaysia:

  • It’s Ariff’s home country (he lived in Australia for 29 years before relocating),
  • I had fallen in love with Malaysia for the food, the slower lifestyle, and affordability,
  • Lifestyle was a big thing for us. It’s very relaxed where we live in Melaka compared to our formerly hectic, busy life in Perth,
  • We wanted our children to be exposed to a different culture, and the idea of living in a majority Islamic country was the main incentive.

What do you love about the experience of living in another country, and what are some of the challenges you are facing?

I have always been a person who embraces change. With change, I feel that we personally grow more. It energises the best within us to expose ourselves to change, to different environments, to travel, to meet different people and experience different cultures.

I have lived in Malaysia for almost a year and it has been challenging at times. Learning a new language, dealing with government and immigration, and not to mention driving which has given me a few near anxiety attacks!.

At times it’s been shocking, especially the realization how poverty has a such an impact on so many people lives. We are so lucky in Australia to have support networks. Many poor people in other countries have nothing to fall back on.

Other experiences have brought a smile to my face. I love living five minutes from the beach and going for early morning tropical beach walks! I also love hearing the call to pray – the azan – five times a day on a loud speaker. I find it spiritually uplifting.

This experience has definitely brought about a better and deeper understanding of human nature and embracing the unknown.

As a Muslim, you were treated ‘differently’ in Australia for being Muslim and wearing a hijab. Now you are living in a majority Islamic country how are you finding it?

This is an interesting question! I am seventh generation Aussie on my Mothers side, yet being a practicing Muslim outwardly, as well as inwardly, I have copped my “unfair” share of remarks and nasty looks. Thank God it only built up my dedication and character!

Living in a majority Islamic country, it definitely “feels” more natural to be a Muslim. I must say, Malaysia is a composition of different nationalities (a lot of Chinese and Indian here) that practice Buddhism and Christianity, yet Muslims and non-Muslims live in harmony together. This is quite different to what I experienced in Australia. I feel a lot of Australians, in general, have negative perceptions or suspicion towards migrants or minorities that are not of a white Anglo-Saxon background. So it’s been eye opening and enjoyable to be able to pray anywhere (mosques are everywhere) and feel respected for wearing a hijab where-ever I go.

Moving to Malaysia - What's It Like?

What is it like to be a migrant?

Being a migrant has been one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences of my life. It has changed me.

When everything in my diet and environment changed it had an impact on my mindset and perception of the world in a positive way. I am more gentle on myself and less outspoken. I judge so much less, and I see the world differently on so many levels.  Traveling to five countries in one year I see vulnerable people everywhere and have modified my outlook to see more depth, to understand the daily struggles, and I have become so much more grateful for where I have come from.

Sometimes I get really homesick for Perth, and for my family in Sydney and Canberra, but my family and friends from Australia have really supported me during the hard times, especially my sister and soul mate, Aisha.

I feel so privileged having been born and brought up in Australia. While some may criticise – and yes we can do better – we really do have an amazing health care and education system, as well as a child protection orientated culture compared to many other countries in the world. We also have beautiful parks and clean beaches!

I miss Australia’s flowers, blue skies, the smell of gum trees and a big back yard for the kids to run about in. Also – never underestimate the impact of living in a dairy producing country – how I miss my cheeses, cream, proper full cream milk and Greek yogurts!!

When I’ve traveled to Singapore, Malaysia and China in the past, I’ve stood out like a sore thumb – often stared at. I’ve even had people trip over their own feet watching me instead of where they were going. What is it like to be a ‘white’ person living in an Asian country?

Oh this question makes me shake my head while grinning! I mean, the amount of people that have stared at me to the extent that I felt I was being eaten alive is too many times to count!

It was probably one of the hardest challenges of the first few months, as my children and I felt uncomfortable with all of the staring. Sometimes it bothered me so much that I didn’t go out and avoided crowded areas, especially because they loved to touch babies. Now I am used to it and find myself turning my back in a restaurant if the whole family or a couple of guys are having a good look. I try not to focus on it.

It really saddens me that ‘whiteness’ is so prized here in Malaysia and other Asian countries. Every cream in the chemist has some form of bleaching agent, and advertising to “become more white” is everywhere. You can even get special full body whiting treatments at the day spas! Why they are they not promoting love for the beautiful Asian skin colour really gets me. It’s very devaluing and as a culture is discriminating to darker skinned Asians. I believe the perception in Malaysia is that if you are whiter you are more beautiful, and I do wonder if the west and past colonisation has influenced this perception.

There are many misconceptions in the western world about women wearing a hijab. Woman to woman, explain to the readers why you CHOOSE to wear a hijab (because I know I’m tired of explaining it to people who ask why my Muslim friends wear one – you must be beyond that!)?

Oh, the question of my life!

Let’s face it – trying to adhere to an Islamic dress code can be a challenge living in Australia or any western country, as a Muslim woman in a headscarf stands out, especially when society bombards woman with messages from billboards to magazines on what a woman “should” look like!

The head scarf defiantly takes the blunt of all of these misconceptions because it is an outer signal that a person is of the Islamic faith. As Shuaib Webb, a well know American sheik said recently:

The natural outcome, therefore, for those who fear the religion, is to fear its most apparent manifestation – the hejab.

I exercise my choice to wear a head cover. Yes, a piece of cloth that doesn’t have an adverse effect on my thought pattern, that doesn’t oppress or demean me. I am a practicing Muslim woman and believe that covering my body and head is a religious obligation, just like absenting from wine, drugs or refraining from the act of stealing or murder!

I have made a choice to be a practicing Muslim and this, from my interpenetration of Islam, includes wearing the head scarf. Now, I’m not saying my Muslim sisters who don’t wear a scarf are any less practicing. They have also made a choice not wear it, and that is between them and God and not for me to judge. Sometimes it’s a sticking point between Muslim woman themselves, as there can be a visual disparity between outer appearance and inner character. For me personally, I have always felt empowered and beautiful by wearing the head scarf.

In the Quran, Muslim men are told to avert their gaze out of respect for woman, so that’s a hijab for them! Jesus is recorded in Islamic sources saying:

Virtuous action does not consist in doing good to someone who has done good to you – that is merely returning a favour. Virtuous action consists in doing good (even) to those who have wronged you.

Moving to Malaysia - What's It Like?

The beauty of Islam

I love Islam and see beauty in it because:

  • There is no compulsion in Islam, meaning nothing can be forced, and
  • All actions are based on intention, so no one can judge another level of commitment or love of God.

I believe that showing respect and goodness to others, however, they treat us, is important as actions speak louder than words, and intentions speak louder to the heart.

It boils down to live and let live, a principal our society has yet to master. It upsets me when people judge or mock the hijab and believe that I am asking to be discriminated against. What’s wrong with practicing one’s beliefs, especially in a world that is in need of more spiritually in touch human beings.

The world is beautiful with all of its different communities, culture’s and religions, and if there is respect there will be harmony.

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