Every now and then my thoughts stray to Hussein, someone I got to know through a good friend. And each time I think of Hussein, I am filled with deep foreboding and feelings of helplessness and sorrow.
I knew Hussein 20 years ago, in 1987 to be precise. The last time we met was in 2000 when the good friend I mentioned earlier invited me along on a visit to Hussein and his family somewhere in Petaling Jaya.
Hussein is in his early 50s. He is married to a wonderful woman a couple of years his junior, and they have two children, a boy and a girl.
I am sharing with you the story of Hussein as a way of clearing my own conscience as well, although I know given the circumstances, there is truly nothing much I could do to make a difference.
You see, Hussein is, for all intent and purposes, Chinese, and a practicing Buddhist. He is a devout Buddhist who prays to the Goddess Kuan Yin everyday. In fact, they have a special altar in their house for the deity.
Yet Hussein was born a Muslim, to Muslim parents, and carries with him an identity card that states his name as Hussein and his religion as Islam.
Legally, Hussein is a Muslim. His name, the names of his parents, and his identity card say so. Spiritually and in practice, however, Hussein is no more Muslim than I am a follower of Scientology.
Hussein is Buddhist to the core and makes no bones about it. You can't blame him. That's the faith he was raised in, much like I am Muslim because I was raised as one.
Hussein's story unfolded in the early 1950s when his mother, a Chinese girl adopted by a Malay family went against family wishes and married a man of her own choice, a Chinese convert (mualaf).
Enraged, the family threw her out and cut all ties. Saddened by their harsh treatment, she left town with her mualaf husband.
However, the couple's happiness was short-lived for she died when Hussein was still a small child. Her husband never remarried.
He brought Hussein up single-handedly and, with no one around to offer him religious guidance of any kind, fell back into his old Buddhist routine. He died a Buddhist and was buried as one.
As for Hussein, he grew up pretty much alone and started supporting himself at a young age. In his late teens, he migrated to the city to work, eventually finding himself a wife and building a family of his own.
Each time I think of Hussein I feel like a complete failure as a Muslim. I do not know why I feel responsible for Hussein's fate. Perhaps it's because I have come to regard Hussein as my own kin.
But I can say for sure that I am bitterly angry at a bunch of people in Kelantan whom I do not even know, whose selfish, irrational and completely thoughtless action 50 years ago had resulted in Hussein's on-going predicament.
I wonder if they had even thought of the far-reaching consequences of their spiteful response. Simply put, their action had destroyed the ummah.
As for Hussein, he knows where he is going from here. When he dies, he wants to be buried (or cremated) as a Buddhist and nothing else. As for me, I don't even want to think of the eventuality.
All I can see is a repeat of what has been happening far too often lately, a tussle between the Islamic religious body and next-of-kin of the deceased, to claim the body as their own. There is no victory either way, only pain and heartache.
Talking about Hussein makes me feel weak and powerless and exceedingly sad. Deep down I feel so unworthy for carrying the Islamic torch and not do something more substantial. May Allah (saw) forgive my impotence.