Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Here's a story I heard from a friend recently.

In the process of selecting underprivileged children to provide scholarships to, she came across a family with two children. The mother is a busker, a street musician; the father does odd jobs here and there. They insist on putting their kids into private school, which costs Rp.350,000 per month per child.  They complain that they can hardly pay the fees.

"Why do you put them into private school?  You do know you can put them into public schools free of charge, right?", asked my friend.

"We don't believe in public schools. We want our children to receive very good religious education, so that their religious values are deeply embedded.  We hear the public schools are not very good about religious education," said the mother.

Over the course of the conversation, my friend explained to them the scholarship program and how they might become eligible for it.  After listening to her intently this is how the father responded:

"As a Muslim, we must accept the intentions of those who wish to do good in the path of Allah."

My friend was taken aback and exasperated that he had the air of someone who was doing her a favor, with the fanciful wisdom of a saint.  She saw him as an ordinary man with a lack of competence over his family's financial management. A family deluded into believing that religion can solve everything and magically guide them into making the proper decisions in life. A family who has squandered many opportunities on poor choices.

But there was more.  There was this sense of entitlement, bordering on arrogance. Not to be confused with a peaceful and serene acceptance of their fate. Not to be confused with a humble gratitude of whatever life gives, no matter how small.  Theirs was an attitude of being poor, therefore being entitled, to be on the receiving end of what God obliges the wealthy to give away.  

Admittedly many of the wealthy are also arrogant. They expect their hands to be kissed (literally) and the poor to pray for their continuous prosperity / happiness. Happens every year during Ramadhan month at orphanages, overflowing with food bestowed on them by people who wish to reap 70 times more blessings by doing something good in the holy month. The little children are taught to kiss our hands and pray for us and thank us for the rice-boxes. The remaining 11 months at orphanages are dry and without event.

There is something very banal and commercial about the whole thing. Like a supply and demand of religious brownie points.

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