Once upon a time, I used to have a circle of close friends. There were about six of us, including myself. We would go out for lunches and dinners at least two or three times a month. And we would go any and everywhere, because we enjoyed searching out some new restaurant, or dish, or menu to savour.
One day, it was my turn to propose our venue for lunch. As I was recently told about the delights of a beef ball noodle soup place that was located around Leboh Ampang, I proposed it by email to all of them in the morning. By noon, I had received confirmations of attendance from all but two of my friends. I remembered that day distinctly because it was the first time that any of us had replied after noon.
I admit that I was used to the customary enthusiastic and excited confirmations. Both their replies however came the next morning. Both were declines without reasons. This was the first time in fourteen years of knowing each other that such an invitation was declined without profuse apologies, heavy regrets and a reason. It was at this precise moment I think the perfect circle of our little group began to fracture and disintegrate.
When I called them up, after a great deal of avoidance, they confessed that they could not join us because the place was not halal. Their husbands forbade them from going. When they tried to insist their husbands spat a taalik at them. They would stand divorced if they stepped out of the house to eat at a non-halal restaurant. They wanted very much to join us for lunch but they did not want it tear their family apart. They said that now they could only eat at restaurants which was certified halal.
After I explained this to our other friends they sympathised. We resolved to stand by our friends and so agreed to only eat at halal places only. I managed to arrange a lunch at a suitable venue at the appointed time. We were all quite taken by surprise to see that both those friends had taken to the tudung. They seemed a little embarrassed at first especially since one of them had even proclaimed that she would never put it on. But after the conversation began, things were as before and we just about forgot about the latest turn of developments.
The next time we arranged lunch at a halal restaurant which was owned by a Chinese restaurant owner. I am not quite sure how they knew this but my friends said that they could not eat there, halal approved sticker notwithstanding. When I pressed them on this they mentioned that their husbands had told them that Chinese always ate pork and would have touched the utensils in the kitchen. That would make it not halal. So we did not go in and eventually ate at a place they deemed suitable.
They could not come the next time because they had to go for a ceramah held by someone, so the four of us had lunch together without them.
The next time they came with their own utensils and their own pre-packed halal food because there may be non-Muslim staff that cooked the food and even though the meat may be halal, the pots, pans and the air would not be. Conversation which used to flow stagnated to stutters of dialogue that soon dissolved into the tinkling of forks and spoons with the plates. They looked like they endured lunch more than they ate.
The last time we tried to arrange lunch ended in painful accusations. I think I accused them of being unreasonable and stupid about their religion. And they accused me with the others for not understanding and accommodating them. I think their parting shot was that we were all sinners destined for hell.
We have not heard from them since. Those angry words are still suspended in our email boxes and our hearts its poison still seeping even though it has been three years since.
Next year, my husband and I have finally booked our haj package. We have been meaning to do it for some time now and finally have the time and money.
I am still not sure whether I would be happy to bump into them.