My friend Andrew is really a sweet person. Every time he travels to any part of the world, he will get a nice souvenir for his friends.
Similarly, every Christmas, he will come up with a long list of people who are close to him, and go up and down shopping malls, looking for the perfect gift for them.
And because Andrew is such a sweet and thoughtful person, when he rang me up a few days ago and asked if he could visit me at home, I expected him to bring over some mooncakes.
Now, before you assume that I am some nasty friend who takes advantage of the kindness of others, let me explain.
Every year since I’ve known Andrew, he would always bring me mooncakes during the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival. And being someone with exquisite taste in food – he cooks and bakes wonderfully, especially French cuisine – Andrew always picks something extraordinary to tickle one’s taste buds. As a cheapskate who only consumes the ordinary mooncakes you would find at normal stores, I always look forward to Andrew’s little surprise.
On the night he was supposed to visit, I prepared some char koey teow (with extra chilli flakes, his favourite) and peppermint tea (also his favourite). However, when Andrew showed up at my doorstep, his hands were empty – with no sign of mooncakes upon him.
Feeling curious, I took out some Shanghai-style mooncakes I had in the fridge for dessert after dinner. I was intrigued to find out why there were no mooncakes from Andrew this year.
“Ah, Shanghai mooncake! Looks nice,” said Andrew as he carefully cut it into four pieces.
“Yes, Kent brought it over the other day. It tastes like tau sar peah, except with a lotus filling,” I replied, hoping it would trigger his memory about the mooncake he forgot to get me this year.
After indulging in a piece of mooncake, Andrew looked at me with a sad face.
No mooncakes please
“You know Fa, something happened at my office this week and I am so unhappy about it.”
“What’s wrong, Andy?” I asked, genuinely worried.
“You know how I always like to buy mooncakes and share it with all my friends, right?” he asked.
“Of course I do. And every year, I eagerly wait for them,” I said with a smile.
“I just recently joined a new company and so I decided to get everyone in my department some mooncakes. I bought the premium ones, cut them nicely and went around the office, offering them to my new office mates.”
Andrew paused, sipping his peppermint tea.
“But the first person I gave it to made a big fuss. He shouted and asked me to take it away because it was non-halal. I explained to him that it is halal because it does not contain pork or lard – but he wouldn’t listen.”
According to Andrew, he then took his mooncakes to his other colleagues. Sadly, his other Muslim colleagues (who are the majority in his office) behaved similarly.
“Kami tak boleh makan benda-benda macam ni.” (We cannot eat these things.)
“Jangan bawa masuk benda ni dalam pejabat boleh tak?” (Can you not bring this into office?)
“Mak saya kata kuih bulan ni semua haram.” (My mum said mooncakes are haram.)
Andrew said in a sad tone, “I don’t understand lah Fa. We have been living together for so long, but why do Muslims still think that a non-Muslim would offer something haram for them to consume? Do they think we are that inconsiderate?”
I smiled bitterly.
“I actually went through the hassle of looking for a good quality mooncake, something that is not only halal, but also which can suit the taste buds of many because you know, there are so many different types of mooncakes.
“I guess I am just disheartened by the way they reacted – it made me feel lousy,” Andrew said sadly.
I tried consoling my dear friend, explaining to him how difficult it is to change something that has been indoctrinated into them for a long time – but Andrew wasn’t in the mood to accept any excuses.
“These people don’t even make noise when a 12-year-old kid legally marries a 40-year-old man. They don’t make a fuss when a rapist is allowed to marry his victim. They don’t bother when a man remarries without the knowledge of his first wife and family.
“They claim all that is halal. But one look at my mooncake and hell breaks loose for them!” Andrew said.
“What are you smiling at?” asked Andrew.
“You know, you being in my house is technically non-halal too,” I teased.
“Oh Fa, why is our country getting so bad? I was just trying to be nice,” Andrew said, melodramatically.
“You are made to be nice, Andy. Don’t let these people change you. Instead, continue being who you are. I assure you, one day, your kindness and your thoughtfulness will change the way they perceive things. They just need time.”
“By the way, what did you do with all the premium mooncakes which your colleagues did not want?” I asked, shamelessly.
“I put it away at home. Every time I see it, I get upset.”
“Do you know it is haram to waste food?” I asked with a smirk.
“What do you suggest I do with it?”
“Send them over to me,” I chuckled. “You know how much I love mooncakes!”
As we said goodbye that evening, Andrew leaned over to give me a hug like always.
“Fa, do you know that technically, me hugging you is non-halal?” teased my sweet friend.
“Well Andy, technically I don’t care.”