The joyful feast was brought to an abrupt halt. An invisible fog took over the festive air. The clinking and clanking of food stopped, a baby cried at the sudden silence, a boy dropped his curry drenched opor ayam. All eyes were on me, stares of anticipation. What is she going to say? Is she seriously going to start a fight right now? Not wanting everyone to wait, I broke the piercing silence.
“And could you tell me exactly why, Grandma?”
Apparently, the whole family felt the need to partake in what was supposed to be a one-on-one debate between a grandmother and her granddaughter. Soon, the entire dinner table gave way to a heated discussion.
One by one, starting from the main matriarch and ending with my uncle, the paternal family whom I’ve tried to continue to love, despite my parents’ falling out, took turns in giving spiteful excuses on why I shouldn’t go to a Christian university, ranging from stereotypical xenophobic remarks (“Christian schools are predominantly Chinese”) to blatantly-made ignorant assumptions (“They’ll force you to take off your hijab!”).
Resting the spoon I’ve been twirling around onto the dinner table, I let out an exasperated breath. I was tired, tired from all this nonsensical meddling in my personal affairs, especially during a day like Lebaran, but defeat was not an option.
“You know, I’ve thought long and hard about enrolling into this certain school,” I said. “It has a great English Literature program, a comfortable learning environment, and it’s not far from the big cities. I believe my reasons are valid enough. So why all this fuss about religion and race and whatnots, if all I’m doing is attaining education?”
“But, does it really have to be a Christian school? What if they’ll turn you into a Christian?”
Gone was my cool and calm composure. That comment was the last straw.
“Are you guys seriously questioning my faith?”
No one dared to utter a response.
“You know, we’re fortunate enough to be living in a country like Indonesia, where 90 percent of the population is Muslim. Everything is catered to the needs of Muslims. But what if, for example, us Muslims were to live in a totally reverse society? Living in an environment where Islam is the minority. Fun fact: I have some practicing Muslim friends living in those countries, yet they still hold onto their beliefs tightly.”
I went on: “But you wanna know what really pisses me off? You guys assuming that the school of my choice will somehow forcefully convert me into becoming a Christian. In a way, the environment you live does play a part in altering your beliefs. But at the end of the day, the choice of switching or dropping your religion is up to you. No one’s going to force you. If they did, it would probably end up on the news or something.”
The air in the dining room had grown thick. Parched from the impromptu speech, I was in massive need of hydration, but my arms didn’t dare to reach out for the glass of iced water in front of me. No one dared to move the slightest bit. My eyes met my grandmother’s scowl. Suddenly, in a desperate attempt to break the tension, a member of the table let out a not-so discreet fake cough.
“We were just trying to protect you,” my dear, sweet aunt responded. “We just don’t want you to lose your faith. Maybe we came off too strong, but we were just worried for you.”“Worried? Well, thank you for your ‘protection’!”
I was pushing away from the dining table to get up. “We might be on the same wave length in terms of religion. We might believe in the same God, the same holy book, but last time I checked, my business with God has nothing to do with you guys.”
I saw the various expressions of my relatives as I made my way out of the house: my grandmother’s permanent scowl, my aunt’s looks of concern, my cousins’ stares of judgment, but only one image popped up in my head: the face of satisfaction. The face I’ll be making to my relatives as I prove their assumptions wrong.
Far too long have we been living in a society where we make these wild generalizations over certain religions. Far too long have we been unfairly judging the minority groups. I do not have much say on this since I have the privilege of belonging to the majority group, but the least I could do with this privilege is to reduce the prejudice against them.
And what better way to do that by breaking the barriers and going to a Christian university as a practicing Muslim?
Opening the front door, I turned around to give my relatives one last look.
“Oh yeah, Happy Lebaran!”
Dyah Ayu Larasati is an English Literature major residing in Salatiga, Indonesia. When she’s not coming up with titles of her never-to-be-released mixtape, she’s probably storming up a new fanfiction piece at the college library. You could find her fangirling over Bangtan Sonyeondan on Twitter at @notlarxsati.