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Working Professionally with Children and Youth in Care
CYC-Online Issue 10 NOVEMBER 1999 / BACK
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From Semenanjung, Malaysia

Greetings from Kelantan, West Malaysia where I have been spending Research and Study Leave away from the winter weather of New Zealand. Semenanjung means Peninsula Malaysia, the part that continues down from Thailand and ends up at Singapore. Such a distinction is very important for anyone engaged in child and youth care work. As highlighted in my last postcard from Sarawak East Malaysia, the social geography of the two parts of Malaysia is very different. The population of Kelantan is more than 95 percent Malay and followers of Islam.

Children from the age of two are taught to salam (the action of taking another person's hand and bringing it to the heart). Boys and girls sometimes kiss an adult’s hand during the salam as a demonstration of the Islamic greeting of peace showing respect to others. Giving and returning salam is a prayer offered to another with hope they will live in safety and good health. The salam is said in Arabic, “Assalamualaikum” meaning “may peace be upon you” and the reply is “Waalaikummussalam” meaning “may peace be also with you”.

Children at Cherang Ruku Primary School in Semerak

When Muslims meet, they will salam by taking another person's hand and bring it to their heart. Among adults, this touching even by salam is only done between people of the same sex unless they are muhrim or close family members. This aspect of Islamic practice is a gesture of respect but it also conveys a blessing or prayer that reinforces a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood amongst Muslims. Socially, it helps establish warmth and friendliness among people, even when meeting for the first time. Salam is performed when people meet and when they leave, and is also a way of asking for forgiveness.

In Kampong Cherang Ruku there is also a Quran class (Hafiz Quran) situated at the Al Taqwa mosque compound that is supervised and taught by 2 religious teachers. This class had 17 male students, ranging in age from 9 to 19 years, all having been sent from neighbouring states outside Kelantan. These children did not attend any other school and lived with their teachers in two different houses in the mosque compound. The Quran is learned through listening, remembering and repetition and education of this kind helps produce future religious teachers.

Hafiz Al Quran Class at Al Taqwa Mosque in Semerak

There is much to be learned about cross-cultural practices in child and youth care work. Fundamental to this is a recognition that we not only speak with a funny accent, but we also hear with a funny accent! The meaning we give to stories and events with children is also influenced by what lies beneath that accent.

So, as a Kelantanese Muslim would say: Assalamualaikum – may peace be upon you!

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