Halal Tau Sar Pneah, non-halal Nasi Lemak & my mom

My mom has a very tight morning schedule every day, one which she adheres to religiously. From her morning doa recitals at 5am, followed with Subuh prayers, all the way to her trip to the market, fixing breakfast, cleaning, doing the laundry and preparing lunch at 11-ish, mom is on her toes the entire morning, pottering around the house like a busy bee.

So when mom called me early yesterday morning, I knew something was not quite right. Mom stuttered a bit (a sign she was upset or angry) and sounded less chirpy than she usually was during our daily mother-daughter chats.

“Kenapa Ma? Semua ok, ka? (What’s wrong, Ma? Is everything ok?)” I asked, worried.

“Mak tak puas hati (I’m not happy),” her voice was flat.

Realising it may be a long conversation, I signalled my daughter to make me a mug of hot kopi O and asked mom to tell me what she was unhappy about.

“Pagi tadi mak pergi market nak beli sotong. Mak ingat nak buat sambal sotong, tapi harga sotong mahal sangat. Jadi mak pun beli la ikan cencaru. Lagipun dah lama mak tak masak ikan cencaru masak belacan… (This morning I went to the market to buy squid. I thought of making some chili squid, but it was so expensive. So I bought some cencaru fish. Been awhile since I made cencaru with shrimp paste…)” mom diverted as usual.

I smiled as I took a sip of my Kopi O and attempted to steer her back to our conversation.

“Pastu (Then)?”

“Pastu mak pi beli nasi lemak kat makcik yang selalu jual nasi lemak kat pasar. Bapak dah mengidam nak makan nasi lemak, asyik sebut pasal nasi lemak dua tiga hari ni… (Then, I went to get some nasi lemak from the usual aunty at the market. Your dad has been craving for it these past two to three days…)”

“Pastu Ma (Then, Ma)?”

“Pastu mak pergi beli roti ban kat aunty Cina sebelah gerai jual suratkhabar. Masa nak beli roti ban, mak tengok ada Tau Sar Pneah. Kan adik suka makan Tau Sar Pneah, dan selalu sangat cepat habis, mak pun beli la tiga roll kat aunty tu… (Then, I went to get some buns at the Chinese aunty’s shop, the one next to the newspaper stall. When I was there, I bought some Tau Sar Pneah too. You know how much your brother loves them, and they sell out easily too, so I grabbed three…)”

“Pastu (Then)?”

“Pastu masa mak jalan nak balik, mak lalu la depan gerai nasi lemak. Makcik jual nasi lemak tu panggil mak suruh datang dekat – macam ada benda yang dia nak bagitau kat mak (Then when I was on my way back, the nasi lemak aunty waved at me – sort of asking me to stop by at her stall).”

“Pastu? Apa makcik tu cakap (Then? What did she say)?” I was curious to know myself.

“Makcik tu tunding pada Tau Sar Pneah dalam bakul mak. Dia tanya halal ke tidak (She pointed at the Tau Sar Pneah in my basket and asked if it was halal).”

“Pastu (Then)?”

“Pastu mak bilang la kat dia yang Tau Sar Pneah di buat daripada minyak sayuran dan inti kacang hijau. Kalau yang guna lemak babi, aunty tu akan bagitau awal-awal – lagipun dia takkan campur benda halal dengan haram. Mak bagitau dia, kita sekeluarga dah biasa makan Tau Sar Pneah sejak berpuluh tahun dan tak pernah rasa ragu-ragu tentang kehalalan dia (Then I told her it’s made of vegetable oil and green beans. If it were made of lard, the aunty would have told me – plus she never mixes non-halal and halal things together. I also told her we have been consuming Tau Sar Pneah for ages and have never once been alarmed about its halal-ness),” mom explained.

According to mom, the nasi lemak makcik wasn’t satisfied with mom’s answer. She continued to explain to mom that it was not appropriate for mom to purchase anything without the halal certification imprinted on the product. She stressed that any food item without a halal symbol should be considered haram.

My mom, being a religious person yet quite practical and open-minded, decided she wasn’t going to walk away before having a say on the matter.

“Nasi lemak yang kamu jual tu halal ka (Is your nasi lemak halal then)?” mom asked.

“Eh. Mestilah halal. Saya buat sendiri (Eh, of course. I cooked it myself),” the makcik said, sounding a little defensive.

“Ada cop tanda halal kat nasi lemak tu ka (Is there a halal symbol imprinted on your nasi lemak packet)?” mom asked.

Obviously there was no halal certification on her nasi lemak pack. The makcik told mom that Muslims should trust each other and the ingredients she used to cook her nasi lemak were all halal, hence the question of halal-haram did not arise.

“Kedai orang Muslim banyak yang kat tepi longkang, penuh sampah sarap, ada tikus dan lalat. Dah la kotor, minyak masak pakai sampai tiga empat kali – sampai boleh kena keracunan makanan dan bagi orang tercirit. Halal ke tu? (There are many Muslim food stalls by the drain, surrounded by rubbish, with rats and flies spotted all over. Not only are these stalls filthy, the cooking oil is reused many times over. Is that halal?” mom lamented.

The makcik was dumbstruck.

“Memang la kita orang Muslim kena percaya antara satu sama lain sebab kita sama-sama Islam, tapi kita kan juga manusia, kenapa sebagai sama-sama manusia kita susah sangat nak percaya antara satu sama lain (I understand that as Muslims, we should trust each other. But we are also human, so shouldn’t one human trust another human too?)”

I continued to listen to mom’s story without uttering a word, amazed at the wisdom of the woman who gave birth to me.

“Hello… dengar tak mak cerita ni (Hello… are you listening to my story or not?)”

“Dengar mak. Saya terkhusyuk kejap dengar cerita mak. Hebat la mak (Yes, Ma, I was listening alright. I’m just in awe of you, that’s all. You are awesome, la Ma),” I said.

Mom chuckled and ended our conversation that morning with a request, “Mak nak kamu tulis cerita ni dalam FMT. Bagi orang sedar sikit, bukan semua barang makanan yang tak ada tanda halal tu adalah haram dan bukan semua makanan yang ada tanda halal tu boleh dimakan (I want you to send this story to FMT. I want everyone to wise up to the fact that not all food items without the halal symbol is non-halal and not all food items with the halal symbol is halal.”

I found myself grinning after our conversation. As I sipped my cold Kopi O, my heart was filled with warmth and admiration for my mom.

Fa’s Note:

I’m so proud of you, Ma!