Column - Paintbrushes and paranoia

THIS issue of paintbrushes with pig bristles is not new. I remember this from secondary school, when I had friends telling me the calligraphy brushes they used were made out of pig bristles.

Sadly, perhaps there aren't many Malay Malaysians with Chinese Malaysian friends to warn them of such items these days.

But honestly, I do not see the big deal. Perhaps I am too liberal, but I always believed that ignorance is bliss. I was raised on the belief that "don't ask, don't tell" was acceptable when it comes to halal issues, particularly food.

Thus, in these days where even body wash, mineral water, toothpaste and even cat food need to have halal certification, it makes me go ahead on a devil may care attitude.

Perhaps there are those who believe this is the way to proceed in their goal of being better Muslims, and perhaps there are businesses who do so – including belittling rival products being of dubious "halalness" – as a marketing strategy, God only knows.

I will instead point out a scene from a movie – how many of you have watched Kingdom of Heaven?

There is this wonderful scene where to placate a Muslim trader whose caravan was attacked by Christians – Tiberias played by Jeremy Irons offers to have Christian Crusaders escort his caravans.

The trader retorts? "I trade to make money, not to offend God by associating with Christians."

And thus, Tiberias offers gold as compensation, with the following statement: "But you will take Christian gold?"

The trader replies simply, "gold is gold".

Thus, it makes me ask this honest question to those who are offended or even fake offence over this issue – to what end would you chase the Kingdom of Heaven?

Will you now call back the contractor who painted your houses to clarify what brushes he used, and then find a company willing to wash down the walls with mud and water to make it holier?

Why just your house?

Perhaps we need to ask the developers of the public suraus in malls and even the mosques.

But also, what about those bristles used on vacuum cleaners to clean the carpets? Do we need to vet those too, just in case it gets stuck and we step on them during Friday prayers?

Shall we go further? What about currency?

Do we need to send every ringgit used to be tested at a lab to ensure it is clean by Islamic standards? Perhaps a person who used the ringgit bill spilled wine or beer on it, perhaps he got it as change from a char siew vendor, or even from the non-halal grocery section at a supermarket.

At the same time, it does present the opportunity to start new syariah-compliant business models.

Perhaps we can start a new industry where entrepreneurs will open up laundromats to wash and dry money and put faith back into its cleanliness.

Perhaps some Malaysians can then establish cleaning companies which will wash all surfaces in any household – from roof to wall to floor – with mud to ensure its halal compliance.
Perhaps we can start having halal certifications for vacuum cleaners made in Malaysia to be used in mosques and suraus, and ensure that everyone can pray with a peaceful mind and ensure that it is truly clean without doubt.

Just by writing the above, I have done something to a section of readers. I have planted a seed of doubt. And this is exactly the problem when religious people go beyond boundaries to ensure their lifestyles are holy perhaps down to the basic micron level.

It is not faith, it is instead an obsession with perfection that cannot be achieved and thus, creates a waste of time, resources and the ability to move on and better the world without falling into a pit of despair.

The paintbrushes are a non-issue stirred up to divide the people by trying to find more that separates us than brings us together, while perhaps making a quick buck.

Either way, I truly hope that we don't fall for it.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: