Uncommon Courtesy: Opportunity Shines in Hong Kong

Days start beautifully in Hong Kong with lots of ‘Jow San’s going around which means ‘good morning’ in Cantonese. Whether on escalators, public transport, in markets or any other public place, you hear a lot of ‘um goi’ or ‘um goi sai’, which can mean a casual thank you or ‘excuse me’. People often give preference to elderly in queues of taxi stands and convenience shops. Especially in residential places, elderly grannies with helpers go for morning strolls while customary exchange of chitchats in the middle of the group’s physical activities is so common. However, moving towards commercial areas, you may encounter a somewhat different environment.

Common incidences such as someone getting up if a domestic helper sits beside them on a bus or someone pretending to be sleeping in a ‘reserved seat’ when a mother is struggling standing beside with a baby are unfortunately made to be seen. A newcomer may stumble upon a shutting door on the face or even certain Cantonese swear words. With a brown face, it may become testing and with a ‘hijab’ on, intimidating in the crowd of 93.4% Chinese majority city of Hong Kong having a population of 7.2 million.

Cultural norms differ from country to country and so do with the level and quality of education. Hong Kong has its own characteristic public etiquettes, but there is a growing frustration of not seeing enough of it. To cope with the ‘fast and furious’ pace of life in Hong Kong with even probably the fastest escalators in the world, people cut corners. Generally, the first thing that is cut-off from daily lives is courtesy.

With World Happiness Index sinking every year, the strait, mechanical faces on the streets of Hong Kong is a reflection of its own sinking quality and the continuous struggle of life. The seemingly lack of courtesy intensifies with Hongkongers’ disinterest in speaking in languages other than Cantonese, having a stigma towards domestic helpers who are of different nationalities and ethnicities, socio-political tensions with China and hence fault-finding outlook towards Mainlanders and last but not the least ‘Candy Crush’ on smart-phones. Thus courtesy which is common in the western world, is uncommon even in westerners when they live in Hong Kong. The natural response to seemingly rudeness is rudeness. It is easy to get frustrated. However if we take a step back and reassess the everyday incidences with Allāh’s guidance:

“And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend.” [1]

So smile. Peoples’ response to a simple smile may surprise us. They seem so astonished yet relieved to see a smile in a hasty crowd. Humbling. Simply keeping the elevator door open for the next person or not shutting it on the face of the next person enlightens the mood. Helping someone to cross the road with their overloaded groceries or baby stroller will not take too long but people respond to this little act of kindness with immense gratitude. Let us get up or ask the person to get up from reserved seats for elderly or people in need with a smile. People around will thank us and notice us, especially if we are representing ourselves as Muslims outwardly. Let us be extra nice to the domestic helpers, after all we do not know whose rank is higher in the eyes of Allāh. Courtesy has a very important place in Islam and the standard is universal with guidance from Allāh through His Book Al-Qur’ān and the numerous traditions of Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam).

“And do not turn your cheek [in contempt] toward people and do not walk through the earth exultantly. Indeed, Allah does not like everyone self-deluded and boastful.”[2]

Rudeness and harshness should not discourage us in continuing to display uprightness and respectability:

“And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace.” [3]

Do we greet anyone on our way, or at least the people we have eye contact with? It does not take any time. We just have to come out of our shells and start greeting others. Our Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is reported to have said:

“The person closest to Allah is the one who precedes others in greeting.”[4]

Allah says in His glorious Qur’ān:

“And when you are greeted with a greeting, greet in return with what is better than it, or (at least) return it equally.” [5]

Cannot we be more generous in returning greetings? Let us see what happens. Common courtesy costs nothing but will uplift oneself spiritually even if nothing else changes. As Muslims in Hong Kong, it should actually be so easy to be extraordinary in Hong Kong just with a little common courtesy. Showing others, we are not here to steal their jobs rather to extend our friendships, to be a part of the society. It gives them comfort. Do we feel others are rude towards us? Probably they feel the same as well. Let us be the change we want to see around us and grab this great opportunity. One ‘Jow san’ from a foreign face returns such a sweet smile and a series of questions in Cantonese from some grannies; I regret not knowing the language, but common courtesy needs no language.

Featured Image: Steven Depolo | Flickr Creative Commons


[1] Al-Qur’ān: 41:34

[2] Al-Qur’ān: 31:18

[3] Al-Qur’ān: 25:63

[4] Abu Dawud

[5] Al-Qur’ān: 4:86

Written by Adeel Malik

Born in Hong Kong, grew up in Scotland and ethnically Pakistani, Adeel primes himself to be a multicultural individual who is an advent social media user for the purpose of learning and propagating Islam while is also a sports fan. Being an English teacher himself, he envisions a bright future for Muslims which he strongly believes can only be done with education.


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