Thursday, August 11, 2011
In This Life and Thereafter- JAIS Church Raid
A just state allows religious freedom. The state does not impose religion but rather gives space to religions with a responsibility toward civil society, and therefore it allows these religions to be factors in building up society.-Joseph Ratzinger
A month or so ago, I volunteered for a soup kitchen, that distributed food to the poor, needy and homeless in urban Kuala Lumpur. Its founding members were Muslim, and the parent organisation was also an Islamic organisation. The volunteers were of all races and religions. There was even a French lady who helped out.
When the needy came, they came in the hundreds at Masjid Jamek, Tune Hotel and Petaling Street. They were young and old; men and women; Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians; Malays, Chinese, Indians, Indonesians. They took what they were given gratefully, with a smile, a "Terima Kasih or Thank You", and did not mind who was giving the food packets out. They certainly did not ask whether I was Muslim or Christian.
The idea is simple: help, no matter where it comes from, is appreciated, and we should all do our part to help each other.
Charity to Convert?So when careless and callous accusations were thrown at Damansara Utama Methodist Church that they were doing charity to convert people, I was appalled. Good intentions, that result in a greater good, smeared in a light of narrow minded claims. Imagine if Mother Teresa were accused of trying to spread Christianity in India, and barred, expelled from India because of that. We would have lost a saint of a woman, who changed many people's lives for the better. Imagine if Soup Kitchens like the one mentioned above were outlawed for fear of trying to convert people. Imagine if groups like World Vision, or Tzu Chi, or Sisters In Islam were restricted to helping only persons of their own religion, what kind of world would that be? It most certainly would split society further in racial and religious lines, creating an attitude of every religion for itself, turning 1Malaysia into a 2, 3, 4, 5, perhaps even 6 Malaysia.
The accusation reveals a very shallow mindset held, and even more dangerously, propagated by politicians such as Hassan Ali, a path that can only lead to mistrust and extremism.
Being in a church= Being converted?
The knee jerk reaction of JAIS to the mere presence of Muslims at the church charity dinner implies one ridiculous notion: By being present for any church function, or by simply being in a church, one is being converted to Christianity.
This notion is utterly preposterous. There have been countless Malaysians, Muslims included that were educated in missionary schools- La Salle, St Johns, Convent Bukit Nanas, Methodist Boys to name a few. Missionaries schools where there was chapel, there were prayers during assembly, when there were actual nuns and Brothers doing the teaching. Even our own prime minister, Najib Tun Razak received his education in St. Johns Institution! Marina Mahathir has given so many talks in churches about AIDS yet is she a convert? The most ironic thing is, our prime minister can walk into the very heart of Christianity, meet with the Pope, in the hallowed grounds of St Peters Basilica, and yet, no one ever doubts his faith.
JAIS has tried miserably to justify its raid by saying the words 'Quran' and 'pray' were mentioned at the dinner, taking it as proof of proselytizing by the church. Everyday, Malaysians hear the call to prayer from mosques; every function, is started with a prayer from the Quran; every student learns the history and principles of Islam- yet these are not viewed as attempts to convert others are they? Of course not! Because we respect each others rights, and that includes the right to thank god for a successful charity dinner. Back in secondary, whenever something ill befell a fellow student, our principal would ask for a moment of silence in prayer. He would say: " It doesn't matter whether you're Muslim, Christian or Buddhist. Even if you are a free thinker, at least hope. As long as our hearts are with the unfortunate, then it is good." A friend of mine from Turkey related how people of different faiths often pray at the same place, same time- taking faith and camaraderie in a shared belief of a higher power. Both of us felt strongly that that experience of different faiths coming together, made our faith stronger, our appreciation of diversity grow, our understanding of each other deepen.
Only a person who does not truly understand what is faith is afraid of others' beliefs.
JAIS claims to be upholding the sanctity of Islam, yet its very actions defile it. Nabi Muhammad S.A.W. laid the principles of Islam to be tolerant, progressive and forward looking. Even in a war, he stressed that women and children were to be spared, that livestock and crops be preserved, and most importantly, to never defile, and always respect places of worship.
The Prophet emphasized in many letters to his emissaries that religious institutions should not be harmed. Here in a letter addressed to his emissary to the religious leaders of Saint Catherine in Mount Sinai who has sought the protection of the Muslims:
Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by God! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are declared to be protected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”
Under Nabi Muhammad S.A.W.'s leadership, and later that of the Khalifahs, cities like Mecca, Madinah and Jerusalem became havens of multiculturalism, tolerance and diversity. He welcomed Jews at a time when they were being prosecuted by Christians; and freedom to practice one's religion was part of the constitution of his Islamist state.
The Prophet strictly warned against any maltreatment of people of other faiths. He said:
“Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.”
JAIS claims it is upholding Islam, any student of Islamic history, or of the Quran, can tell you that it is not. With no evidence, no warrant, no proper justification, and no tact in its dealing with church members, they have lost legitimacy of their claim of upholding religion.
The gag order from the Menteri Besar is hypocritical, having just introduced the Freedom of Information Act in Selangor; the silence from normally vocal opposition members is deafening; and the repeated belligerence and conflicting views within PAS is exasperating. Both sides will play pass the bomb, no doubt with no end in sight, and the result being zero.
Yesterday, for the first time, Malaysia reached the top ten ranking of the Pew's Forum on Religion and Public Life, as a country with some of the highest government led restrictions on different religions. We joined the dubious ranks of Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, Burma to name a few. The DUMC raid is only part of a larger pattern of religious repression in Malaysia, from the banning of the word Allah, to the confiscation of Malay language Bibles and culminating in this incident. And the cross fire between opposition and Government is only intensifying.
Politicians are busy pointing fingers at each other, when what really should be done is an independent, transparent investigation be launched to clarify matters, and the findings be published. The questions of who ordered the raid, the justification of the claims, and the legitimacy of JAIS's actions must be answered. Why is there no separation of state and religion?
At the end of it all, all I can say is, in the words of Nabi Muhammad, peace be upon him,
"All actions are judged by the motive prompting them."
And I sincerely hope, for our sake and theirs, in this life and thereafter ( if there is one), that the politicians and JAIS's motives are good ones.