Monday, July 21, 2008

Of Faith and Dialogues

Generally, I try to steer clear of blogging religious issues due to its obvious sensitivity, unless the relevant issue is clear cut or outrageous. But I've read several articles published by The Star, based on opinions of a muslim sociologist, Dr Syed Farid Alatas, which I found plenty interesting, and is certainly fresh knowledge for myself.

So I thought to share some of the points made here. The first, published about 2 weeks ago, was with regards to an "Education System Polarising Us", while the latest one on "Taking it Over is good for all", published yesterday, were all relating to the benefits of dialogues between civilisations. These comments were given at a lecture entitled "An Islamic Perspective on the Commitment to Inter-Religious Dialogue"

On inter-faith dialogues
Dr Syed Farid said although the general impression here was that Islam/Muslims were indifferent to dialogue, he said the Quran and the life of Prophet Muhammad showed otherwise.

Citing verse 64 of Surah Al-Imran and verse 125 of Surah An-Nahl, he said the Quran asked Muslims to engage in interfaith dialogue and in inter-civilisational dialogue with reason and evidence.

He added the prophet entered into agreements with Jews and Christians in Medina and they were referred to as ummah.“The term ummah in Malaysia today, however, is exclusive to Muslims. Imagine if we used it as in the prophet’s time to include all Malaysians and not just a part of.”
On objections to dialogues:
“As for ulamas who are against dialogue, that comes from a misplaced feeling of superiority because they are the majority and Islam is the religion of the state.” He said it should be a requirement for dialogue that one does not have to dilute one’s belief in one’s religion.

“One should be able to hold on to one’s belief while establishing common ground and recognising the differences and even fault lines. Muslims with a deep sense of tradition are always for dialogue. The sufis are more open and have a harmonious view of society. The ulamas against dialogue are usually those who are legalistic in thinking and narrow-minded in their views.”
On helping other religions:
Muslims should help Christians solve their problems, for example, if they want to display a cross on their buildings and it is not allowed.

Asked on what basis a Muslim should do that, he said that being the majority group, Muslims should be committed to help people of all faiths with their problems as Islam provides for the protection of the rights of others.

“It is not just a concession granted to minority groups. Rather, there is a Quranic basis, prophetic tradition and centuries of Islamic practice to support this
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On culture vs religion:
At a public forum on freedom of thought, conscience and religion in June 2004, Harcharan Singh, then president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism, had disclosed that although many Sikh gurdwaras, including a 100-year-old one in Kuantan, had dome-shaped roofs, they were told new temples could not have one because Muslims might mistake them for a mosque.

Why take this stand when the Hagia Sophia with its dome-shaped roof - which became the inspiration for other mosques after the Ottomans invaded Constantinople - was originally a church during the Byzantine Empire?

“In that case, there should be a campaign to remove domes from mosques because they come from outside Islam,” he said in a rare chuckle.

Such decisions reflected insecurity or a misplaced feeling of superiority and a lack of historical knowledge, he added. “In China, the mosques look like Buddhist temples from the outside. Architecture should not be the central factor. All religions indigenise themselves to culture and climate.

“We should celebrate that diversity. If Muslims want to claim the dome for themselves, then they should stop cultivating logic, refrain from drinking tea, and give up Kentucky Fried Chicken because these are all alien practices!”
Now, that's certainly an enlightening view, and provides plenty of food for thought.
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