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
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.


Anonymous said...

YB Pua,

it has long been known quietly amongst us citizen of malaysia that our education system somehow pushes us apart. Personally, i feel polarisation starts to show its ugly sentiment when we completed form 5 and found out that the malays (no offence but speaking of the truth) who had lesser grade score were able to obtain a scholarship for matriculation which eventually formed groups of malays that prepares them for studies in universities abroad. the sense of unfairness breed some form disappointment that can lead to resentment. and when the malays scholarship holders get to their intended universities, they too stick to themselves. so polarisation is at its peak here.

to avoid, the entire education system right from primary schools should be looked into.

Take the american education system, the child goes to school, the lessons are in English, but they are given a choice to other languages to learn. currently mandarin is also opted by most american kids. why is our system not based on a single language school which offers multi languages studies to all students (all races alike). the students in India are also given the opportunity to pick up multi languages studies which includes historical and social studies of that language.

So why must we always consider that it so vital to have more vernicular schools.

anyway, there are plenty of thoughts on this matter but no real action taken to "confirm" the root cause of the problem. all because people cannot face the facts and work for a compromise. Big word for multiracial society but big step achieved when done.

Karen L

Sivin Kit said...

I have met and engaged with Dr Syed Farid Alatas a number of times. And this is the kind of voice whose content and tone of presentation is so needed in our Malaysian context especially today. In fact, all religious communities I believe do have those who are able to engage others in this manner, the more the merrier :-) Religious issues are indeed close to the hearts of many and is easily subject to misunderstanding and abuse. But we need to find some ways to move beyond this impasse ... someone has got to start somewhere.

Jonas Lee said...

If there is one competitive advantage that Malaysia can potentially contribute to the current global conflict between opposing ideologies, it is this: All Malaysin Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus should set an example to the world that we will fight for the freedom of religious worship as enshrined by the Msian Constitution and UN Rights.

Take this hypothetical example: If China or Singapore is ruled by a Christian dictator who legally forces all Christians to wear a cross, worship on Saturdays or follow the teachings of an unauthorised Bible, what would Malaysian Muslims do? Would they campaign for the freedom of those oppressed Christians or is this a non-Muslim problem?

By the same token, if Indonesia is taken over by a Muslim cult dictator who enforces a new cult version of Islam that Indon Muslims cannot accept, Malaysian Christians should stand up and campaign for the rights of their Muslim neighbours.

If each religious community do not share any common values of eradicating universal poverty, injustice and oppression, then we will all live in separate islands held together weakly by a false sense of tolerance and hidden mistrust.

de minimis said...

It is good that you are using your public role to highlight the M'sians who can foster a higher level of discourse. Education and faith must be separated. My children are in mainstream schools. The annoying part is always school principals who try more to be more "Islamic" by building suraus at the expense of educational space. This has to stop.

Anonymous said...

Its heartening and comforting to hear these liberal views from learned Malay-Muslims BUT the fact is intelletuals, especially real ones, have little influence over the Malays in these countries.

Ask a group of Malays kids or young people what they want to be and being an intellectual won't even add up to 0.1%. Ask any Malay group who they respect most in groups and trust me it would be surprising if non-preaching intellectuals even come in the top 50.

Anonymous said...

Somebody once said it is not about the religion, but rather the other R word, whatever religion they profess, they will still be the same because that's their nature, or rather culture. Do not have their own identity, merely adopt blindly, what comes their way. Unwilling to improve themselves, constantly blaming others, loyally blind to leaders who take advantage of them, insecurity, etc. 1400, 1511, 1641, 1786 - Penang was sold/rented for, like, 6000 pounds? Go figure.

Anonymous said...

buy merc to cut cost wat rojak are they talking about ?

then i must well buy ferrari , can cut more cost than a merc.....