Pakatan Rakyat (PR) – Perform Or Perish

The latest edition of Aliran has an interesting article on the Opposition Coalition. It praises PR for their good governance, for their contribution to Parliament and for winning 5 out of the 7 by-elections – all this in spite of UMNO’s efforts to destabilise and destroy PR.

However, there is also a downside and I quote the first three and last paragraphs of this article:

2009 saw the end of the euphoria that enveloped the whole country after the political tsunami of March 2008. It was a year during which the Opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat (PR), was brought down to earth and forced to face the enormity of the challenge to deliver what it had promised during the elections.

It was also a year when the public increasingly perceived the fledgling PR to be a “fragile”, “feuding”, “fraying” and “faltering” coalition – one that was “not on a firm footing”. In light of this scenario, the PR was hard pressed to convince the public that they could form the next federal government.

One would have thought that the PR, after having lost Perak to the BN in February 2009, would come to its senses about the need to be united. But it continued with its petty and puerile public inter and intra-party squabbles, spats and skirmishes, much to the surprise and scorn of the public and the satisfaction of UMNO!

The road to Putrajaya requires stomach, stamina, solidarity and the sacrifice of personal agendas and parochial party issues for the larger national agenda. Sloganeering will not do. The 1,500 delegates at PR’s first national convention were reminded of the dictum “Perform or Perish”.

(Aliran Monthly 2009 Vol 29(11/12) – used with permission)

It is said of one ‘old hand’ politician: “he wears the dress of PKR but his sweat is still UMNO”. This is one of the many problems faced by PR. At this crucial time in our nation, we would do well, both in our local churches and individually, to heed the words of 1 Timothy 2: 1-6

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time.

Lilliputian Democracy

Imagine that you live on the lovely island of Lilliput. Like its namesake in Gulliver’s Travels, Lilliput is inhabited by a small people: mostly small in stature and mental outlook, small and insignificant in the world of nations. Your island, too, as in Gulliver’s Lilliput, is ruled by a self-styled emperor. But, since your Lilliput is also a constitutional democracy, this emperor is compelled to hold national elections to secure another term as head of state. This he does successfully, retaining power with a handsome majority. He invited a few international monitors to observe the polling process, wined and dined them sumptuously, and they all had a wonderful holiday on Lilliput at local taxpayers’ expense. They returned to their homes and wrote glowing reports of how peaceful everything had been and how democracy was flourishing on Lilliput.

But you who live there know this is all eyewash. The emperor had already shredded the Constitution of Lilliput in his first term as head of state. There are no more independent commissions in Lilliput. The Chief Justice and the Elections Commissioner are the emperor’s appointees. Every law under the Lilliputian Election Act was violated by the emperor’s supporters in the run-up to the election: public funds were utilised for his advertising campaign, the state-controlled media were dominated by the emperor and rival candidates excluded, government officials and the police were employed as the emperor’s private employees, mobile phone service providers were compelled to transmit his campaign messages, and journalists who criticized these abuses of power were intimidated and physically assaulted by goon squads.

On the day of the election itself, the emperor declares on TV that his main rival is legally disqualified from the race: a lie that the Elections Commissioner is compelled to correct later. In parts of Lilliput known to be hostile to the emperor, public transport is withdrawn on election day and a series of explosions early in the morning deter some from trekking to polling stations. Two days after the emperor’s victory, the campaign office of his main rival are raided by army commandos, without any search warrant, computers and files are taken away and campaign workers arrested. The emperor alleges that they were plotting a coup, although computers and filing cabinets are poor substitutes for guns and rocket launchers. An opposition spokesman claims that the motive was to forestall the collection of evidence to prove that the election count was rigged. Another vicious crackdown on journalists and critics has begun….

Gulliver fell out of favour with his emperor, after having helped him win a war against his neighbour. He had to flee Lilliput for fear of execution. In your Lilliput, ironically, the same fate awaits the failed opponent of the emperor.

How do you feel? And what can you do? What would you like your friends and other governments to do? Whether or not the election was rigged is unclear, and may prove impossible to demonstrate. But the multiple violation of Constitutional safeguards and election laws are blatant. They are surely enough for this election to have been declared null and void. If it is not, the message that has gone out all over Lilliput is this: he who breaks the law, wins.

The failure of democracy in Lilliput is thus much more than that: it is the loss of respect for the rule of law, which is more fundamental than democracy. Indeed, democracy can only flourish in societies where at least two things are in place. Firstly, citizens must have access to information. Where the media are tightly controlled by the state, and other voices suppressed, citizens (especially the majority poor) are deprived of the right to be properly informed of what is happening in the nation and the choices before them. Illiteracy, ignorance, and willful misinformation undermine democracy.

But, secondly, and most importantly, democracy assumes that the majority of citizens cherish freedom: freedom of thought, of worship and of expression. Indeed, that the majority of citizens have a moral outlook, willing to resist tyranny even when it costs them. All dictators can only succeed because they have millions of “yes men” and “yes women” to do their bidding. Some of these are bureaucrats or highly-paid professionals (such as those who design websites and marketing campaigns). Schools and religious institutions, even universities, promote passive conformity rather than conversations about freedom, justice and truth.

Isn’t it an illusion to think that we can have a democratic society based purely on laws and “procedures”, without paying any attention to the moral formation of individual citizens? The kind of people we are -and become- shapes the kind of society we have (though it is also true that the kind of society we live in shapes what we become). Honesty and integrity are the presupposition of public life, not their product. The parties to an agreement must already have a sense of what is right, and a willingness to abide by it, even when it is in their own interests not to do so. A contract is no contract at all if it is kept only when it is convenient to do so. Also, if elected representatives, and officials, cannot be trusted to be concerned with our interests, faith in democracy will wither.

This is a deep challenge to Western liberal democracies too. Versions of political liberalism that hold all morality to be purely a private matter, not to be taught through public education, are vulnerable not only to the charge of incoherence, but also to challenges from an increasing population of egoists who care for nobody’s well-being but their own.

Source: Vinoth Ramachandra

The Interests Of Others

Anas Zubedy shares with us his understanding of Muslims and Christians within Peninsula regarding the use of the word Allah. I have sought to summarise part of his article by creating four headings. The views expressed under each heading are extracts from the author’s article.

THE CHRISTIAN POSITION

We Muslims must understand the frustration our Christian brothers all these years when dealing with the Government (which is perceived as Malay Muslims, as the officers are usually Malays) for example whenever they want to build churches and when dealing with issues regarding their faith.

They are also frustrated and upset over cases involving Article11(4). Muslims must understand that like us, the Christians see it as their religious duty to spread their creed and they must have found Article 11(4) hindering them from spreading and sharing their religion, as a setback as a good faithful Christian. Muslims would probably have felt the same if placed in a similar situation. We Muslims must emphasis, how we would feel if each time we are to build a mosque, we have to wait and wait and wait for approvals after approvals. Rasa lak sikit, tak kan tak boleh rasa kot?

THE MUSLIM POSITION

The Christians must understand that while the Quran has no issues about Allah as the universal name of God, the Malay’s understanding and emotional attachment to the word Allah is unique to the Malaysian world. Rightly or wrongly, your Muslim brothers and sisters are deeply hurt as they perceive that you are doing this with bad intentions – to convert their fellow faithful as they do not see you actively wanting to also change all the other Bible translations like English or Chinese making the word Allah a universal name for God.

More so, the Malay Muslims cannot imagine that Allah Yang Esa/Satu now can also be the Allah as part of the Trinity. For example, their current worldview cannot fathom words that describe Jesus as Son of Allah.

THE CHRISTIAN RESPONSE

My Christian brothers and sisters, may I ask you a favour? Personally, I have no issues with you using the word Allah, but there are many who do and there are some among them who are less tolerant and can get dysfunctional to the extent of burning down churches.

So…..

Can we please choose to be more Christ like? Remember that “an eye for an eye will only make the world go blind” Are you being Christ like here?

Did Jesus not teach us to go beyond the letter of the law in our daily lives? Did he not tell us to do away with personal revenge? Did he not model his ministry based on love, care amd empathy? Can you not find a compromise?

How about using another name that you are also familiar with? At least till the Malay Muslims relearn that the word Allah is not only for them? I was thinking how about Eloi or Eli instead of Allah? Any Christian who is worth to be called one, would have heard these names during church sermons, that is, when Jesus cried out loud while on the cross, “Eli Eli lama sabachthani?” (Matthew 27:46, in Mark 15 : 34 it is Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani, translated into English as “My God, My God whay have you forsaken me?”)

What do you think? Boleh compromise ka?

THE MUSLIM RESPONSE

Firstly, we need to have more faith in ourselves and must be willing to be challenged not just in matters of the world, but especially in our aqidah.

So, should we really continue to support Article 11(4)? Or should we have more confidence in our capable religious leaders and ourselves in preparing the community with an unyielding and rock-solid aqidah that can buttress any external dakwah? Can we set a target date to do away with Article 11(4)?

Secondly, we need to stop being like a “katak di bawah tempurong”. Get to know the larger world of Islam and understand that in the Middle East, even from the time of the Prophet, Jews and Christians call God, Allah. We must learn not to monopolize Allah or the Arabic language. Even “Assalamulaikum” pun ada yang nak monopolize.

Thirdly, we must be always fair and just. We cannot support lopsided laws. If we can preach to others, we should allow them to do the same towards us. Tak ada maruah ka kita ni? If we do not want them to preach to our followers, than we must stop preaching to their followers too. We cannot practise double standards.

Obviously, we would not agree with many of the views expressed in this article. However, we are grateful to Anas Zubedy for seeking to teach his fellow Muslims an important Scriptural lesson, which we also must put into practice.

“Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)

Why I Use Allah: A Layman’s Perspective

In the current ongoing debate, some are of the opinion that Christians should just give in and forego the use of the word “Allah” so that the threats and attacks on churches will stop and Malaysia can continue to enjoy her peace and move on unhindered to developed nation status.

Now, more than ever the country needs clear-minded Malaysians and not “confused” citizens, Christians included.

There are ten salient facts and reasons and I would like to address these to the ordinary man in the street and lay people in the Church ((This article is in response to the many requests for clarification from lay people in churches)).

  1. The Use of “Allah” Predates Islam

    “Allah” is the Arabic name for God, and it indeed pre-dates Islam and even Christianity. The pagan Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula called God “Allah,” even though they worshipped hundreds of idols in addition. Christians all across the Arab World today use the word “Allah” for God, and if one were to read an Arabic Bible, he would find that God is indeed called “Allah.”

    “Allah” is also the name that Jesus Christ called God. “Allah” is the Arabic equivalent of “Elohim,” which is Hebrew for God. The “im” is a plural appendage of respect, and so the word is “Eloh,” which is very similar to “Allah.” In addition, the Aramaic word for God is “Alaha,” and Aramaic was the language which Jesus himself spoke.

    Moreover, the word “Allah” is found in the English version of the Bible which we read today. In Matthew 27:46 we read: “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ – which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” The word “Eloi” is the Aramaic form of the Arabic “Allah” ((Hesham A. Hassaballa is a physician and writer living in Chicago. He is co-author of The Beliefnet Guide to Islam (Doubleday). http://www.middle-eastonline.com/English/?id=36608)).

    It is important to know the fact that Christians in Malaysia didn’t start using “Allah” only recently, as some contend.

  2. It is used all over the world by Christians

    The Arabic word is commonly used by Christians to describe God in such countries as Egypt, Syria and Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation.

    So it is not just a Malaysian word, for the Malaysian context only. One cannot just decide to copyright an “international” word and hope to escape ridicule.

    And anybody in Malaysia can tell you that it is more than just one word that can be involved. The focus now may be on one word, thereafter the contention will be expanded to include other words, and at a later stage any other word or words that the “authorities” may so decide.

  3. Allah was used by East Malaysians before Malaysia was formed

    The SIB church was formed in Sarawak state in 1928, nearly 30 years before Malaysia’s independence, and were already using “Allah” in their worship and literature.

    And some of them don’t even speak BM or English, only their own mother tongue and in their mother tongue, the word used is “Allah.”

    So it’s not only the Alkitab, the BM Bible. The other Scriptures which use “Allah” are the Kelabit and Lunbawang Bible.

    Daniel Raut, a senior leader of SIB Church — the largest Malay-speaking congregation in the country — said it will not drop the use of the word “Allah,” even though Christians fear for their safety.

    “Since our forefathers become Christians in the 1920s, we have been using Allah even in our mother tongue,” said Raut, who is from the Lunbawang tribe in eastern Sarawak state.

    Furthermore, how does one propose that it’s use be restricted to East Malaysians only? What happens when they come to work in West Malaysia? What about the thousands who are already in West Malaysia? What about our existing West Malaysia Bahasa Malaysia churches?

    What happens when an East Malaysian crosses over to Labuan (a Federal Territory) for the weekend?

    Some proponents of the “East Malaysia only” concept take it a step further and suggest (to those of us in West Malaysia), “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

    Though debatable, the new political landscape has all the major political parties, including the key partners of the Barisan, not aligned with Caeser, on this issue.

    The Malay equivalent is “Masuk kandang lembu, menguak. Masuk kandang kambing mengembek” (When entering the cattle pen, moo. When entering the goat pen, bleat).

    Perhaps it is time the new minority, moo and bleat with the majority.

  4. The success of our National Language education policy

    Since the introduction of the National Language policy, our emerging generation has become more proficient in Bahasa Malaysia. And with the continued emphasis, the next two generations can be expected to be not only proficient but dependent on the Bahasa Malaysia as the lingua franca in our nation.

    Alongside the Allah contention, there are clear intentions to further impose restrictions on other words like “Injil” (Gospel) and “firman” (Word) ((See the Pahang enactment)).

    So the logical question we all are asking is “how would this pan out?”

    Any strategists will tell you that in winning the generational war, ignore the “old diehards” and focus on the future generations.

    Our grandchildren and great grand-children, will find themselves reluctant to read Scriptures in a language they are less proficient and also not be able to access the Alkitab, and also, perhaps be the first generation who have never heard of “firman” and “Injil?”

    I can understand the zeal of the government to Islamize the nation, ((believe every true and faithful follower will want to share their faith, and Muslims are no exception.)) but I pray that they can do so with honesty and integrity. “Bring all to the table” and aim for the hearts. Malaysians will respect you for that.

    But no coercion, no bullying, no media misrepresentation, no scrambling the minds of our children and no re-writing of Scriptures!

    But I also pray that by the same token and in the true spirit of religious freedom, the day will soon come, when others, if they so desire be allowed to share their respective faiths with our Muslim friends as is fully acceptable and permissible in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. Surely Indonesia is a great example to us on what freedom of religion is all about.

    Sharing one’s faith with another should not be narrowly interpreted as with ‘intent to convert’. Understanding one another’s faith is surely an excellent way of promoting goodwill, peace and harmony among the multi religious population in this lovely country of ours.

    Under the present circumstances, the many proposed “inter faith dialogues” and formation of councils to facilitate such dialogues will be nothing but a monologue, as the other faiths are “gagged” in the name of the constitution.

  5. Used by others as well

    The Sikhs use “Allah” in their Scriptures. Do we stop them next?

    What about Hindus, who also refer to one of their gods as “Allah?”

    Rigveda is the most sacred scripture of the Hindus, and one of the attributes given to God Almighty in Book no 2 Hymn no I verse II, is ‘Ila’ which if pronounced properly is the same as Allah ((Other references to use of Allah :

    BOOK 2 – HYMN 1 Verse 11 – Thou, God, art Aditi to him who offers gifts: thou, Hotrā, Bhāratī, art strengthened by the song. Thou art the hundred-wintered Iḷā to give strength, Lord of Wealth! Vṛtra-slayer and Sarasvatī.

    BOOK 3 – HYMN XXIII Verse 4 He set thee in the earth’s most lovely station, in Iḷā’s place, in days of fair bright weather. On man, on Āpayā, Agni! on the rivers Dṛṣadvati, Sarasvatī, shine richly.)).

    So it is not a Christian issue alone. What the Christians are asked to do, the Sikhs and the Hindus will be asked to do, eventually.

  6. Constitutional right to “manage” our own religion

    This right must include how we address our God.

    Over enthusiastic bureaucrats, consequentially are interfering with the worship & education of Christians – CDs have been confiscated, Sunday School materials are held up by customs, besides the confiscations of the Alkitab.

    According to Prof. Dr. Shad Saleem Faruqi ((Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr. Shad Saleem Faruqi is a Malaysian Senior Professor of law who has served Universiti Teknologi MARA in Shah Alam, Selangor in various capacities from 1971 onwards. He served as the Head of the Diploma in Law program (1979 – 1984), as Assistant Rector (1996-1999), Assistant Vice Chancellor (1999 – 2001) and Legal Advisor (1996 – 2006). He has also served on the faculties of law at the International Islamic University Malaysia, part time at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and a visiting professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia)), the Malaysian Constitution provides that Islam is the religion of the federation. But all other religions may be practised in peace and harmony: Article 3(1).

    In respect of religion, every person has the right to three things:

    1. To profess
    2. To practice
    3. And, subject to Article 11(4), to propagate his religion: Article 11(1)

    Every religious group has the right to:

    1. Manage its own affairs
    2. Establish and maintain institutions for religious purposes.
    3. Acquire and own property and administer it: Article 11(3).
    4. Establish and maintain institutions for religious education: Article 12(2). ((The Federal Constitution and the Social Contract by Prof. Dr. Shad Saleem Faruqi))

    Our constitutional right, to manage our own affairs, to practice religion freely has been increasing under threat particularly over the past two decades.

  7. Dictating what should be in the Scriptures of a major religion in the world

    This suggestion that another word be used is perhaps “the biggest joke.”

    Whether one agrees or not about the word is not the main issue.

    The basic issue, lest we forget the obvious, is that each and every religious Scriptures is the sacred book – of Christians (including the Kelabit and Lunbawang), the Sikhs and the Hindus. We are not talking about some supplementary textbooks or a “pseudo scripture” just written recently.

    Are those who argue for a substitute word suggesting that all these Holy Books be re-written to accommodate a few?

    If it is suggested by adherents of the respective faiths, this could perhaps be more acceptable. But when followers of one faith, suggest (and insist) that believers of another faith, re-write their Scriptures to pander to their “unsubstantiated convictions” then we are not too far from the “height of arrogance.”

    I know Malaysia is “boleh-land” but this move to “force” the other religious groups to rewrite their Scriptures is preposterous.

  8. Prominent scholars of Islam and Muslim organizations have supported the use of “Allah” by Christians

    In Malaysiakini dated 13th Jan 2010, Constitutional Law expert Abdul Aziz Bari contends that it is pretty clear that the use of Allah by Christians has some basis in the Quran.

    This is strengthened by the exposition of eminent scholars, including Egyptian scholar Shaykh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi (Maal Hijrah award recipient 2009) who said that Christians, as part of the Abrahamic faiths together with the Jews and Muslims, can use the word ‘Allah’ ((http://national-express-malaysia.blogspot.com/2010/01/allah-decree-does-sultan-havepower.html)).

    Earlier on, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) on 4 Jan 2010, also issued a statement viz –

    With regards to actual and historical practices, Christian Arabs have been using the word “Allah” to refer to God in their religious sources since the inception of Islam, and have never been challenged by private Muslims or Muslim governments on this ground. Islamic law is clear that followers of the Christian faith have the right to practice their religion according to their own religious teachings.

    We call on the Malaysian government to uphold the religious freedom of Christians and to let the court ruling stand. We also urge Muslim NGOs to respect Islamic teachings and long-held Islamic traditions, and to withdraw their opposition to the use of the word “Allah” by their Christian compatriots. ” ((http://www.isna.net/articles/News/ISNA-Commends-Malaysian-Court-Rulingthat-Affirms-Religious-Freedom-of-Christians.aspx))

    We would like to hear from our government a more coherent and intelligent response to these prominent voices than simply quote “this is Malaysia.”

  9. Our State Anthems will take on a new meaning

    How does one sing the state anthems of Selangor, Kedah, Pahang, Johor, Kelantan and Trengganu now, since there are references to “Allah” in these songs, as it is now implied to refer to the Muslim God only?

    In schools, about 30 years ago, we were told we were singing to “God.” Now are our children to sing only to one particular God?

    Unless, of course, one is liberal and don’t mind singing to all gods or any god or just the Muslim god.

  10. We need to keep in mind that there was “good harmony” in the first 30 years after Merdeka, with freedom to use “Allah.”

    It never was an issue until enthusiastic politicians promulgated the infamous ISA gazette in 1982, referring to the Alkitab as a document “prejudicial to the national interest and security of the Federation.”

    The rest is history.

    What an insult! But the Christian community has always been a peace loving people.

    For the sake of harmony, Christians engaged in closed door meetings in the past, to negotiate “restricted use” of the word rather than to bring it to the courts. And we were always assured by the government that we could use our Alkitab.

    But today, they are saying we cannot use the word and the various government agencies started confiscating various Christian materials, not just the Alkitab. And the claim is we “used to accept it” – but that’s because we have been tricked into negotiating behind closed doors in the name of the Malaysian culture of “talk and resolve quietly.” So because “nobody” heard from us, now they (even rulers) take advantage and say, we accepted it all these while. This is absolutely not true. Christians have been moaning, complaining, objecting and writing to the government for years.

Should we concede for the sake of peace alone? Friends, perhaps the time of closed door meetings – where our views are deliberately misrepresented ((Muhyiddin said he had been receiving quite a number of messages from non-Muslim friends in Sabah and Sarawak who said there were Christians who felt that things would not have happened in the first place “if we, the Christians, would just not use the word ‘Allah’”. Malaysia Insider 14th Jan 2010 – we disagree with this view, as the leaders of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), the component members being the Roman Catholic, the Council Churches of Malaysia and the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship of Malaysia, have met on several occasions over the last few years and have repeatedly affirmed the wishes of the Christians, both in East and West Malaysia, ie we would not compromise on the use of the word “Allah.” The dissenting voice is a very small minority and is obviously being used to portray a misleading view. I would urge all Christians to refer to the “Kuching Declaration” dated Sept 1989, where the Roman Catholics, the CCM and the NECF came together to formally adopt a united stand to use the word “Allah.”)) and compromised – where the minority is always bullied and threatened into submission for the sake of harmony and in the name of sensitivity, is perhaps over?

It is indeed sad, that after 52 years of independence, the country is still not ready for mature dialogue, and is still struggling to hear the voice of reason.

This is not a race issue, this is not a Malay supremacy issue, this is not even a religious issue. And this is definitely not an East-West Malaysia issue ((Just because a few Christians in West or East Malaysia, don’t understand the issue and voice their ignorance, this does not mean the whole of West or the whole of the East Malaysian communities are against the use of the word. We need to be aware of the sinister aims to make both the West and East Malaysian Christians misunderstand each other. By all means, “share” and educate each other. But beware of answering and correcting in the cyber space and give the impression, that the West or the East Malaysian Christians are ignorant, naïve or disunited – we would not want to fall prey to the schemes of the “dark side.” The “Kuching Declaration” clearly shows the Christians in both West and East Malaysia are united. And today, we remain resolute and unyielding in our stand.)).

Before us are simply constitutional and “human rights” issues, a call to respect the spiritual convictions and Scriptures of other faiths. This is simply a call to exercise common sense and to respect boundaries – ie no rewriting Scriptures!

I hope and pray that the above facts and reasons would help Christians understand that we are not insisting on using “Allah” to “irritate” the “easily confused people” of the land.

We continue to pray for peace and seek a reasoned solution, so that Malaysia can indeed shine as a land so affectionately known as “truly Asia.”

Eu Hong Seng
Pastor
19th Jan 2010.

Pastor Eu Hong Seng is the Senior Pastor of Full Gospel Tabernacle, Subang Jaya and the Chairman of the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship

Way Of Peace – The Only Way

The following was presented by the Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Malaysia and Singapore, the Rt. Rev. Philip Lok, as the opening comment during a dialogue session held between representatives of the Church in Malaysia with the leadership of the the Pakatan Rakyat coalition held on January 10, 2009 at Luther Centre, Petaling Jaya:

First, on behalf of the Lutheran Church in Malaysia and Singapore, I welcome Datuk Seri Anwar, and all other distinguished guests to Luther Centre. How I wished that your first visit to the headquarters of the Lutheran Church is under more pleasant circumstances.

As Christians, we are very saddened and shocked by the terrible events which took placed in our nation during the past 2 days. Our dream for a peaceful and progressive Malaysia was viciously shattered by the petrol bombs. These series of unjustifiable attacks upon churches have shaken the very foundation of our Malaysian society and scarred our common psyche. On a personal level, I am distressed by the fact that one of our oldest Lutheran churches was also attacked yesterday.

Christians are called to be peacemakers. We are entrusted by God to carry out a special task in this world – to be agents of reconciliation. Therefore, in times such as these, the Church is committed to work with any parties that have a genuine burden in the pursuit of peace and stability in our country. In times like these, we need leaders who are confident, and open-minded enough to engage in dialogues to promote understanding and goodwill among the religious groups in our nation.

During the past two days, I have received many emails from churches around the world pledging their prayer support for the church in Malaysia. One of them comes from the Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem, Bishop Munib Younan. Bishop Younan, an Arab Christian, met Datuk Seri last October in a Muslim-Christian dialogue in Georgetown University. In his letter, Bishop Younan argues that the word ‘Allah’ has been freely used by Arab Christians for nearly 2000 years! He further urges Datuk Seri and fellow lawmakers to safeguard the freedom of worship for the Christian community in Malaysia.

While the events of the past 48 hours have cast a dark cloud over our people, yet there are still pockets of hope that shine through. Allow me to share a story which just took place this Sunday morning, and I believe that stories like this must be retold over and over again in our conversations.

One of our churches in Petaling Jaya is located just next to a mosque. Yesterday, just as our worship service was about to start, three Malay gentlemen walked into the church. They identified themselves as leaders from the adjacent mosque, and gave their affirmation to the church of their continual friendship. They further assured the church that it is safe to continue with our services and ministries.

Dear friends, this is the kind of generous spirit which we need to cultivate in all Malaysians. This is the kind of goodwill that must permeate every strata of our society.

In response to such kindness, I also urged our church members to go and do likewise in the course of this week. We must go to our Muslim neighbors, our Muslim colleagues or our Muslim classmates, and affirm our friendship with them. This is the way of peace. This is the Christian way, and the only way we know. We have no other options.

CFM Strongly Condemns Fire-Bombing Of Churches

The Christian Federation of Malaysia strongly and unreservedly condemns the violent attacks and attempted ones of fire-bombing several churches in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya in the early hours of this morning (8 January 2010).

We are against such actions that seek to intimidate people and also to rend the fabric of peace and goodwill in our country.

Thus far this afternoon, we have been informed that there were three torching and attempted torching of churches. The administrative office of Metro Tabernacle in Desa Melawati was completely gutted. The Molotov cocktail thrown at the Church of the Assumption along Jalan Templer in Petaling Jaya did not explode. But The Life Chapel in Section 17 Petaling Jaya suffered some damage to the church’s front porch area.

We call on the Government and all peace-loving Malaysians to stand against such violence and not to give way to extremists in our midst who would want to throw our country into chaos.

We call on the police to continue to maintain the peace and security of our land in which all of us so cherish and love. May the police bring to justice quickly those who have been involved in such acts of torching churches which is a violation of the houses of God in our land.

Christians are a peace-loving people and so we will remain calm and rely on our police officers to investigate and to arrest the criminals involved and to protect all Malaysians against violence and criminal intimidation. We are concerned that the hacking of the judiciary website is an act of criminal intimidation against the judiciary and this shameful act along with the acts of violence against churches must not be condoned.

Let us as Christians and with our fellow Malaysians pray that despite such atrocious acts perpetrated upon the churches good sense will prevail in us. Let us not allow those who want to foment animosity among the peoples and the religious communities to triumph in their dastardly plans. May we stand together against the tide of violent people and their evil plans.

We will continue to pray for peace in Malaysia.

Bishop Ng Moon Hing
Chairman and the Executive Committee of the
Christian Federation of Malaysia

Why Is Your Allah Not My Allah?

As an East Malaysian, I am neither surprised nor angry about Malay/Muslims being up in arms over the ‘Allah’ High Court ruling.

It was to be expected, really.

What does anger me is getting comments from West Malaysian Christians that it is ‘silly’ for Christians to lobby to use the word ‘Allah’.

One rather un-enlightened Christian said that “Allah is also a word used to describe one particular god in a pagan religion…so for Christians to use ‘Allah’ is strange and silly.”

The whole ‘Allah’ debacle highlights a bigger, more endemic problem in the Malaysian, or should I say West Malaysian mentality: General ignorance of how the ‘others’ or ‘lain-lain’ live.

It seems very hard for most West Malaysians to understand that:

  • Not all bumiputeras are Malay.
  • Not all bumiputeras are Muslim.

It isn’t just West Malaysian Muslims who have a very limited worldview but Christians as well.

They don’t understand that in East Malaysia, with its high population of indigenous Christians, Bahasa Malaysia is used in services.

Most of these Sabahan and Sarawakian Christians have spent their whole lives thinking, praying and referring to their God as Allah Bapa (Father God).

And now the government says they can’t. That only Muslims can use the word ‘Allah’ when that isn’t true in other countries.

Look at Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, which allows the printing and dissemination of bibles in Bahasa Indonesia that refer to God not as ‘Tuhan’ but as ‘Allah’.

The Indonesian Muslims don’t worry that their brethren will be ‘confused’ by these bibles. So why is our Home Ministry and all these religious groups up in arms?

The answer to that is politics. Religion is, unfortunately, something as mixed up with politics as is race. Political parties unabashedly use religion as a tool to win debates, with Umno often accused of trying to ‘out-Islam’ PAS.

Religion is not a private matter in this country and is, instead, aired like so much dirty laundry. What other Southeast Asian country has officially sanctioned civilian peeping Toms who consider it their civic duty to weed out fornication?

Malay is our language, too

Despite the many varied ethnicities in Sabah, they have managed to get along without bloodshed or May 13-like incidents.

How have we managed it when West Malaysia’s three main races mostly give each other a wide berth? It’s called tolerance, people.

All Sabahans speak a slightly modified version of Malay with the funny little suffix ‘bah’ tagged behind a lot of words or sentences.

In rural areas, this heavily-accented version of Malay is the only means for most people to communicate with each other. They speak, think, dream and yes, even pray in the language.

Sabahan Michelle Quek asks: “Is it more important to recognise that some Muslims lay claim to the word as being exclusive to their faith, or recognise that a practical need for the word exists for East Malaysian Christians?”

Her question embodies the difficult balancing act that Malaysia has in attempting to address the needs of its varied peoples as well as the gulf between East and West Malaysia.

Kavin Ch’ng, who is married to a Sabahan says that locally, for many generations, Malay-speaking Christians have always referred to Allah and Tuhan in the same breath.

“Why only now does the government kick up such a fuss?” he asks. What is important, Ch’ng says, is mutual respect.

“I think there is a way to co-exist – if only our government can actually wrap its head around the concept of context.”

Sarawakian El’Bornean finds it disturbing that West Malaysians now want to dictate how one’s personal faith is practiced.

“The true Malaysians are here in Sabah and Sarawak,” he says, citing examples of his Muslim friends who have no qualms sitting with friends in non-halal stores and visiting churches.

Despite being surrounded by Christians, East Malaysian Muslims do not consider their faith easily shaken, he asserts.

Sabahan Dusun Zara Kahan has a humorous, if facetious, solution.

“If (some) Muslims insist on ownership of the term ‘Allah’ then Christians must do the same with the term ‘Tuhan’. Do you know how many Hari Raya songs will be in jeopardy? End of issue!”

No, we don’t want to convert you

In West Malaysia, technically Christian worship services in Malay are illegal. But Sabahan and Sarawakian students ask for them anyway.

Many of these Malay-speaking East Malaysians feel uncomfortable attending worship services in English because the terms are unfamiliar. Muslims often cite the 99 names of Allah and for Christians in East Malaysia as well as Lebanon and Syria, Allah is their name for God.

All this talk about ‘confusion’ is really the product of West Malaysians not mixing with their East Malaysian brethren.

If you visit the Dusuns in Ranau, you could well meet locals as fair as highland Chinese with slanted eyes who would greet you with the traditional Muslim salam.

Wander into an East Malaysian Chinese coffee shop and you would see tanned, Malay-looking locals happily digging into char siew or other pork dishes

In East Malaysia, you can’t easily tell what faith someone professes or what race his forefathers were just by looking.

This is very disturbing to the West Malaysian psyche. I have met West Malaysians who get very agitated when I refuse to tell them either what religion I profess or what race I am.

They don’t know what to do with me because they can’t categorise me. I don’t fit into their safe little boxes which decide how they will treat me.

What annoys me as well is this West Malaysian paranoia that Christians have a secret ongoing campaign to convert Muslims on the sly.

Let us be honest. If converting Muslims to Christianity was as easy as pouring holy water into your drinking water or putting the word ‘Allah’ in all available religious literature, the Pope would have sanctioned it years ago.

Christians don’t get ‘brownie points’ by forcibly converting unwilling Muslims.

I suppose all the Malay-looking Christian East Malaysians really confuse the locals to the point they rabidly proclaim that churches are succeeding in their nefarious campaign to take over Muslim souls.

In East Malaysia, Christians and Muslims come in various sizes, shapes and colours. Even huge extended families often have different religions, sometimes staying under one roof.

It is not unusual for an East Malaysian to have not just Christian, but Buddhist, Muslim and animist relatives. A friend of mine says it is a convenient excuse to celebrate the many public holidays with more gusto.

When told that someone is marrying a person of another race, the common reaction is: “Oh, your kids will be cute!” No heated discussion about traditions or religious differences because the unspoken assumption is that the couple will work them out.

Because they do.

Be Malaysia, not 1Malaysia

A well-known comedian talked about the recent Al-Islam undercover foray into churches. Its so-called investigative journalists entered churches on false premises and desecrated the communion wafer.

Did the Christians protest? asked the comedian. Did they declare bloody war? Did they have angry sermons and plan noisy demonstrations outside churches on Sunday?

No. What did the Christians say? “Forgive them-lor. Pray for them-lor.”

The comedian mused that the incident was actually excellent public relations for the church.

Despite our annoyance with West Malaysian intolerance, do you see East Malaysians picketing?

We gripe, we grumble, we send politely worded statements. Yet we still believe in the Malaysia that our Tourism Ministry tries to sell, but which seems to be a myth in West Malaysia.

Do you want to know why? Deep in the heart of most East Malaysians, we truly believe in tolerance. We believe in the ideals of Malaysia.

We don’t have to give ‘muhibbah’ a name because we live it. Since 1963, we have lived as Malaysians, believing in true tolerance and that race or religion matters little.

We truly do believe that West Malaysians can and should get over us using ‘Allah’ to worship God. Isn’t Allah the God of all mankind? Isn’t your Malaysia our Malaysia too?

Originally published in Malaysiakini. Republished with permission from the author.

A Quality We All Need

As we go into a new calendar year with its opportunities and challenges, there is a quality of character we as individuals, civil society and nation can do with.

If I may for a change use a big word: Equanimity

It means: “mental or emotional stability or composure, especially under tension or strain; calmness; equilibrium.”

Yesterday on New Year eve, when I received word of the Malaysian High Court ruling which in effect lifted the home minister’s ban against the Catholic Church publishing the word “Allah” to refer to the Christian God in its weekly paper, Herald and that the term is not exclusive to Islam.

I sent the following SMS to the Christian and Sikh leadership as their communities have been most affected by the ban for all these years as well as other friends on both sides of the parliamentary divide:

“In Allah we trust. I urge calm and quiet thanksgiving. Our worship, prayer and service continue. But let us neither speak nor act provocatively. Let us be considerate of the feelings of others as well. May the wisdom of God guide us. Goh KP”

Among those who replied to my SMS were the following leaders and friends:

“Thanks. You are right.”
– Paul Tan, Catholic bishop of Malacca and Johore.

“Thank you for good advice. That is exactly what we are doing. May God guide us all.”
V. Hacharan Singh, Sikh Gurdwara Council president.

“Amen. May Allah help us to be patient and humble always and guide us to what is pleasing to Him, and good for us in this life and the next.”
– Aminah Ferrer

“A message of wisdom. Thanks. Happy new year.”
– Syed Husin Ali, senator and deputy PKR president.

“Am of one mind with you on this.”
– Hermen Shastri, Council of Churches of Malaysia general secretary.

“Surely yes.”
– Tan Kong Beng, Christian Federation of Malaysia executive secretary.

“God bless.”
– Anwar Ibrahim, Leader of the Opposition in Malaysian Parliament

“Excellent message! May Allah grant us guidance and blessing. May we live in peace, harmony and understanding!”
– Wan Azizah, PKR president

Catholic Archbishop Murphy Pakiam called just before midnight and conveyed the following message to all Malaysians:

“While we are happy and relieved by the court decision, I think it is a major step in the right direction for the real Islam,which is a great and International religion. It will also go a long way in restoring confidence on the international scene for Malaysia as a moderate Islamic country – at least striving to be so. On the local level it is one more step forward in implementing the One Malaysia concept. I am grateful to the relevant authorities.”

Under God and by His grace, may equanimity rule our hearts and minds, drive our agenda and ensure justice and peace throughout the land.

A Merry Christmas?

Not for the poor, the helpless and the forgotten.

For a brief few minutes I sat before the TV for an early morning drink only to be confronted by the horrible images of Romania’s orphans under the Ceausescu regime twenty years before. I hurriedly got up and switched the TV off telling God, “I can’t do this!” meaning I could not bear to watch this, not now. I thought I was retreating to the safety of my room only to be confronted on the computer screen I had left opened by the very same video clip. Clicking the on button I watched (worse still heard) the story of how after 20 years some of the 100,000 abandoned orphans were now adults still essentially staying in the same institutions.

“As the care worker unlocked the door and pushed it open, a musty stench of body odour and urine filled the air. There were 10 people crammed into the room, bed-bound on rotting mattresses and lying in their own faeces, some two to a bed. Among the dirty, scarred faces peering above the duvets were the orphans whose plight roused the international community when Romanian orphanages opened their doors to Western journalists in 1990.” (BBC)

Who are human beings? Living beings created in the image of God for whom, according to the bible and Christian theology, Christ died. Yet I wouldn’t be able to say or think so looking at the living beings which the BBC video clip had confronted me with. So distorted, so woeful, so destitute have they become.

And I know that such a tragedy is not confined to one country nor a few countries nor necessarily only to the so-called poor, “third-world”, non-democratic or “rogue” states nor to a distant past in human history.

The day before, I was subjected to a TV (that is, visual) documentary on child brides in the Middle-East and the physical (as well as mental) tortures they had been inflicted with is indescribable. It very much reminds me of how some foreign domestic helps have been treated.

The international community (including my own country) not having the political will to deal with global warming also does not have the political will to deal with abject poverty, physically weak or desperately ill people. Our human society is so bent on personal well-being (which almost always means making money for one’s self, family and business), that there is inadequate sustained or committed movement to really help the poor and the forgotten of our world.

This morning for the first time I came across an artist’s impression of what a RM150 million church in Malaysia will look like. And in my email inbox, there is a desperate request for my help to raise RM250,000 which will pay for a full 12-months’ expenses to run a shelter for trafficked women & children in an emotionally safe and loving environment. “About 40% of the survivors were sex trafficked while 60% were trafficked in labour. Around 13% of the survivors are minors, below the age of 18. All of them had experienced trauma in one form or another, be it physical, sexual or emotional abuse. There were 4 cases of survivors who were pregnant (not by choice)”.

This mail I have not replied to for three weeks already. I am on my knees to pray and think of how to find the necessary funds for such a clearly humanitarian and deserving ministry to the helpless. Where and how will I be able to get even a portion of RM250,000. And what happens to the estimated 25 trafficked human persons if this much-needed resources do not come in time?

How does one celebrate Christmas under the circumstances of such an unequal human society?

Christmas is the birthday of Jesus Christ who came from heaven to be born a human baby in a manger (for farm animals) because there was no room in the inn in Bethlehem. It isn’t my birthday for me to do as it pleases me. I asked my now seven-year old grand daughter what I should give her for her birthday. In the same way, what could I do which would please and delight you dear Lord Jesus on this your most holy birthday?

Republished with permission from OnGOHing