50 shades of religious harmony

by Emmanuel Joseph
The Malaysian Insider
3 March 2015

Somehow, over the years, ‘harmony’ in Malaysia, much like ‘democracy’ and ‘liberty’, has been reduced to more of a buzzword than an accepted social norm.

We are, now, in effect, at best, an occasionally harmonious country. When it suits tourism and business interests, we put on this façade of a melting pot of culture, race and religion.

But the once-very-real concept of accepting each other as brothers and sisters of different faiths and cultures appear to have been replaced with a more practical, clinical version of harmony.

One governed more by laws and political statements rather than one that comes from genuine mutual respect for one another.

Racial harmony is something we now need to constantly promote during the four major celebrations – Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Deepavali and Christmas. For a slightly more religious flavour – we have Hari Raya Haji, Thaipusam, Wesak and Easter.

Then, once a year during Gawai and Kaamatang, Malaysians would be reminded that we have two states that do not belong to the Peninsula.

During each of these times, we would have the prime minister come out in a televised address, dressed to the occasion and deliver a feel good speech that would make you want to run out to the streets, hug your neighbour and sing “Demi Negara” And a couple of days after that, we’d be back to our bickering selves.

The current distrust between religions in this country is evidence of this. We are now actually at a ridiculous point where holy books are considered national security threats.

Since a few years ago, a series of arguments involving the bible and bible related issues, mainly involving East Malaysians’ right to use them freely in West Malaysia have seen the inside of court rooms, coffee shops, legislative chambers, churches and mosques throughout the country.

We’ve had all sorts of accusations against the bible – it’s a Jewish agenda (but why, of course it is; most of the characters in the Bible are Jews!), it’s a Christian agenda (which other major religion uses the Bible?), we heard of solar-powered Bibles (suspected to be confusion over the terms Sun and Son) and soon this new buzzword “Christianisation” was born.

The underlying prevailing argument appears to be – the Christians have an agenda. They want to convert the unsuspecting Muslims by allowing these non-English bibles in.

A pretty weak argument, really, since these bibles actually have been around all along and would have largely gone unnoticed if not for the confiscations and court cases that ensued following those confiscations in the first place.

If anyone was to be converted, they already would have been. Not unlike what the Tamil bibles did for the Tamil speaking Christians or the Mandarin Bibles did for the Mandarin speaking Christians.

These series of actions left the non-Muslim community in Malaysia somewhat rattled. There was uncertainty now on what we can and cannot do. The settled norms have been disturbed, the goal posts shifted a bit.

But gladly the issue is more or less settled. The angry busloads of protesters have gone home. The poorly spelt English banners have been taken down.

Entire talk shows and pseudo academic programmes to discuss this very important national issue have dwindled.

We were on the right path – back to discussing other important issues like what day to start work in the Lunar New Year, or who invented the popiah.

Then along comes another holy-book issue. This time – the Quran. Some Islamic NGOs have gotten together and thought it would be a good idea to distribute free translated Qurans to the public.

These NGOs’ aim, is to foster national understanding. Quite a noble intention, given the current national scenario.

After all the distrust sowed with the bible issues, the Herald issue, the whole Christianisation thing. Let’s work to foster some unity and love again. Let’s be unified Malaysians once more.

But therein also lies the problem. All the arguments used against the Christians earlier are now being turned on these NGOs. If translating a bible into another language MUST have a hidden agenda and MUST be to convert, what about the Quran?

And what more, this time it is being distributed free. And openly to non-Muslims? Surely they MUST have an agenda.

But the same lines used in support of the distribution of the bibles earlier can also be used here.

If non-Muslims are comfortable in their faith, no amount of Qurans will shake it. No harm in reading, it increases knowledge. No religion teaches harm, and therefore no amount of reading religious books can produce harm.

But perhaps before all that, the parties concerned should do more with to address the uncertainty surrounding it. After all, non-Muslims cannot use certain words. They don’t know the proper way handling of it. Are non-Muslims allowed to even own it?

Religion is an ultra-sensitive topic in this country. It’s progressively and purposely being made even more sensitive by the ultras themselves. Qurans and bibles used to sit side by side in “Religion” sections in libraries everywhere.

It’s really sad that this manufactured paranoia has turned Malaysians this way.

Hopefully, the day would come for this country where bibles, Qurans and Bhagavad Gitas can be distributed freely side by side, and no one would be questioning the motives of the distributor’s actions. – March 3, 2015.

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