A Sad Day for My Grandfather

My grandfather, gone for 5 years now used to hearten me with stories from the time of the Emergency (1948-1960). He was a young family man then and with other young families lived in Jalan Teluk, PJ. During the Emergency, the neighbourhood would have to pull together and support each other against a common adversary. Race or religion did not come into this. It was a case of good people against harmful people. Simple as that. Our Christian neighbours, kids my grandmother looked after who have now grown up, still come to our house for Hari Raya and cried when he and my grandmather passed on.  

By Farouk A. Peru

Yesterday with the firebombing of three churches in KL, what would people of that time say? They would seek to know why it happened and if they got the answer, they would probably stare in disbelief and think what utterly evil people live in our country now. There is never any justification for attacking non-combatants but the reason which made these terrorists firebomb those churches would make my grandather and his former neighbours stare in disbelief. Truly we have fallen to the depths of ignorance and hatred. 

From a theological point of view, even the normally conservative PAS has said that the word ‘Allah’ is not the exclusive domain of Muslims. They should be commended for their honesty which could cost them significant votes. The President of PAS has stated that it is UMNO’s hateful rhetoric which stoked the fires of this racial hatred and I am inclined to agree. Whatever issues we have with PAS, at least PAS has not politicised the word ‘Allah’ the way UMNO has.  

From a Quranic point of view, this matter is so clear one wonders how it can even be a bone of contention to begin with. The Quran talks about even those who disagree with its theology using the word ‘Allah’ (39/38). Even those who equate Jesus with God use the word ‘Allah’ (5/72). In both cases, the Quran does not tell them to not use the word and we as the readers must ask why. To me, it is because for the Quran, Allah is simply a word it uses to put forward it’s own concept of the one God. It even tells us to call upon Allah by whatever name we choose (17/110).   

So what has gone wrong with these terrorists? Why do they feel that they have been wronged so much that this is the only recourse they can take? The average Malaysian Muslim of today goes through eleven years of Islamic education. Could half an hour of those 11 years be spent on telling our young Muslims that other people value their religions too? That other people have rights, just as Muslims do? That the Quran actually commands Muslims to be absolutely just with the whole of mankind (4/58) despite any misgivings they may have against them (5/8)? 

As one who has gone through this education myself, I submit that Pendidikan Agama Islam in schools is severely insular in nature. It focuses on the the details of Muslim life without even mentioning the existence of disagreement which exists within Islam itself, let alone those who disagree with Islam. This leads to a severely narrow view of Islam.  

We need to also ask, are our religious teachers also moderate people who tell our children that it is ok for people to disagree? Or do they use the word ‘kafir’ in a derisive sense in order to create an excluvist model of salvation. Syed Akbar Ali in his book ‘Malaysia and the Club of Doom’ has mentioned the reprehensible behaviour of some Islamic teachers teaching our kids hatred in the same of Islam. The Quran simply does not do this. It does not give exclusive rights of salvation to any religious party. It is far more open and accepting than any of these terrorists. It denounces other theologies yes but tells Muslims to treat people better than how they themselves are treated or at least, give equal treatment (4/86).  

An argument those who wish to restrict the use of the word ‘Allah’ make is that once the word ‘Allah’ is in Malay-language bibles and catholic publications, Muslims who read the bible would become very confused and would acccept biblical teachings about Allah. This is the kind of mentality which we get when we stop Muslims from reading the bible. Anyone who has compared the concepts of God between the Bible and the Quran would clearly see that these texts describe two different concepts although they do share some similarities. Anyone even remotely familiar with the concepts of the Quran cannot possibly confuse the two. What is the point of our 11 years of Pendidikan Agama Islam if it produces fearful illiterates who cannot even engage in meaningful conversation?  

This heinous event, the firebombing of three Malaysian churches, is a black mark on our nation’s history. We must never forget this event and all of us, all Malaysians, must take it very personally as a great crime against our nation. Let us do what we can to help bring these terrorists to justice and to prevent catastrophes like this from ever happening again. The Malaysia which my grandfather and all our parents and grandparents experienced isn’t that far away. Some small changes in our mindsets will bring it back once more.