But Dr Ridhuan, I beg to differ

Art Harun

Allow me to  begin by wishing you a happy new Gregorian year. May this new (Gregorian) year bring with it God’s goodness for all of us.

I am writing in response to your article, Politik murahan yang memualkan” .

I have disagreed with you before and I must say, this time, with respect, I disagree with you even more.

First of all, let me say that I do not know for sure whether the Prime Minister’s minders did in fact ask the Bishop to remove all crucifixes and prohibit the Christians from reciting hymns at the function attended by the Prime Minister. There are reports which say that that happened. And there are also reports which say that it did not happen.

Whatever it is, assuming that it did take place, one thing is for sure. The instruction or request did not come from the Prime Minister.

I am really disappointed that you viewed the Prime Minister’s visit to the function at hand was a lowly act of besmirching his feet with dirt. This is what you said:

“Kesediaan dan kesudian PM yang sanggup ‘mencemar duli’ pergi ke ‘rumah ibadat’ tersebut sepatut diberikan penghargaan dan pujian, bukannya dilacurpolitikkan.” (emphasis is mine).

The expression “mencemar duli”, loosely translated means to dirty one’s feet or sole. That expression is normally used to express gratitude to our Rulers for having graced any of our function with their Highness’ presence. It is expressed thus;

Patik menjunjung kasih Tuanku kerana sudi mencemar duli Tuanku ke upacara ini.”

By using that expression to describe the Prime Minister’s visit to the function at hand, you are implying that it was actually beneath the Prime Minister to attend such a function and that  the Prime Minister was actually going out of his way to lower himself to attend the said function.

Doctor, with all due respect, that was unbecoming of you as an ulamak.

We live in a multi-ethnic-faith society. It was none other than the Prime Minister himself who is advocating the concept of 1Malaysia. That concept, as I understand it, would among others, entail the acceptance by all of us, regardless of breed, creed and faith that we should, as the people of Malaysia, live in harmony and respect for each other.

The Prime Minister is the Prime Minister of Malaysia. He is not the Prime Minister of the Muslims or Malays only. As President of UMNO, he may be the leader of the Malays who are members of UMNO. As President of the Barisan Nasional, he is the leader of everybody who is a member of the component parties of the BN. But as the Prime Minister of Malaysia, he acts for all of us Malaysians.

In that capacity, he has to attend to the interests of all of us, regardless of our faith and race. If he attends a hari raya celebration, he must also attend a Deepavali and Chinese New Year celebration. The same goes with the Christmas celebration. He just has to attend it because he is the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

It is not beneath him to do so. By attending a Christmas function, he is not “mencemar” his “duli” or dirtying his feet or sole. He is performing his social duty as a Prime Minister. If he did not perform such action, than it is his reputation as a leader which is going to be “tercemar”.

Your argument that Muslims are prohibited from attending religious celebrations of other faith than Islam is simplistic at its core. To my mind Islam is all about one’s closeness to God and His will. What problem would God have against anybody who attend a non-Muslim celebration if his faith in God and His way is unshakeable?

Are you saying that by attending the function that night, the Prime Minister’s faith in God would in any way diminish? I think we should all give the Prime Minister a little bit more credit here.

In fact, the latest pronouncement on this issue was made by Dr Ghaith bin Muhammad al-Sheikh al-Mubarak, a member of the Council of Senior Ulamak of Saudi Arabia. He opined on 23rd December 2010 that Muslims can take part in religious festivals of other faiths if the purpose of their attendance is to attract non-Muslims to Islam.

According to local daily the Saudi Gazette, he said “by attending festivals of other faiths Muslims could help to “pacify their souls” and when a Muslim rejects an invitation to attend such a festival it could alienate non-Muslims and divert them from the right path.

And so Doctor, it would appear now that it all boils down to one’s intention. Was the Prime Minister intending to be a Christian by attending that function or was he making a move for unity that night?

While I was studying at King’s College, my law library was housed in an old church. Are you saying that I should not have gone to the library because it was in a church Doctor? Are you saying that before entering the library I should have requested the librarian or College authority to respect me by removing all crucifixes adorning the walls?

You cite the example of Caliph Omar not wanting to pray in a Church as an example. This is what you said:

Sudah tentu kita masih ingat kisah Khalifah Islam kedua, Saidina Omar Al-Khattab yang pernah melawat gereja. Ketika tiba waktu sembahyang, paderi tersebut menawarkan Omar untuk solat di gereja. Namun, Saidina Omar menolak dan memilih untuk tidak solat di dalam gereja kerana ditakuti boleh menimbulkan fitnah. Mungkin orang Kristian akan beranggapan Omar mahu menukarkan gereja menjadi masjid. Semua ini dilakukan atas kebijaksanaan seseorang pemimpin.”

With respect Doctor, that is not the true historical account of the incident. Caliph Omar declined to pray in the Church of Holy Sepulchre not because he feared unwarranted aspersions or he did not want the Christians to think that he (Omar) would want to turn the church into a mosque. That was a twisted view.

For the record, Caliph Omar captured Jerusalem after a brief and bloodless seige,  from the Byzantines in February 638. Caliph Omar Ibn al-Khattab accepted the city’s surrender from Patriarch Sophronius in person.

Omar was shown the great Church of the Holy Sepulchre and offered a place to pray in it, but he refused. He declined out of absolute respect for the Christians and their church and not out of fear as you stated. He declined because he thought that if he did so, a precedent would be set and that future generations of Muslims might say that Omar prayed there and then they might convert that Church into a Mosque. It was out of that concern and respect that he refused to pray there.

He then proceeded to pray at the steps outside the Church. By doing so he averted the possibility of the Church being turned into a mosque. Such was his great respect for Christians, Christianity and churches.

Fair enough, Omar’s fears almost came to reality when in 1193 Saladin’s son Aphdal Ali build a mosque near the site of that incident although the location is not exact, for the entrance to the Church was on the east in Omar’s time and the present entrance was only inaugurated in the 11th century.

You made a big issue on the apparent Christmas celebration in Malaysia which according to you is way out of proportion considering Christians constitute only about 10% of our populations. Are they to blame if shops and shopping complexes, and in fact the whole commercial world in the whole universe, view Christmas and its celebration as a commercial activity rather than a pure religious event?

The thing about Christmas “celebration” which is way out of proportion in our country and any other country in the world is this. It is not about religion at all. It is the capitalism god at work. You should realise that dear Doctor.

As a Muslim, I am in fact thankful that our Hari Raya is not celebrated in such a big way as Christmas is. At least Hari Raya is preserved as a pure religious event where Muslims would go to the mosque and visit each other and undertake charitable work. Even then, our Hari Raya has, nowadays, morphed into a cultural and social event. Notice for example, dear Doctor, how we have open houses which really in effect not “open” anymore nowadays?

Caliph Omar, for example, refused to build a huge mosque after capturing Jerusalem. He opted to build a modest mosque on the Temple Mount instead. Clearly, size and quantity was not important to him. What matters is his faith I suppose.

Complaining on the number of churches and how big Christmas celebration is in our country is, to me – and I say this with the greatest of respect to you – childish. It is reflective of the inferiority complex which we Muslims are imbued with nowadays. It makes us want to retire into our cocoon, sulking and whining at how big and prettier other people are and how we should resent them and how unfair this whole new world is to us. If the Prophet were to behave like that in his early days in Mekah, I wonder whether Islam would be a great way of life it is now.

The great way of life that we know as Islam is not about public holidays or the size of our mosques. If you are going to compare the number of public holidays we have, are you going to equate football with our religion just because we have a public holiday after winning the Suzuki Cup recently, just as we have a public holiday for hari raya every year? We have more and bigger office complexes than mosques. Don’t you feel these office complexes are more important than mosques and thus conclude that our people place office complexes on a higher plane than mosques?

The Prophet (peace be upon him) was well known for his respect to other religions, especially to the kitabiyyah (the people of the book, namely, the Jews and Christians). In a letter from him to Negus, the king of Abyssinia, he wrote: