Religiously chasing hope

Setting an example: Kamatchi Gurukkal (right) and his assistant performing prayers during the groundbreaking ceremony of the Penang Indian Association as Ustaz Haji Ali Kassim (centre) looks on.

“My niece died early today,” he said. “She was buried this morning. I could not go for the funeral.” I stared. What about the service? The wake? “She was Muslim,” he explained simply. The colleague, you see, is Christian.

Dorairaj Nadason, The Star

There’s a heatwave going around. There’s a hatewave, too — one that threatens to destroy the very fabric of our country.

WE were in Kuching in Sarawak a few days ago – some colleagues and I – for a series of meetings.

At one of those meetings, a journalist walked in looking harassed. He had not wanted to come for the meeting.

“My niece died early today,” he said. “She was buried this morning. I could not go for the funeral.”

I stared. What about the service? The wake?

“She was Muslim,” he explained simply. The colleague, you see, is Christian.

Welcome to Sarawak. Where your religion is something that is yours and yours only, not something you wear on your sleeve and try to impose on everyone else. Where members of one family can be Muslims, Christians, Buddhists … anything. And it’s a dime-a-dozen. No one really gives a hoot.

We have families like that in the peninsula, too, but they would be in the news every festive season – held up like some prize find, a treasure to be handled with great care.

On this side of the pond, we are fighting over the name of God, over one another’s religion, over who is the devil and who the angel, over whether Valentine’s Day is such a horrible, immoral thing, and if one should wear silk.

We really could learn a thing or two from the Sarawakians.

As we landed in KLIA, the news was bleak. A piece of meat had been thrown into a mosque. It could be pork.

Then, there’s Isma – a group that wants to “wage war against those who threaten Islam”.

And some madcap blogger had declared that the Penang Government was about to crack down on Muslim Friday prayers.

Now, how credible is that? A government that had increased allocations for Muslim activities over the past few years is suddenly accused of trying to stifle them.

It would take someone with some real strange cranial activity to believe that stuff.

Why, even the Perkasa chaps don’t believe it. They are sidling up to the state government now and trying to make peace.

Well, good for them – both of them.

We could do with less of this religious hate thing that’s going round, a lot less.

And it’s not just Malaysia. The little red dot down there is also not spared. There, a group has set out to make Christians out of all Singaporeans.

“A nation transformed, a world evangelized… This is the agenda,” it cries on its website. It’s all quite sad.

But I believe in hope and in the good of man. I have seen it in Sarawak. And I have seen it in my home town of Penang.

Just days ago, a group organised a walk for unity. Walk in the Park, they called it.

Dressed in purple to signify religious tolerance, they carried flowers and purple balloons and walked down “unity street”, from the Esplanade to St George’s Church in Farquhar Street – the target of a recent firebomb – the Goddess of Mercy Temple across the road from The Star’s old office, the Sri Mahamariaman Temple in Jalan Kapitan Keling and Masjid Jamek Lebuh Acheh.

Badan Warisan Masjid Melayu chairman Mohamed Yahaya, 75, had reminisced of when 1Malaysia was a reality, not a mere slogan.

“People are now living like strangers even when they live in the same neighbourhood.

There is not much mutual understanding… not like how things used to be. We cannot live while being suspicious of one another,” he is reported to have said.

There was more. The Penang Indian Association had the ground-breaking ceremony for its new building. What has that go to do with anything, you ask?

Well, it was a ground-breaking ceremony with a difference. The Penang IA is one of the oldest in the country.

It started out in 1924 in Jalan Datuk Keramat, not far from where I was born, before moving to Jalan Bagan Jermal in 1938.

And its founders were Hindus, Muslims and some Christians, I daresay.

So, the ground-breaking ceremony started with prayers by Ustaz Haji Ali Kassim from the Tanjung Muslim Association, followed by Father Victor Louis from Butterworth. Giani (Sikh priest) Gurmail Singh then did the honours before Kamatchi Gurukkal from Pilla­yar­patti in India finished things off.

I wished there had been a Buddhist priest as well but then, you can only do so much.

“We did it this way because we wanted all faiths together. After all, we have Indians who subscribe to all these faiths. We want them all to come together – for sports, health, arts, culture , everything…,” says Dr Kalaikumar Nachi, the organising committee chairman for the project.

“We believe our IA is hallowed ground now.”

Indeed, doc. Not just hallowed. You guys have just set an example for the whole country.

Oh, and even the political rivals came together. DAP’s Dr P. Ramasamy was there as was MIC president Datuk Seri G. Palanivel.

Now, how can that not bring hope?

> Remember the colleague whose niece died? There is a sticker in his car from Kuching City Parking Systems Sdn Bhd. It says: Your beliefs don’t make you a better person; your behaviour does. Touche! The writer can be reached at[email protected]