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The Star - Need we be so sensitive? (24 August 2013)
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Need we be so sensitive?

Published: Saturday August 24, 2013

In the wake of recent controversies, it might be a good idea to show the love and mercy which is inherent in Islam.

AS good Muslims, we are taught from young to begin our day and to begin all our activities for that matter, with the standard refrain Bismillahir Rahman nir Rahim (in the name of Allah, the loving and the merciful).

We are always thus reminding ourselves that Allah is loving and merciful and in the process are also reminding ourselves to be loving and merciful.

There are many dimensions to love and mercy, such as compassion, understanding, tolerance, magnanimity and may I add, inclusiveness.

Which brings me to the question: Why then have we become so unloving and so unmerciful? By we, I mean the Malaysian Muslims. We have become super sensitive, a reflection of how, some say, insecure we have become.

Our religion is followed by 1.2 billion worldwide and rising. We are not a small cult ready to be wiped into oblivion by the stroke of a pen.
The Muslims in Malaysia are in majority and even without the love and mercy inherent in our religion, surely our bigger number can afford us certain magnanimity, if not mercy.

I am deeply troubled by this, to borrow a phrase, “culture of offendedness”, where we see insults in every corner and in every inadvertent utterances, no matter how innocuous.

Let us take this incident of the surau in Sedili Besar, used by the Buddhist group for a meditation session.

The owner of the resort most likely did not think his decision through and in this climate of offendedness, should probably have consulted a person of (religious) authority.

I highly doubt that he woke up that morning and said “I am going to insult Islam today” by allowing the Buddhist group to use the surau.

In all likelihood, he made the decision on the spot, to accommodate his guests’ request and when you are running a hospitality establishment, you have to make many of those kinds of decisions, some good and some bad, which of course you will only find out later.

To be stripped of his PR status for basically making a not very good (business) decision is tragic, to say the least.

Many years ago, when my son was at an Anglican boarding school, he always felt odd when he had to attend chapel services, a compulsory requirement by the school.

He felt alien as he could not, spiritually, claim a space in that chapel as he knew he was Muslim and would always be one.

He had his religious books that I had equipped him with and I also told him to use that time for some quiet reflection and think about his own spirituality and his connection to his own religion.

In the final year, when the school conducted a Leaving Service for all school leavers, he asked the school’s permission to claim a small “spiritual space” in the chapel by reciting the Takbir.

Without the blink of an eye, the school was happy to accommodate that request, even though the school’s Muslim’s population was less than 1%.

They were not offended by the request, they thought it was an excellent idea, at the very least to remind parents that even though they were an Anglican school, there are students of other faiths as well.

When my son recited the Takbir (I was not forewarned), in a mellifluous voice that was magnified by the excellent acoustic of the chapel, it was surreal and hair raising, to say the least.

I am always proud of my sons but that day, I was super proud of this one. The majority of the parents had never heard a Takbir before but they applauded and congratulated him and none of them indicated any hints of being insulted.

They wanted to know more about the spiritual significance of the wordings and what it meant to all of us.

That was then, and in another country, but it was an unforgettable experience for me. I taught my children, as Muslims, our iman is strong and should remain strong.

Sitting in a chapel does not make us Christians. In the face of challenges, instead of our iman getting weaker, it should strengthen our resolve and make it stronger.

My children cannot fathom the furore over the Sedili Besar surau incident.

The Buddhist group has apologised, the resort owner has apologised, can’t we just learn a lesson (of sorts) here and move on? Is there a real need to demolish the surau? Can we not display the mercy and compassion we so proudly recite everyday, in the name of Allah?

> Jamilah Ibrahim is a social activist. Her passion is to uphold and promote a progressive, reasoning and inclusive Islam.

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