Sunday, August 08, 2004

Different set of rules for Muslims and Christians

Oleh Raja Petra Kamarudin

I prayed to Jesus Christ years before I prayed to Allah. Every morning during assembly we recited the Lord’s Prayer and during the end of year concert we played in pantomimes about Christ. Why, in one of the concerts I even played one of the Three Wise Men from the East who visited Christ in the manger. This was around 1956 when I enrolled in the Alice Smith School in Kuala Lumpur, a year before Malaya gained Independence or Merdeka from Britain. In that sense, I was a ‘practicing’ Christian long before I ‘became’ a Muslim, which was not until the 1970s when by then I had married, had kids, and had migrated to Terengganu where I first met Tok Guru Abdul Hadi Awang, one of those who taught me all I know about Islam.

Now don’t get me wrong, though I am proud of the fact Hadi is one of my religious teachers, I still wear jeans, listen to Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones, and drink alcohol-free Lager. But this is not the point of my piece today. What I want to say today is, not many Malays have the advantage of better-understanding the other major religions and they are ‘blur’ as to what these religions are all about. That makes them pass misguided judgement on anything non-Islam or non-Muslim.

On 4 August 2004, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi opened the World Council of Churches meeting in Kuala Lumpur. Many Malays are yet to form an opinion of this and unlike in the past where such an act by a Muslim, in particular by the Prime Minister, would have attracted a heated debate, the response this time around has been very slow. This is because the majority of Malays do not even know what is the World Council of Churches. There have, of course, been some meek talk of whether what Abdullah did; officiating the opening of a Church meeting; can be considered unIslamic. Some defend Abdullah’s act as acceptable while others feel it is wrong. But no one has come forward to strongly argue their case one way or another.

Anyway, while Malaysians, in particular Malay-Muslims, gather their thoughts on this matter, maybe I can in the meantime enlighten them on what is the World Council of Churches.

According to their official website ( ‘the World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the scriptures, and therefore seek to fulfil together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’ This, basically, is the Trinity.

The Trinity is the term employed to signify the central doctrine of the Christian religion -- the truth that in the unity of the Godhead there are Three Persons; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; these Three Persons being truly distinct one from another. Thus, in the words of the Athanasian Creed: "the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God." In this Trinity of Persons, the Son is begotten of the Father by an eternal generation, and the Holy Spirit proceeds by an eternal procession from the Father and the Son. Yet, notwithstanding this difference as to origin, the Persons are co-eternal and co-equal: all alike are uncreated and omnipotent. This, the Church teaches, is the revelation regarding God's nature which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came upon earth to deliver to the world: and which she proposes to man as the foundation of her whole dogmatic system.

And this is where Islam disagrees with the Trinity, for Islam regards Jesus as just a Prophet, just like all the Prophets beginning with Adam and ending with Muhammad, the last Prophet and one who came after Christ.

The World Council of Churches is an association of more than 340 churches in over 100 countries and territories throughout the world, representing some 400 million Christians from the world's Orthodox churches from the Protestant Reformation such as Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed.

However, its ‘rival’, the Roman Catholics, the ‘original’ Christian faith, is bigger with one billion followers. And the Catholic Bible differs from that of the Protestant Bible. The Catholic Church became the Roman Empire's official religion in 380, before the coming of Muhammad. In 1054, the Eastern Orthodox Church separated from the Roman Catholic Church, which from that point on would be identified as the Western Church. In a sense, the Reformers set up the Western Church in direct opposition to the Catholic Church -- the term 'Protestant' stressing on antagonism to Rome.

Another difference is, the Protestant prays directly to God while the Roman Catholic offer his prayers through the medium of the Virgin Mary and the saints.

The Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the only Son of God who was born of the Virgin Mary and became a man. According to Christian belief, Pontius Pilate then crucified Christ where he died and was buried. On the third day he rose again and ascended into heaven.

And this is where Islam, again, disagrees with the Christians as Islam says Jesus never died and will one day come back to earth. If he had died he would not be able to return to earth.

Anyway, back to Abdullah. This is the first time in history the World Council of Churches’ meeting has been opened by a Muslim, and a Malaysian Muslim at that. I am not going to debate whether this is right or wrong for a Muslim to do, as I am not an ulamak (religious scholar) and only people better schooled in Islam can pass a fatwa (decree) on this. But what I would like to question is, by officiating the meeting, is Abdullah indicating he is recognising the ‘minority’ and ‘breakaway’ Protestants over the ‘majority’ and ‘original’ Christians, the Catholics?

Now, this is a very sensitive issue. The Catholics and Protestants have been ‘at war’ for a thousand years and both regard each other as the ‘deviant’ group. In fact, in Ireland they are literally at war. Should Abdullah be seen as taking sides?

Further to that, Malaysia allows only one branch of the Islamic faith. If I were to profess my belief in or practice any other branch of ‘unrecognised’ Islam I would suffer arrest and detention without trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA). Many a Malaysian Muslim over the ages has seen his freedom wrenched from him for practicing what the Malaysian government views as ‘deviant’ Islamic teachings. In this same spirit, which of the two Christian faiths can be considered as ‘deviant’?

I suppose, now that Abdullah has officially recognised the Protestants, then the Catholic Church in Malaysia should be banned, its churches closed down, and its followers detained under the ISA. If this is what Malaysian Muslims are subjected to why should the Christians too not suffer the same consequences? Why are Malaysian Christians free to practice different brands of Christianity while Malaysian Muslims must only practice the ‘approved’ brand of Islam? In fact, even the Saudi Arabian brand of Islam is banned in Malaysia though Saudi Arabia is regarded as the Hold Land. Is this not a contradiction of sorts? And why does Malaysia ban the Saudi Arabian brand of Islam and arrest its followers?

And now that Abdullah has called for better understanding and tolerance between the different faiths in his speech at the World Council of Churches meeting, should not the Jews too be given their rightful place in Malaysia? After all, Jesus and all the Prophets before him, except for four, were Jews. So what is wrong about recognising the Jews? And should not Abdullah then also officiate an International Judaism meeting in Kuala Lumpur just to show fairness and demonstrate he really does want better interfaith understanding and tolerance?

Yes, certainly food for thought, is it not? I am not anti-Jew or anti-Christian, but I would like the same ‘rules’ applied for Muslims, Christians and Jews alike in the spirit of Abdullah’s better understanding and tolerance, not one rule for one faith and another for the rest.

No comments: