By S. Rashid
03 July, 2014
My work in a Muslim magazine requires me to be on the look-out for positive news reports from Muslim countries for our front page. This month, after having scanned websites from a host of Muslim countries, I found nothing positive to tell our readers about. But then, surely, I thought, Malaysia would have some positive news. After all, it had always been on my list of “moderate Muslim countries” and I had great hopes of it. But then, to my horror, I read about how the highest court in that country had recently banned Christians from using the word “Allah”! Added to that bit of news were pictures of a bunch of Malaysian Muslims rejoicing at the verdict, some even wearing T-Shirts that read “Allah for Muslims only”.
My immediate response was to want to shut off the computer! How would I face my lovely Christian friends, I thought….friends who respected me, loved me for what I am, respected the faith I believed in, and, more than anything, had been so very kind to me at every point in my life?
Believe it or not, after days of trying in vain to get positive news from any Muslim country for the front page of my magazine, it was a Christian country—the most Christian you can get—Vatican City—which brought me relief with good news at last. I was really delighted, especially after hearing about the Malaysian judgment, to read that the Vatican had organized prayers for peace, bringing together Christians, Muslims and Jews. How I wished similar good news would come from Muslim countries, too!
Remember in our childhood days, when we would tell our friends, “This is my pencil box. This is my doll. This is my toy. You can’t touch it! ” As kids, we had this enormous sense of ownership or possessiveness about what we thought were our things—even if it was only a ragged doll! It wasn’t greed or narcissism, though. It was simply part of our childhood innocence.
That’s fine with children, though. But if grown-up folks go about insisting, “This is my God. Don’t you dare take His name! If you do, I’ll punish you!’, you certainly wouldn’t find anything innocent about it. You’d think that such folks are either raving lunatics or hate-driven fanatics, and you’d be absolutely sure that the God who they claim to believe in wouldn’t at all agree with them.
That’s precisely what the Malaysian court verdict is like. It’s not the prattling of an innocent child. It’s the bombastic claim of grown-up hardliners who think that they own Allah and have a copyright on His name and that people of other faiths have no right whatsoever to utter it.
Christians across the world must, I’m sure, be very hurt on hearing about the Malaysian verdict. I think of my own Christian friends. I wonder what they must be thinking. My walking partner to school, Jose, was a Christian. He never failed to invite me to his house every Christmas to treat me to home-made plum cake. I studied in a Christian school, where I received a lot of kindness from the priests and nuns. My college principal was a Catholic priest, too, and his simple words of wisdom to me on my last day at college helped me face the harsher realities of life as time went by.
My interaction with Christian organizations as a journalist always left me with pleasant feelings. I’ve been very impressed by their organized, systematic and professional style of functioning and touched by their loving concern. I would often tell others, “Look how they work, how charitable and kind they are!”
Many Christian organizations in the city where I live and work often invite me for inter-faith dialogue meetings. I can never forget one such occasion, when one such organization had requested me to speak on “Peace in Islam.” This was just after 9/11. People of various faiths—Buddhists, Christians, Agnostics and Muslims spoke on the occasion. I had just finished my short presentation on “Peace in Islam” when I was showered with really difficult questions from the audience… questions on a host of issues, from terrorism to polygamy and the oppression of women. Believe me, it reduced me to tears! It was a kind Christian priest who came to my rescue just then. He stood up and answered some of the most difficult questions thrown at me on sensitive issues which I really couldn’t handle well.
Yes, a Christian priest spoke for Islam that day! Malaysian Supreme Court judges—are you listening?
How can I ever forget this man? Till this day, I remember him and remain grateful. Every Eid, I receive a greeting card from him. I reciprocate by wishing him well on Christmas.
Allah or God certainly does not need to be defended by mere mortals from Malaysia. He lives in all people’s hearts and not in Malaysia alone. God does not need a home or a country. Call God by any name and He answers your prayers—anywhere, anytime.
I pray and hope that good sense prevails and the Malaysian verdict is withdrawn