I was born on the prairies, where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures. [GERONIMO]
Friday, August 5, 2011
The JAIS raid
The recent Selangor Religious Department (Jais) raid of the Harapan Komuniti event held at the Damanasara Utama Methodist Centre should be condemned by all Malaysians.
This dinner, which was organised to commemorate and honour the work of this non-profit organisation as well as its supporters and beneficiaries, is demonstrative of how we are united in a common concern and care for those living on the margins of society and who are less fortunate than us, regardless of their ethnicity and religion.
The high handed and overzealous manner in which the raid was conducted by the Jais officers over an unspecified complaint, and the disrespect shown towards the sanctity of a house of worship speaks volumes of the tendency towards the lack of respect for other religions, unaccountability and a culture of impunity.
Let us be clear: The embarrassing actions of the Jais officers appear to be the acts of a bully. It was bad enough that the so-called complaint was not substantiated, but the officers were not even able to produce a copy of the actual complaint.
Refusing or being unable to produce a warrant, especially when entering private property and religious places, is unacceptable. Just as we ask that non-Muslims should respect the sanctity of our places of worship and the practices of our religion, we as Muslims must always do the same.
It is disappointing that Selangor executive councillor Datuk Dr Hasan Ali has defended the raid by saying that 12 Muslims had participated in the dinner event on the church premises, and that this was proof of proselytising.
So what if there were Muslims at the dinner? This is proof of nothing other than they were there to show their appreciation to Harapan Komuniti, an NGO that is involved in charitable community work.
I too have attended weddings, discussions sessions and dinners several times in churches, temples and mosques. The prime minister himself met the Pope in the Vatican. Is that proselytising?
We are reminded again of the 2006 incident where the spread of unsubstantiated wild rumours through SMS concerning the supposed conversion of Muslims in Perak, resulted in 1,000 angry protestors gathering outside a church in Ipoh. It was later revealed that the church was not converting Muslims but was instead holding its Holy Communion service for 98 Catholic children.
That incident, which implicated the state Mufti, as well as the behaviour of journalists from the Al-Islam magazine who desecrated a communion wafer in 2010, were due to the same paranoia and phobia that have been used to justify this raid: The conversion of Muslims.
These incidences are eggs on the faces of moderate Malaysians regardless of whether they are Muslim or not, especially when the self righteous actions are later proven to be based on wild and unsubstantiated allegations, paranoid delusions or simply irrational fear due to ignorance. We end up looking foolish and being terrified of bogeymen.
Incidences such as these could be read as harassment, bullying, intimidation or, worse, evidence of religious tyranny or the denial of the right to religion.
There is an urgent need to increase the quality of oversight and accountability of the state religious departments.
Who are the religious authorities accountable to? Where is their check and balance? We must begin to dispel the perception that the religious authorities are a law unto themselves.
I am glad that Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim has immediately expressed his regret over the incident. Indeed, the Selangor government must acknowledge that it is also responsible and take the relevant persons to task as religion is a state affair under the Federal Constitution.
There are many fears, false beliefs and misunderstandings that are born from the shallow and ignorant understanding of other religions.
The best way to begin to remedy this is to address the ignorance and make a serious effort to learn and educate each other. I suggest we start with ourselves and the Jais officers.