Thursday, November 23, 2006

Mob intimidation at Church

I have purposely waited for the temperature over this incident to cool down before blogging about it. Its been 3 weeks so here it goes.

What does the angry crowd in the photo above have to do with the children in the photo below?

Here's what the Herald, published by the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur and ever minding its language had to say:

Ipoh : Rumours that were circulated through SMSes nearly jeopardised the peace, harmony and religious freedom experienced by the Catholics of Ipoh. All was well when the Tamil Mass began at 7.OOam on Sunday, November 5, 2006. However by 7.30 am, assistant parish priest Fr Dominic Santhiyagu had realised (from the altar) the mounting presence of police personnel and patrol cars on the main road. The crowd had swelled outside and Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) person¬nel and trucks had arrived and taken up their posi¬tions along the main road in front of the church. Soon the crowd on the right side of the church started shouting, "Kalau Mansor masuk, bakar bangunan ini! " (If Mansor goes in, burn the building). They then advanced to the gateway and began shouting religious slogans in Arabic. However, the FRU personnel took control of the situation and moved the crowd further up the road, away from the church vicinity.

Roads leading to the Church were packed with vans, cars and motorcycles paeked at the side, not belonging to the parishioners but the demonstrators, who comprised not only men, but also women, children and babies. [Thats it. Get them started young and make it a family outing.]

What had brought this mass of people from a different religious faith to the steps of the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, Ipoh on the day of a First Holy Communion celebration? The SMSes might shed some light.

One went thus: Sejumlah Melayu akn dibaptiskan oleh Dato Azhar Mansor Ahad ini di Gereja Selibin IPOH. Seramai 600 plajar Poli teknik Unku Omr Ipoh telah msuk Kristian baru2 ini. Pendedahan oleh Mufti Perak ptg ini di masjid Negeri. Sampaikan sms kpd org-2 yg mahukan ISLAM (A number of Malays will be baptised by Dato Azhar Mansor this Sunday at the Silibin Church, Ipoh. Recently 600 students from the Ungku Omar Polytechnic have converted to Christianity.
Revealed by the Perak Mufti (Remember this fellow as he comes in the picture again later.) this afternoon at the state Masjid. Please forward to all who stand for Islam).

Regardless of the imminent danger looming, parishioners moved through the crowds to attend the 9.00am Mass to be celebrated in three languages (English, Tamil and Bahasa Malaysia). By then, the roads had been sealed and no car was allowed into the church compound. The air was tense, but the parishioners took their places in the church in a very orderly manner, as though oblivious to what was going on around them. Many however, must have unanswered questions as to what was happening!

Still, as a precaution, men -young and old- had stationed themselves casually all around the church to give a sense of security and confidence to those attending Mass.

Mass started on time with the procession led by 98 children beautifully dressed in white like little angels, followed by the altar boys and the priest. They proceeded from the Lourdes Church Hall to the entrance, carefully watched by our Muslim brothers and sisters who had gathered outside. Parish priest Fr. Bernard Paul, sensing the fear and anxiety of the children, had earlier had earlier talked to them and put them at ease.

Nevertheless, when Fr. Bernard himself began the celebration of the Mass, his anxiety was apparent in his voice. Mass progressed in all three languages, witnessed, heard and perhaps even monitored by the whole community, inside and outside the church, as the outdoor public address address system had been turned on to enable everyone to participate in the Mass. Anyway, there is nothing in the Church to hide, only everything to share and witness.

It was a day when attendance at Mass, as usual, included migrants from Africa and Indonesia had come in full strength, as well as our brothers and sisters from East Malaysia. Many of them knew of the SMSes but came regardless of the possible danger.

Other than a firecracker that went off beside the church during Mass, nothing untoward happened, thanks to the tight security and personal attention given by the Perak Special Branch Chief, Ipoh Assistant OCPD and various FRU and police personnel- civil as well as those in uniform, Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Fr. Dominic Santhiyagu felt that the reading, which focussed on loving God and loving neighbour, was appropriate. He wondered why this demonstration was taking place, when the Church is clear about the country's rules regarding conversions. He added that while it is good publicity for the parish, it is shameful that people are acting on rumours.

Fr. Bernard felt that the parishioners were well focussed. Even though on both ends of the road had been blocked by the demonstrators and the situation seemed unstable, some of the parishioners just told the demonstrators, "Bagi jalan. Kita mahu pergi gereja"[This means "Give way. We want to go to Church".] and they walked right through the crowd to profess their faith. "But there was fear in me ... for the safety of my people ... I was worried how it will all turn out", he admitted.

On a solemn note, he added "A sad state of affairs because it shows how gullible people are and how quickly they believe in lies rather than checking first before responding. moreover, they are disrupting our religious service. This is our Sunday celebration! it is unjust ... a civil rights' offence!"-Herald

Here's what the Council of Churches, Malaysia, a grouping of mostly mainline Protestant Church had to say about the incident.
Safeguard rights of all religious communities

Petaling Jaya : The Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) has appealed to the Prime Minister and his Cabinet to safeguard the rights of all religious communities. This was said in a statement issued on Nov 7 following the incident, which took place at the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, Ipoh. The CCM also called on the authorities to deal firmly with those who try to "instill a climate of fear by perpetrating dubious text messages or demonstrating in front of religious places."

26 Jalan University, 46200 Petaling Jaya,
Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia
Tel: 03-79567092/79551587 Fax: 03-79560353

Press Statement
The Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) views with great concern the incident that took place at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Ipoh on November 5. Why should worshippers who attend church be subjected to trepidation caused by unruly mobs bent on disrupting the religious and holy ceremonies of a religious community? What such acts have shown is that religious extremism is rearing its ugly head and soon such mobs may appear in other churches throughout the country to shake the foundations of interreligious understanding and respect that has kept our nation at peace all these years. We appeal to the Prime Minister and his cabinet that a clear statement be issued that the rights of all religious communities to worship in peace will be respected and protected. All attempts by ill-intentioned groups to instil a climate of fear, by perpetrating dubious text messages or demonstrating in front of religious places, should be dealt with firmly by the authorities to ensure such incidents do not recur.

Tan Sri Bishop Dr Lim Cheng Ean
President of CCM

Rev Dr Hermen Shastri
General Secretary
The mainstream papers like The Star also gave extensive coverage about this event, going so far as to label the crowd that gathered a mob.

Now, this rumour was not just started by any Tom, Dick or Harry. That would not give it any credibility. As least I hope so.

It was started by the Mufti (thats equivalent to the Bishop) of the state of Perak where the Church was located. He of course duly blamed a woman.

From The Star:

'Baptism' message started by woman, claims Perak Mufti

IPOH: Perak Mufti Datuk Seri Harussani Zakaria [Remember him?] has named a woman in her 40s as the originator of a text message that claimed a group of Muslims was going to be baptised at a church here last month.

He claimed the woman is a graduate of the International Islamic University, who later studied at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo.

Harussani: ‘What I revealed was meant to stay within the confines of the meeting’
“Upon her return, she joined a missionary group that carried out social work. She later converted to Christianity and now claims to have returned to Islam,” he told reporters at his home in Kampung Melayu Gunung Rapat here yesterday.

Harussani said he had had an audience with the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Azlan Shah, to explain his stand on the issue.

“The Sultan is happy and satisfied with my explanation,” he said of his 9am meeting with the Ruler.

The SMS, which was widely circulated last week, had alleged that national mariner Datuk Azhar Mansor would lead a ceremony to baptise a group of students at the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Silibin here on Nov 5.

It was later found that the supposed baptism was an event to mark the first Holy Communion for about 100 Catholic children.

Harussani said the woman had sent him an SMS message on Oct 21 to give the time and place of the alleged baptism. He asked her to meet him at his house.

“She came with her husband a day before Hari Raya,” he said, adding that she brought along compact discs and documents that purportedly disclosed that Azhar would be at the church to baptise the Malay students.

Harussani claimed he handed all the information to the police and the Special Branch for their investigation.

He said he raised his concerns over the allegations with representatives of Muslim non-governmental organisations at the state mosque here on Nov 2.

“What I revealed was meant to stay within the confines of the meeting. I did not know that those present would pass the word around.

“It was never my intention to create chaos. [Right.] As the mufti (Muslim scholar who interprets Syariah laws), I have the responsibility to remind Muslims of the threats facing Islam today,” he said.

SMS ALERT: Harussani showing the message on the supposed baptism. He said the woman who sent him the message also met him and brought along documents to back up her claim.
“I heard about the commotion at the church while I was in Syria. I am saddened and disappointed by the turn of events.

“I was only carrying out my duty as a mufti to inform the necessary people of the supposed baptism,” he said, stressing that he had not spread the SMS or told people to protest. [He should have told the police instead. In Malaysia, baptizing a Muslim is a criminal offence.]

Asked about the anxiety and tension the SMS had stirred, Harussani said: “What they did (circulating it) [Andrew: He of course claims that what he said was perfectly right. But for internal circulation only.]was wrong. Why can’t they leave it to the police to investigate?”

Harussani said he gave his statement to the police on Saturday during a four-hour meeting with state police chief Deputy Comm Datuk Aziz Bulat and Special Branch chief Senior Asst Comm (II) Dr Ab Rahman Ismail at his house.

When contacted, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan said police would investigate the mufti’s statement.

“We will act accordingly,” he added.

He was, of course, immediately contradicted by the Chief Minister of Perak and the Malaysian Minister of Information who says that the good Mufti has been spreading fear by claiming that 100,000 Malays has apostatized.

Again, from The Star:

MB: Mufti briefed group about conversion claims

KUALA LUMPUR: Perak Mufti Datuk Harussani Zakaria had only informed a group of people at a closed-door meeting at the state mosque of the allegations that some Muslims had converted to Christianity, said Datuk Seri Tajol Rosli Ghazali.

The Perak Mentri Besar said the objective of the meeting had been to control young people so that they would not go astray.

“But somebody picked up one of the examples given and cited Datuk Azhar Mansor. The Mufti is not involved in the SMS but he might be the reason for the SMS being spread,” he said yesterday after attending the Umno pre-council briefing by the party president at PWTC.

Zainuddin: Says issuing factually wrong statements could lead to public outrage
A widely circulated SMS caused quite a furore last week because it alleged that national mariner Datuk Azhar Mansor was an apostate, and would lead a ceremony to baptise a group of students at the Church of Our Lady Lourdes in Ipoh on Nov 5. [Why in the world would a layman be permitted to baptize people in Church?]

This turned out to be false and the supposed baptism was in fact the Holy Communion for 100 Catholic children.

Tajol Rosli said the mufti had explained to reporters on Sunday what had actually taken place.

“It's up to the police to investigate,” he said.

Information Minister Datuk Seri Zainuddin Maidin said that many people suspected Harussani had sent the recent offensive SMS because he had previously made claims of Muslims turning apostates.

He said earlier this year the mufti told a Malay daily that over 100,000 Muslims in the country had converted to other religions.

“So, when the recent SMS surfaced many believed it had come from him,” the minister added.

The mufti had claimed then that the number of Muslims who converted was provided to him by a group of professionals and students. [Who of course remain nameless]

The Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim), later denied the figures, alleging they were obtained through unreliable sources.

Zainuddin said: “The problems that arose from the SMS and how Harussani was made to look like its sender, should serve as a lesson to all those in senior positions.”

He said civil servants in positions of authority should refrain from making statements unless the facts had been verified by the relevant government agencies.

They should be able to distinguish matters that are sensitive in nature, he said, adding that issuing factually wrong statements could lead to public outrage.

Zainuddin said they should not blame the media for running their inaccurate statements because the media would regard them as reliable sources of information.

“The onus is on the government officials to make sure that they have all the facts because they have all the resources, including the police, to check if the facts they received are true,” he said.

Sisters In Islam programme manager Norhayati Kaprawi said the Perak Mufti should have kept the information of the alleged baptism ceremony to himself if he had doubts about the authenticity and validity of the claims.

“He should have kept the information to himself and submitted it only to the police for further investigation.

“He should not have disseminated the unverified outrageous claims to other Muslim NGOs in a mosque,” she said in a statement here yesterday.

Here's the actual numbers of applications to renounce Islam.

A Muslim Professor who studied the issue of apostasy or murtad among the Malay Muslim population had this to say:
Apostasy numbers are minimal

Kuantan : Conversions from Islam are minimal and nowhere near the 100,000 figure bandied around by some religious leaders, said a researcher. Based on official data obtained from the state syariah courts, religious departments and the National Registration Department (NRD), the number of conver¬sions are only in the hundreds. Dr Mohd Azam Mohd Adil, a law professor at the Universiti Teknologi Mara (UITM), said that the NRD recorded 750 applications between 1999 and July 2003 to change names - from Muslim to non-Muslim - in the identity cards. Of these, only 220 were granted throughout the five years. Most of the applicants were converts to Islam, said Azam. However, actual numbers of apostasy - those who file an official application to leave Islam in the courts are much lower, about 100 between 1994 and 2003 among the country's 10 mil¬lion Muslims.-Herald
In Malaysia, there are parallel systems of justice. The Islamic Sharia courts have jurisdiction over Islamic matters. The civil courts run the rest of the show.

But when you want to convert out of Islam and have the fact acknowledged by the law, the civil courts will claim no jurisdiction and throw you back to the Sharia courts when its is precisely Islam and Islamic justice that you want to renounce. What is the logic of sending someone who wants legal recognition that he or she is a non-Muslim to an Islamic court?

This is the problem faced by Lina Joy whose case has attracted international attention. [See the addendum below.]

For those of us in Malaysia of course, the small figures of those wanting to renounce Islam come as no big surprise as the law forbids missionary activity among the Malays and the government, although constituted by its founding fathers as a secular state declared itself to be an Islamic State a few years ago.

The main Malay Muslim governing party, UMNO has also adopted a more Islamist tinge to rival the Islamic party PAS that threatens its constituency.

All this happened with the UMNO General Assembly being telecast live for the first time exposing mainstream Malaysians of the extremely racist and non-Muslimophobic(hows that for a word) tone of many of the delegates and leaders of the ruling party that is supposed to be the government of all Malaysians.

With the 'Spirit' of the NEP, like some kind of sinister 'Spirit of Vatican II", being used as a front for what amounts to a little more than official state sanctioned discrimination against its diminishing non-Malay and non-Muslim population, we now also have to contend with a resurgent Islam permeating the ranks of the government and government departments and its enforcement officers.

Last month, the Islamic enforcement officers raided a condo occupied by an elderly British couple accusing them of 'khalwat' or being in close proximity. Despite the couple's protestations that they were non-Muslim(being White and speaking with a British accent should have clued the officers in), their marriage certificate was demanded from them.

How many people do you know who travel around with their marriage certificates?

And last week, a Taoist temple was demolished, despite 2 non-Muslim elected assemblymen seeing the President of the local Municipal Council to ask for a stay so that the non-Muslim Chief Minister could look into the matter.

For those in the West complaining about their ugly Churches and banal liturgies, please spare a thought for us here in Malaysia. It took 30 years, with multiple stop work orders after the foundations were poured and without compensation, relocations, redesigns so that the building looks nothing like a Church(it looks like a factory and is situated in the middle of an industrial estate and has a KFC packing plant as its neighbour) and and made lower than any nearby mosque to get a single Church built in the new administrative Capital of the state of Selangor. And this was after the Sultan himself had lamented that there were no non-Muslim places of worship in this city.

We live with overt and subtle intimidation every day.

Thank God for your freedoms.

And to people like Karen Armstrong who keep on praising Muslims and their culture, and keep dissing the Catholic Church and the Western Civilization that it built and sustained, please get on a plane fly down to Saudi Arabia and live there. You can tell them how much you love them there, face-to-niqab, if they ever allow you to speak that is.

More on the Lina Joy case. From the Herald.


Prayer campaign for Lina Joy, will the law allow her to convert to Christianity?

Kuala Lumpur : Malaysia's Churches have committed one and all to a prayer campaign on behalf of Lina Joy, a Malay woman who converted to Christianity from Islam. After becoming Christian in 1998, Lina Joy (formerly Azlina Jailani) applied first to the National Registration Department (NRD) and then the Court of Appeal to change her identity papers to remove `Islam' as her religion. She was refused in both cases because as an ethnic Malay she was legally Muslim and "could not change religion". Religious issues involving Malays, including conversions to other reli¬gions, fall under the jurisdiction of Islamic courts and not the country's general laws. Lina Joy's problem is that if she is not recognised as Christian she can only marry a Muslim man in a Muslim ceremony and will be subject to Islamic family and inheritance laws. Her case has opened up the debate as to the extent to which religious free¬dom is guaranteed in Malaysia, a coun¬try that is also home to Chinese and Indian groups who generally belong to other religions. De facto, two legal systems coexist in the country: one based on Islam; the other, on the constitution. And the two are often in conflict. Lina Joy's case illustrates this clearly. The constitution guarantees freedom of religion; Islamic law prohibits conversion to any other religion. Given the seriousness of the situa¬tion, Msgr Paul Tan Chee Ing, Catholic bishop of Melata-Johor and chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, is appealing to Christians to support Lina Joy through prayers. In a prepared prayer, the prelate asks the faithful to call on God to support Lina Joy, whatever the judges' verdict may be, and grant the judges the wis¬dom they need to pass judgement in the case and Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi the strength to "uphold the Constitution". At presstime, we have not received the verdict of June 26 ruling whether the law recognises her conversion or not. - Herald


Anonymous said...

Religion is a very personal matter. A die hard Hindu would say that Lord Krishna is more real than Jesus Christ. People who believe in Buddha would look forward to living because they believe in reincarnation rather than just a one way street of either to heaven or to hell. For Muslims, Prophet Mohammad is their Saviour through and through. And there are many more other beliefs, faiths and religions out there. When a person finds " truth ", nothing will deter him or her from it. So when a person is born into a family of a certain religion, he or she has not found the " truth " for himself or herself. The
" truth " which he or she thinks he or she has is actually due to a strong influence created by the environment that he or she is in. Therefore you hear things like " I am a Muslim because my family is Muslim " and not because " I have found truth and life in Islam ".

Andrew said...

Hi Anonymous, thank you for you comments. Perhaps I can clarify what you have said a little. A diehard Hindu would say that Jesus was a great teacher and an avatar of the One God. He would also be able to worship Jesus as a deity. In the Vedas, the Hindu Holy Books, however there is a strong monotheism, despite what its current practitioners hold. So no, a Hindu would not be able to say that Krishna is more 'real' than Jesus.

People who practice Buddhism actually practice self denial because desire of any kind is the source of suffering. Reincarnations do not serve the purpose of enabling more enjoyment but, by the law of karma, seeks to give the living reincarnated being another chance of purging himself of desire and achieving nirvana, a state of total union with the universe and annihilation of any sense of self. Past lives, if filled with desire, would result in reincarnation in a lower realm of being. Virtuous lives result in reincarnation in a higher realm until enlightenment finally occurs. So, actually Buddhists do NOT look forward to living because living merely means being trapped in the cycle of rebirths. They look forward to an end of that cycle in by achieving a state of enlightenment, Nirvana.

Muslims do not in any way, shape or form see Muhammad as their Saviour. He is merely a Messenger of the One God who has no equal. The One-ness of Allah or God is a fundamental belief in Islam. The first words of the shahada or Muslim creed is "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger". Muhammad, exalted among creatures, is merely a creature himself. He may intercede on the last day, but is now dead, though Muslims believe that Jesus, a prophet and the Messaiah (Isa al-Masih), was taken up without dying and is with God now.

A person either believes in objective truth or he does not. Paradoxically, a person asserting that there is no such thing as objective truth is actually making an objective proposal, proving that objective truth, albeit only that one truth, exists.

There can be no such thing as what is true for me is true for me and what is true for you is true for you. I might believe that I can breathe under water without any apparatus and you might not. But if I try inhaling water, I'll drown. What I believe is one thing but what is objectively true, remains true whether I believe it or not.

So, there either is a God, or there is no God. There cannot be God for me and no God for you. one of us is right and the other, wrong. Pascal's wager is a good agnostic bet.

A person might be born into a religion, and that does excuse some culpability if the person has never heard of Christ and the Church and the necessity of the Church for salvation or if the information is so distorted as to disallow a fair hearing, which the Catholic Church terms invincible ignorance.

But in the Catholicism, and similar to a Jewish Bar Mitzvah, a public profession of faith is required where the received faith is internalized, owned and publicly proclaimed. Every Christian is called to a personal conversion and, despite the prevailing practice, is what the Church still proclaims and teaches.