PARTICIPANTS of the 28 Aug 2009 cow-head protest claim that a Hindu temple cannot be built in a Muslim-majority area as this would affect the way they function as Muslims. Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim was even labelled a “traitor to the Malay race and Islam” because of the state government’s proposal to relocate the temple to Section 23 in Shah Alam.
The question that is yet to be answered, however, is whether it is actually un-Islamic for a temple, and by extension any other house of worship, to be built among Muslims.
Anwar Fazal The Nut Graph interviewed by e-mail Penang-based Datuk Dr Anwar Fazal, chairperson of the Malaysian Interfaith Network (MIN), on whether Islam prohibits its ummah from living in close proximity with the houses of worship of other faiths.
MIN was set up in 2002 to promote dialogue between the different faith organisations in Malaysia and to foster better understanding of common concerns and values.
TNG: Some residents say that because of the Muslim-majority nature of their neighbourhood, the temple should not be relocated to their area. To the best of your knowledge, does Islam discourage Muslims to live in areas where there are places of worship of other faiths?
Anwar Fazal: There is nothing in the religion of Islam towards that effect. The greatness of Islam has been a glorious history of interfaith accommodation and models of living together in peace, harmony, compassion and justice. My hope and prayer is for Malaysia to continue as a beacon of that spirit.
Do you agree that since there is a Muslim majority in that area (Section 23, Shah Alam), then the temple should not be relocated there?
As with any development, be it a supermarket, petrol station or religious institution, a careful, sensitive and systemic assessment of the environmental and social impact should be taken. Clear guidelines and processes are needed as set out in Local Agenda 21 (which focuses on achieving balanced and sustainable development). We also need constructive methods for listening to and addressing contentious issues, with avenues for fair adjudication and resolution in the event of differing views and interests.
There should be zero tolerance for slurs, bigotry and racism. Also, civility should be the norm, and gangsterism and thuggish behaviour frowned upon!
Personally, as a Muslim, would you be offended if a temple or church was built in your area of residence?
Certainly not. Where I live, there is a church, Buddhist temple and Hindu temple within a 400m radius.
Throughout the year, Chinese festivals are held with the usual stage performances, music and songs. Everyone also hears the beautiful breeze-like azan, five times a day from one, and sometimes, two mosques. Sometimes, we can hear the morning siren call when parades are held at a government establishment nearby.
The beautiful intermingling of the diverse sounds of community life makes for such a beautiful reminder of what make this place on earth so special.
The Street of Harmony in Penang has a church, Buddhist temple, Indian Muslim mosque, Malay mosque and Hindu temple all in the same place. As a resident of Penang, have there been any problems with all these different places of worship being so close together?
I have never encountered any such problems. I grew up in that very area; we had a family business there. We used to play in the courtyard of the Teo Chew clan house, which has a whole row of Muslim Endowment Board Flats overlooking it.
The area has been given the rare distinction of being a Unesco world heritage site for its intercultural and multicultural character. It is a beacon of universal values that Islam and all the religions in this country can be proud of.
In fact, I had the pleasure of taking the former President of India, Dr APJ Kalam, a Muslim and world-renowned scientist, to visit the Street of Harmony. Dr Kalam told the people that this was a wonderful place where there is unity of hearts and minds, and a “school of learning” for the whole world. He visited every major religious institution there and made a speech on peace and compassion at each of them.
He also shared the St Francis of Assisi prayer for peace when he visited St George’s Church.
Sri Mariammann Temple, Guan Imm Teng and Acheen Street mosque in Penang
(Pics courtesy of IGeorgetown Penang)
What role can the Malaysian Interfaith Network play in this situation? What needs to happen before a workable solution can be reached?
The Malaysian Interfaith Network is working to build understanding and trust in a small way, hoping to inspire more beacons of hope, compassion and universal values in a world that is so wrecked by violence, hate, bigotry and racism.
We hope more and more people will set up like-minded goodwill groups to promote universal values particularly, the Golden Rule — “Treat others as you would like to be treated”. We need to be more proactive about this if we are to have a happy and just future.
Ultimately, however, there must be clear and strong leadership to set up constructive mechanisms for dialogue, reconciliation and resolution. The issues and tensions on inter-religious issues have dragged on for too long. This perhaps emboldens the ignorant, the vicious and the violent.
Our hope is that the new leadership and the “1Malaysia” spirit can take a strong quantum leap forward and that the institution of royalty, which serves as our symbol of national unity, can be assertive about this dire need.
What steps should be taken by Muslims who may not agree with the actions of the cow-head protesters to make their views known?
Speak out at every opportunity that slurring, condemning and insulting other religions and animals is not in accordance with the true teachings of Islam.
And don’t forget to vote for those who truly support the tenets of peace, justice and compassion, which are the core of the Islamic faith.
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