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No Islamic prohibition against temple

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?

Certainly not.

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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22 Responses to “No Islamic prohibition against temple”

  1. SpeakUp says:

    Why do some people not have this sort of sense? Perhaps that is why the whole idea of dragging the cow head, they have only cow sense!

  2. adam says:

    The Al-Quran did not state that Hindu temples should not exist in a Muslim majority area. Come on, let’s be reasonable. Allah did not forbid any race to live among each other so let there be 1Malaysia. Those who protested against the temple should refer to the Al-Quran first before they protest. Those who protested are a nuisance to the Hindus. I suggest that the protestors should be severely punished under Malaysian law. They deserve to be punished because they insulted another religion.

  3. Andrew I says:

    A world that is so wrecked by violence, hate, bigotry and racism.

    What is being attempted by some is to sow these mindsets into the local populace.

    The nature of our peoples has much to do with religious tolerance with regard to the existence of the Street of Harmony.

    Even within the same religion and race, there is senseless violence, as in the case of the conflict over Northern Ireland and between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam in the Arab world.

    It is my fervent hope that our nature and good sense, which has brought us thus far, will not allow these attempts to succeed.

  4. I have to dispute what Datuk Anwar says. Although churches and synagogues are spared when Islam spreads, it can’t be said for other religions. For e.g. Zoroaster religion or the religion of old Persia, temples were destroyed. Although the Zoroaster religion was among the first monotheist religions in the world, it was not regarded so by Muslims. In fact, their priest and many of the followers had to migrate to India and now their base is Bombay.The Muslims call them fire worshippers or “Majusi”.

    They are two types of kafir during the Islamic period: one is dhimmi and the other is harbi. One pays poll taxes and their churches and synagogues are protected and the other is regarded as servants or slaves to their masters.

    Even during Mohammad’s conquest of Mecca, he destroyed all the idols in the kaabah thus killing off the religion of idol worshippers. But as I said, although I believe Islam would respect other beliefs but history shows otherwise.

    So based on history, the action of the cow-head demostrators was correct although to me, they did wrong. But I can’t find historical evidence to support my belief but I can find corroborating evidence during Islamic rule to support those hooligans!

    About temple and churches and mosques e.g. in Jalan Harmony Melaka, it was built during the time of the British. [....]

  5. muslima says:

    I am surprised that no Muslim religious authority came out to condemn the cow-head incident and the desecration of the innocent animal. Islam insists on humane treatment of animals and no disrespect to even dead ones. How could people observe “puasa”, go for Friday prayers, then do this despicable act to an innocent animal? And hurt the feelings of others? And cause fear and anxiety among peace loving people?

    During this holy month of Ramadan, our eyes, ears, tongue, brains, limbs and emotions also must “puasa” from any bad thoughts, actions, words, intentions, etc. Otherwise our “puasa” is merely hunger and thirst with no benefit or merit.

    These people should be punished for bringing shame to Muslims and giving Islam a bad name as if they were deviants. Please don’t judge Muslims and Islam by the actions of such people who obviously don’t know the true Islam. Allah knows best.

  6. Dato Lubna Jumabhoy says:

    I totally agree with Datuk Anwar Fazal and I support the tenets of peace, justice and compassion which are the core of Islamic faith and hope that in this holy month of Ramadan, we can all live in peace and harmony with all faiths.

  7. KSTan says:

    Whilst it is great that we can discuss this issue of religion and temples sensibly and responsibly, this cow head incident is the work of a few persons out to make trouble. Why should our lives and peace be dictated by this small group to the extent that it becomes such a big and sensitive issue touching on sedition, incitement and investigation into the media that reported on the incident.

    The government has rightly charged them in court of law.

    However, we can see that there are many quarters and sadly including the Information Ministry who are using this incident for political mileage and prosecution.

    Pray they are only in the minority. While many are angry and saddened over this incident most Malaysians I have talked to, including those opinions and comments online, it does appear that the majority of Malaysians are far more tolerant and sensible than what the Information Ministry wants us to believe.

  8. fiqa' says:

    re: Wan Zaharizan comment.

    Your examples are totally misleading in the Malaysian context. First of all you have to realize that the actions against followers of Zoroaster are not based on Islam, it was a political decision. Also, most buildings in Penang, not just the temples and mosques in Harmony Street were built during British time.

    The idols in Kaabah were destroyed after Mecca was captured by the Muslims led by Prophet Mohamad PBUH, and the idols were not there in the first place, when it was built by Ibrahim and his son Ismail.

    Saying that it’s correct to drag a cow head when there was no precedent is nonsensical and I urge you not to make sweeping generalization about Islam when you’re not knowledgeable.

  9. Farouq Omaro says:

    There was a report not too long ago about Malaysian soldiers doing relief work in Indonesia. While there some Muslims among them asked to be taken to a mosque so that they could pray. Upon reaching the mosque they were surprised at the peculiar nature inside the mosque. They were told by local villagers that the mosque also serves as a house of worship by Christians and Hindus. In fact Muslims, Christians and Hindus use the mosque alternately and there are crosses and Hindu deities in it as well as Islamic calligraphy. Our “frightened” Malaysians left immediately without performing their prayers! This piece appeared in the Berita Harian.

  10. paul Ong says:

    Islam is just an excuse used by the Malay [Malaysians] in Shah Alam to cover up their intolerance towards other races, prior to this Hindu temple episode, there was also Catholic Church episode almost twenty years ago.

    This is actually a result of our the failure in our education policy which stresses only on one race and was also aided by the politicians who weaves keris menacingly and the ketuanan Melayu ideology.

    The ordinary Malay [Malaysians] took that as a license for them to bash the other races.

  11. Zozo says:

    As long as the Umno-controlled BN and their government still rule this country, there won’t be a harmony between Malaysians, as the totalitarian [government is] still naive and cannot accept the fact that the Malaysia is now under the process of tranformation, which is demand by Malaysians, who are sick with the government.

    Hoping that the “Dark Age” in Malaysian history will end soon….

  12. sumat says:

    In Tanjung Rambutan, there is an ancient mosque and a Hindu temple situated so close for more than half a century or more as I can remember without any problems.

  13. M.K. says:

    I wish all our politicians, especially those from Umno could think like him. Only then can we talk about 1Malaysia.

  14. Hong says:

    As much as I appreciate the sentiment, it would have been more useful had Datuk Dr Anwar Fazal provided some scriptural evidence of his claims that there are no Islamic prohibitions against the construction of temples in Muslim-majority areas, given that Islam is a religion whose orthopraxy is almost entirely predicated on teachings from the Qur’an and ahadith.

    All this interview manages to say is that Anwar Fazal himself believes that Islam does not look poorly on the erecting of non-Muslim houses of worship in a mainly Muslim area (in this case, Seksyen 23, which incidentally, is something I am not willing to accept at face value until someone shows me demographic evidence) and nothing else.

  15. Mike says:

    My personal observation tells me this is the result of mixing race and religion, equating one to the other, a lethal mix that would inevitably end in the ethnic factor overpowering the religion factor. This has happened repeatedly in our human history. It seems Malaysia has not learned that lesson from history yet. Today, Islam is no longer as simple as a religion. Much complexity has crept into it due to political and ethnic meddling. It is now closely associated with a race, something totally alien to the religion itself yet the religion cannot fight back for its independence.

    Today anything Malay [Malaysian] also turns Islamic simultaneously. Those who are non-Malay [Malaysian] yet Muslim will eventually find themselves in an awkard position of whether to align themselves with the religion or with the race that forcibly identifies the religion with it. The cow head incident is actually the work of some intolerant Malay [Malaysians] attempting to justify their vulgar action by adding the religious ingredient into their hooligan behaviuor. This would make their distasteful action look respectable under the cloak of religious piety and a struggle for religious purity, something alien to the religion itself.

    The evidence for this can to be seen in the behaviour of the same group of people in the dialogue session in Selangor. They were not there to listen to reason and logic, something the religion enjoins to the followers. They were there to show their racist attitude, which is ironically something the religion itself forbids. The triumphalistic attitude shown after they were charged in court was indeed a blow to the religion yet a triumph to the racist struggle. The danger of this union of religion and racist idealogy will eventually lead to the destruction of the religion itself as it cannot defend itself, the religion now becomes whatever the hijackers want it to become.

    Those who refuse to agree are termed traitors of the race and religion. The genuine manifestation of the religion becomes blurred in the hands of these zealots. These are the individuals who shout the loudest, using the strongest profanities, with interludes of “Allahhu Akbar ” in between, with the idea that the loudest volume wins. They seem to have forgotten, the ones who fart in a crowded lift will always be the loudest denier when the smell begins to make itself apparent.

  16. T Devaraj says:

    It was a sad day for not only Muslims but also for all Malaysians. Let us not allow a few narrow-minded people deter us from inclusion as the basis for all human relationships. Malaysia and Malaysians are well placed to continue to demonstrate that we can live together in peace in spite of ignorant minorities who are not peculiar to just one race or religion. So as Malaysians, let’s continue to move by word and deed, from darkness to light.

  17. Anon C says:

    Let’s put things into perspective. When Muslims want to build mosque overseas including the Western countries in the like of France, Italy or even UK, the non-Muslims (being the majority) have objected for various unreasonable (and even bigoted) reasons. It is still now very difficult to build a mosque there. But the Muslims (including those who have been there for generations and citizens) perservered and still comply with the local requirements.

    What happened in this case is the same. We have always been tolerant. So in order to build the temple, why can’t the Selangor Government get everybody’s consensus? They did in the second instance and move to another place suggested by the protestor and the result was acceptable. So in essence the failure in the first instance was the failure to get a buy-in from the residents. It should not have been a religious issue.

    What has happened then is that people have started to question mosque and azan. This is totally unnecessary and insensitive. Condemn the use of cow heads as you may but why should it be turned into a tit for tat? Then you call those agreeable with the protestors (but not the use of cow head) as racists and bigots. This does not help at all and breeds further resentment to already simmering tensions.

  18. temple worshipper says:

    wan zaharizan,

    Do you honestly believe that were Mecca taken by blunt force alone, the religion of Muhammad would still stand where it is now? Wouldn’t it seem more likely that there was widespread support among the Meccans (especially among the underclasses, persuaded as they were by the ideals of the prophet) that an overhaul renovation was needed? Islam brings a sword, but weapons alone are not all that it brings.

    You can see this recurrent pattern of “upgrading” throughout many, if not most, of the ancient masjid. Mecca is the most egregious; after Medina, the 3rd holiest site, namely Al-Aqsa, is also where the Judaic Temple Mount once stood. The history of Qutb Minar in Delhi is well-known, and so is the Qazvin mosque in Iran, the latter a rededication of a Zoroastrian fire temple. The fourth holiest site, the Damascene Masjid Umayyad, was once the church of St John (the decapitated baptist), and before that a temple of Jupiter, and before that a temple of Hadad.

    Here in Malaysia, we know far too well what happens to non-Muslim temples, especially Hindu shrines. Many of them get demolished for highways, which in a sense, really forms our places of worship, cars being the new sacred cows.

    If anything, history shows that the best-remembered rulers have magnanimously demonstrated concern for the spiritual welfare of their peoples. Have the cow-head demonstrators shown any such kindness to their fellow Hindus? How then can you say the cow-heads have been proven correct by history? With such vulgarity and lack of good sense, do you think that Islam would have taken root among your ancestors in this part of the world? What does this say about the future religious orientation of the children of the perpetrators and those who tacitly condone such kejahilan? And so (playing the game we’re so fond of) who do you want to blame for that?

  19. Thanks for publishing this interview. It’s voices like Anwar Fazal’s that need to be heard softly but clearly and with the authority of good sense and quiet humility.

  20. mycuntree says:

    We all know good and true Muslims would never even think of such ridiculous objections to the location of any places of worship near or even next to mosque. While such religious and racial bigots and extremists exist in all societies, they, fortunately, exist on the very edges of these societies. We can accept that.

    The biggest question in the context of what happened in Shah Alam is how a very high government official, one who claims to represent Malaysians of all faiths, came out to unequivocally support and defend the actions of these bigoted religious extremists.

    The only way one can interpret such an action would be that it is the official policy of the government of the day to support and promote such actions by these group of religious bigots.

    Malaysia and Malaysians can do without such government officials, more so for one with a history of racial, religious and political bigotry.

  21. temple worshipper says:

    Dear editor,

    I could’ve sworn I used the Arabic plural “masaajid” above in the sentence beginning “You can see the recurrent ….” Perhaps I missed something, but you can see how the plural, in either language, is more appropriate in the context.

  22. Now I have to rebut what [has been] said against me. The tirade is funny. To fiqa, you justified the persecution of Zoroastrianism as [a] political one, but why [did] the priests flee to India to seek refuge? Can you answer me in good faith?

    The Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghan were demolished in the name of Islam by the Taliban. Are they not Muslims? That was a recent occurrence. In the name of Islam, Abu Bajar Basyir asked us to fight a holy war, and he was responsible for creating Noordin Mat Top. Again, are they not Muslims?

    Osama bin Laden is fighting a holy war under which religion? A few months back, I was taken aback by a ceremah on TV during subuh decrying the Christian and Jews as our enemies. Is that not inciting hatred?

    If Muslims are unwilling to take stock of what they have done and not correct their own Ummah, don’t blame others for thinking in the negative. Historical facts do not show that the kaabah was built by Abraham and Ismail. Historical evidence does not exist that the kaabah never had idols. What was told to us were stories, not facts. We as Muslims took it as part of our belief, yet it has nothing to do with faith.

    Part of the stories of yore told of the great flood which destroyed Qaabah. Abi Talib rebuilt it; thus the new kaabah did have idols then, and i stand by this. Stories of yore are like Malay hikayat, which glorify the Malay sultanate as descendants of Iskandar Zulkarnian … but looking at the Malays then, it is unlikely …

    Please read up on the Andalusia period where captive slaves from Europe became part of the harem. Did you know the slave trades, responsible for the blacks in Africa, were controlled by the Arabs? They were Muslims, yet these people had no qualms to trade in humans, Muslims or otherwise.

    Trust me, the more you know about history, the more you loathe Muslims, but not Islam. For faith and belief are two distinct characteristics of man.


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