Categorised | Columns

Upholding what is sacred in Islam

A real dialogue (All pics courtesy of Mas Hamzah)

AS a Muslim foreigner coming to Malaysia from the Arab world, I was filled with curiosity and excitement at the chance to witness Islam in a country like Malaysia which we look up to as a developed, thriving Muslim country rich in cultural and religious diversity.

Since arriving, I have also had the privilege of befriending Malay, Chinese and Indian Malaysians, which have made my experience here not only deeper and richer but also more realistic.

One day during this month of Ramadan, my Indian Malaysian housemate invited me to join a dinner gathering at her friend’s house so I would not have to break fast alone. It was then that I first heard about the 28 Aug 2009 cow-head protest against the Hindu temple relocation in Shah Alam. The incident had happened a day earlier.

I was shocked and horrified, and felt a mixture of deep sadness and fear. Fear for where this incident could lead Malaysia, because of the actions of a few irresponsible people who have no religion and know no God. An Arab sage once said, “The greatest of fires are started by the smallest of sparks.”

But a Chinese proverb also says the best way to fight darkness is to light one candle. And it was clear to me from that dinner gathering that Malaysians know how to extinguish a fire before it can even start. It was obvious to everyone who was sitting there that the protest was politically fuelled and spoke in no way of tensions between the Hindu and Muslim community in Malaysia.

Lighting candles

Immediately, I saw so many candles lighting up, stories of mosques, churches and temples standing together side-by-side in Penang, stories of compassion and tolerance in places like Terengganu. (An Indian Malaysian Christian friend told me the Muslims and non-Muslims there were so close she could even read the Qur’an.)

But the biggest candle that lit up during the dinner was the idea from our friend Ambiga about Muslims going to the Hindu temple in Section 19, Shah Alam that was to be relocated. The visit would be to show solidarity with the community, and disapproval of the cow-head protest. I looked at my housemate and said: “Let’s do it!”

And indeed, with the help of my two Muslim friends, Mas and Nazreen, we gathered a group of 25 people and went down to the temple in Shah Alam on Friday, 4 Sept 2009, to meet the temple people. We greeted them with flowers and fruits, and they received us with appreciation and gratitude, and welcomed us in even while their prayers were being held.

Muslim offerings of peace

Sitting down with them at the more-than-a-century-old temple, they gave us background information about the temple’s problems, and the issue of relocation which has been unresolved for two decades now. The current temple needed renovations, which they were not allowed to carry out without a police permit, they said. They also needed a police permit for their special prayers if that drew a larger than usual crowd, they told us.

The temple committee said they were open to the idea of relocation as long as it was in a suitable place for their prayers. But for too long, the plans for relocation kept getting postponed.

A large area beside the temple was also fenced off. When we asked the temple people about it, they said: “The area now fenced in used to be an open space where devotees could park their cars when they come for prayers. In December last year, Pewaris came and fenced off the open space, so that devotees now have no place to park.”

Our group spent time asking questions and discussing the situation, hoping that the meeting with the state executive council the following day would reach a satisfying solution over the temple’s relocation.

Upholding Islam

While we were at the temple, we realised that the harm had already been done on the national level, and our small action of solidarity was merely healing the wound on a personal level. But what united all of us in this gathering was our deep conviction that the cow-head protest does not represent Malaysia or Islam. Even though only a small number of us visited the temple, we know that the protest has caused outrage among many Muslims and non-Muslims all over the country.

It was clear to the temple people and to many of us that the reasons for protesting the temple relocation were “manufactured”. In many places all over Malaysia, temples, churches and mosques exist together in the same area, and no one complains about “the noise”.

That these protests were politically orchestrated also crossed my mind the next day when I watched the video of the unfortunate council meeting held on 5 Sept 2009. What looked like the same protesters hijacked the meeting. They looked like gangsters running around the hall hysterically, trying to disrupt the meeting in any way, while the residents sat through the melee calmly. It reminded me of how some governments in the Arab world used to pay gangsters to violently disrupt peaceful demonstrations, keeping away while others did their dirty work.

When we went to the temple our messages were very clear: we refuse political games in the name of Islam. And we refuse to be associated with the actions of a few who acted so disgracefully, and yet had no shame in chanting Allah’s name during their protest.


For so many years, politically motivated groups have worked so hard to taint, put down, fight and step on whatever is sacred and holy to us, and then blame it on Islam and Muslims to divide communities and people. We can no longer afford to allow them to imprison us with feelings of shame for actions they are responsible for, leaving us frustrated trying to defend that which is not Islam. It is time for every Muslim to really act on what Islam is and what it means to him or her.

And that is exactly what this small action of solidarity symbolised to me — an acting out of compassion and respect for others. I’m not an expert in the Quran nor a religious scholar, but I have a personal understanding of the spirit of Islam, which is supposed to guide us all in our actions.

Interestingly, it wasn’t until the night of the temple visit that I came across this verse in the Quran by chance. It is a verse that rejects the abuse or humiliation of others:

Allah says what can be translated as, “And do not abuse the ones whom they worship apart from Allah, (or) then they would abuse Allah aggressively without knowledge ….” (Surah 6 Al-An’am: 108)

I urge all Muslims and Malaysians to rely on this inner guidance and not allow the ignorance of a few and their own selfish goals to succeed in making us shut down our minds and hearts. Our only way out is to uphold and protect what is sacred to us. favicon

Hadil El-Khouly is a 24-year-old Egyptian Muslim and a women’s rights activist who is currently visiting Malaysia.

See also:
No Islamic prohibition against temple

The Nut Graph needs your support

Post to Twitter Post to Google Buzz Post to Delicious Post to Digg Post to Facebook Post to StumbleUpon

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

31 Responses to “Upholding what is sacred in Islam”

  1. siew eng says:

    Moral of the story…walk like an Egyptian 🙂

    Thanks, Hadil! Owe you a halal Chinese food buka puasa.

  2. Tan Soo Inn says:

    Kudos to Hadil El-Khouly! It’s not enough to curse the darkness. Let us light candles instead! Thanks for showing us the way! Here is another attempt to light candles.

  3. Emi says:

    A very good article. I hope this act of solidarity reaches far and wide, not only capped to [one] area, insyallah.

    From a global point of view, Malaysia is looking worse everyday in regards to religious freedom. I come from Singapore where all religions are respected. New temples get built, new mosques, new churches, etc without any setbacks and ignorance. Good luck Malaysia.

  4. intan says:

    Thank you for this wonderful piece.

    Siew Eng, can join ah for this halal Chinese food buka puasa?

  5. James says:

    Bravo indeed to the exceptional few wise and knowledgeable Muslims who thoroughly understand Islam as it really is. With the threat of religious terrorism hanging over all our heads, it is indeed most brave of you all to not only speak out BUT also to do something constructive and morally correct about it.

    Terima kasih and peace be with you and your kind always.

  6. benny says:

    If there [were] more people like you guys [and gals], Malaysia [would] definitely be One! =)

  7. Nitin says:

    I think it takes moral and physical courage to do what you did, Hadil. Hats off to you and to millions of other obscure but otherwise true believers of religion as it needs to be understood and practised. With servile manners and humility. As the saying goes in Hindi.. Sab Ka Malik Ek.. which means .. there is only ONE God, we just know him/her by different names, as per our beliefs and faiths.

  8. canvas says:

    I hope Malay [Malaysian] Muslims can mobilise such support and gather bigger voices for solidarity. Why hasn’t that been so? I only hear a few, the usual few. It makes me doubt if these bigotted views are really a minority. The world’s greatest atrocities build momentum when the so-called moderates from the oppressing groups fail to speak up, and let the bigoted voice rule the day.

  9. Nigel says:

    Thank goodness 🙂

  10. Dragon Leo says:

    I totally agree with you. My family, we are Chinese Malaysian Christians. We have foreigners from Arab Saudi, Iraq, Yemen and [Philippines] staying with us. We have a cross hung above the our entrance door.

    They respect our religion as we respect theirs. Even when they leave us, we still communcate with them as a family. We live like a family with them. We always pray for peace for them. We have Muslim Malay [Malaysian] families who see that but make no fuss.

    We never bear any hatred [toward] them. Sometimes, they would also cook Arabian meals and ask us to join them. We do without any hesitation. Even their mid-Eastern friends would want to join them or have a gathering with them. When any of them are sick, we show concern by taking them to see a doctor. We offer them our help when we can. We feel very pleased and happy doing that. They treat my family like their family. It’s sad to know that it’s not happening to others.

  11. Paul Warren says:

    You know, just these few who turned up at the temple bearing gifts is more than enough to motivate and move the rest of us to tread with what is beautiful than to be intimidated by what is ugly. Which of the two groups represent the Malay race? This is why I will not be cowed into allowing a bunch of hooligans to set the assumptions I have of the Malay race.

  12. megabigBLUR says:

    Thanks for your perspective. We Malaysians have a lot of arguments and discussions among ourselves and we also see reports from the Western media, but it’s interesting to see points of view from other countries too.

  13. Joanne Lee says:

    There are plenty of Chinese-Muslim restaurants in Kota Damansara.

  14. Nadia says:

    This brought tears to my eyes.

  15. aliena says:

    Thank you for noticing what I’ve learnt all these years as a Malaysian. When I was a kid living in Klang, at the back of our flats was a cemetery area shared by everyone. Also, interestingly, my parents never said anything I’d imagine to be racist, and they’re not even the modern types. Even to this day, I’m surprised whenever I hear someone of a different race saying something hurtful just because they think they’re the ones with the sentiment. We’re all in the same boat, and we need to make sure that future generations know that we’ve sowed the seed, they have to carry the torch. To my fellow Muslims, imagine the shame we’d have to bear if we can’t perform our azan and prayers just because it’s in a residential area. As a wise man said, it’s not tolerance we’re aiming for. It’s understanding.

  16. yapsir says:

    Calling the nation to participate in the”Fast for the Nation” on 16 Sept 2009. Let peace, harmony, mutual understanding come through all true Malaysians.

  17. Ratna says:

    Well said, dear Hadil!! I am deeply sadden by what’s happened, yet I firmly believe truth will triumph over falsehood, and I hope Malaysia will learn a valuable lesson set by this small group of people who showed real beauty of solidarity. Hats off to Hadil & Co.

  18. Farouq Omaro says:

    I hope the writer could visit Sabah and get to know Sabahans (the original ones and not the Project IC holders) also. In Sabah, you can see Muslims attending weddings and funerals in churches. You can see Christians sitting alongside Muslims on the floor when the Muslims are reciting the Surah Yasin. You will see Muslim families where one member has converted to Christianity (though it is becoming rarer) and Christian families where one member has converted to Islam. Muslims and non-Muslims can be seen eating together in Chinese eateries. You will see a section for halal food in non-Muslim weddings. And you may also see beer or rice wine being served at the back in Muslim weddings! This uniqueness of Sabah should be preserved, but I fear certain indoctrination may slowly be killing it.

  19. Karabo says:

    Hypocrisy is a better word for almost all believers that go to houses of God.

  20. Wan Zumusni says:

    My mum’s Chinese and my dad is Malay from Kelantan in East Coast Malaysia where the Chinese and Malay [Malaysians] live well. I’ve friends from diff races, nationalities and religions who have stayed in my house and stayed in a Hindu friend’s house in S’pore. We’ve got to live peacefully and understand each others’ culture – treat others the way we want to be treated. Great job, Hadil!

  21. Leila says:

    Very well done Hadil! My heart supports you. We are all ONE,There is no GOD but ONE GOD, different Names and different Manifestations of HIM. The day Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists [etc] understand that very simple deep truth the world will be at peace. It is our job and duty to each RE-CONNECT with this SEED OF ONENESS in our hearts and express ourselves from there. This is my deepest wish to all humans beings. Assalamu alaikum.

  22. sumat says:

    Thank you very very much Hadil. You are a wonderful Muslim.

  23. M.K. says:

    Let us pray that our Muslim brothers and sisters who came to the temple with offerings will no be arrested by those in power. They are the true Muslims who know the meaning of love and compassion.

  24. ifeoluwa(szeged) says:

    Nice article Hadil. I wish the whole world will respect each other’s beliefs.

  25. lovely says:

    Happy to hear at least there are some Muslims who understand other religions. Jai ho Hadil. 🙂

  26. Aisha Rafea says:

    I liked this article by Hadil because it puts it very clear that those who are disgraceful to others’ beliefs are violating the very spirit of Islam. They do it out of personal ignorance and desperate souls, not Islam. I also liked the positive behavior of Hadil, her friends and all other open-hearted people. We need such actions that enhance the spirit of oneness and respect among humans. We should not leave the area for sick people to spread violence and exclusion. We have to do that without hating anyone, even those whose attitudes we do not approve of. That is, we have to behave in a way that enhances love, which means to have no trace of rejecting them, rather rejecting their behavior, and pray that one day they are healed from that inner motivation for hostility and violence. Thank you Hadil.

  27. Mohd Adlan b jaamat says:

    Wow, as a Malay Muslim, this is so new to me. What has been done by Hadil is something that we Malays should ponder and think of. Islam is about love, so instead of expressing our hate and feelings using force and injustice, we should show others Islam through love, affection and devotion. You’re like a small light that brings us hope to change people’s view of Islam in this country. Good luck Hadil.

  28. Really good piece, Hadil. I liked that you pointed out that Malaysians know how to put a fire out. It restores faith and optimism.

    Yours buoyantly….

  29. Farah says:

    Thank you for writing such a lovely article. Especially from a foreigner’s perspective. In all honesty, after reading the cow head incident article, I admit, I was most ashamed to call myself a Malay, let alone a Malaysian. But reading your piece was indeed very refreshing and I thank you again for restoring my faith in my own people and my country. Kudos to you and your friends.

    I hope everyone else realizes that we should not allow a few close-minded bigots define who we are and draw racial lines in between us on which we ourselves are not allowed to cross. I am a Malaysian first. Then a Muslim and then Malay. I have faith now. 1Malaysia always.

  30. Religion is a personal matter as you understand it. Why make it a public issue when you don’t even know your own religion? What have you done to protect your religion? You don’t even know your own religion so how to protect?

  31. tzem yeng says:

    Thank you, Hadil for your moving piece that has lit yet another candle in the dark.

Most Read (Past 3 Months)

Most Comments (Past 3 Months)

  • None found




  • The Nut Graph


Switch to our mobile site