In the spirit of the World Interfaith Harmony Week, some Malaysians are seeking to promote diversity, peace and understanding.
WHILE some irresponsible groups have been swamping churches with banners and messages of hate, training consultant Ally Hazran Hashim, 47, decided to rally some friends to gather at his hometown church, the Holy Family Church in Kajang, with flowers, oranges and messages of love last Sunday.
This small act of compassion and harmony is exactly what the country needs amid the religious and racial tension that remains unabated.
“It was basically to show the Christians in Kajang that not all Muslims are against them. I also wanted to create awareness for all Muslims that such acts of love sharing will bring respect to our faith, Islam. Islam means peace and we represent the true Muslim believers who want peace, love and unity among all Malaysians regardless of race and religion.”
Like many, Ally is disheartened by the actions of certain groups who have been fanning racial tension in the country.
“It has prompted me to do something that will bring the focus back to unity. I really believe Malaysia as a multiracial community loves peace. It is only a few who are creating or being used to create disharmony.”
Driven by his dream of unity, Ally wasted no time in meeting Father George Harrison about organising the “Love & Peace Offering”. As soon as Father Harrison agreed, he posted a shout-out on Facebook.
“I was touched by the response I got. Some people from Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya also gave their support and said they would join me.
“I was amazed with more than 15,000 likes from other FB members and groups, and well-wishes from many Muslims from all over Malaysia. I even got a message from Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir who couldn’t join us in Kajang as she was in London during that time. That was a real motivation for me to go forward with the event.”
To his delight, he adds, a group from a Hindu temple also said they were interested in joining him.
Ally admits he has been a moderate Muslim from young.
“My personal conviction and my upbringing was always to respect other religions, and as my mother used to say: ‘Never condemn others because it is as if you are condemning your Creator himself.’ That is what I have always believed in and hold on to till today,” he says.
Fear of reproach and criticism did not enter his mind even once.
“I only wanted to go back to the basics and remind people that God created us all as human beings and the purpose of the Creator is to see everyone living peacefully, loving one another, sharing and understanding and respecting each other.
“Anyway, when God is with me, why should I be afraid of human beings? I am sharing peace, which is Islam’s true meaning, with people of other faiths. I don’t see anything wrong in preaching our faith through a simple gesture of a love offering. Let this be a sign for those who are against the true teaching to repent and understand what Islam really means.”
Still, although he believes moderation is the right path to take (“Moderation always wins ... Islam speaks of moderation,” he says), Ally feels there are times when a strong stand is needed to maintain peace.
“This is where I feel the authorities have failed, because they have not taken stern action against those who try to provoke and create unrest among races in Malaysia.
“The extremists must be brought to the court of law so that it will deter others from creating chaos and putting fear among peace-loving Malaysians.”
Ally says he has lodged various police reports against Man Namblast and Mohd Hidayat who insulted Thaipusam on Facebook, the petrol bombing at Penang’s St Assumption Church, and also the May 13 demonstration by some Malay NGOs in Seberang Prai.
“I hope action will be taken against them. I have also written to our top leaders and the religious leaders to ask them to put a stop to this racial and religious instigation.”
With some friends, the human behavioural physiologist who runs a training consultancy firm in Kajang is working to organise more interfaith gatherings, beginning with a visit to a few places of worship in Brickfields on Feb 23.
“My humble wish is that everyone will start the ball rolling in their own states too.”
His mega plan, however, is to organise a gathering of all faiths in Kajang soon, he says.
“Kajang can be the starting point of unity and peace sharing among Malaysians of all religions... let the Kajang candle light up Malaysian unity. Watch my Facebook space under the name Ally Hashim Hazran and join us.”
The label “moderate Muslim” makes her uncomfortable but lawyer Siti Kasim did not have to think hard about which side she is on when it comes to “extremist” Muslims.
“I have been following closely the development on the way our country is moving towards the ‘Talibanisation’ way of life. The issue of the banned words generally and the usage of the Allah word specifically is the icing on the cake. I can see the situation getting from bad to worse,” says Siti, who was one of the people who organised the visit to the Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Klang last month to help defuse the brewing religious tension in the country.
Very much a believer that her faith is between her and God, Siti says the attitude and behaviour of the noisy “extreme” groups riled her up so much that she was determined to make her stand on the issue.
“I feel my country has been hijacked by extremists who have a very narrow view of what Islam is. I feel these people are insulting me and other Malays, as if we don’t have our own brain to think.
“These so-called defenders of Islam and Malay rights act as if they are representing Islam and all Malays. Every time I read the news, my heart rate goes up another notch.”
When she talked to her friends, she realised they felt the same way. “We felt we must do something. So we agreed to go to the Klang church to show solidarity with our Christians friends. I wanted to get other friends to join me, so I set up an event page on Facebook and sent invitations to everyone on my Friends’ list. My other friends had the same idea and they started to use the event page to get their own friends on board, and it just went viral from there.”
The response was astounding and 30 people turned up at the church to give out flowers to the congregation as a peace offering.
“I was surprised! We just wanted to be there to show to our Christian friends that there are other Muslims who disagreed with what was going on. We also wanted to tell these so-called Muslim NGOs that they do not speak on the behalf of all Malays and not to take us for granted,” she shares.
Siti Kasim is known for her strong voice in the human rights circle – she once chastised Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar for backing down from her comment that freedom of religion is a human right for all – and this is seen in her frank words on the matter.
“The authorities seem to be endorsing these extreme groups. It seems like no one from any political divide is willing to risk their political career to do what is right. No one is willing to come forward officially to condemn their behaviour.”
Siti also says she is a strong proponent for a secular state.
“The state should be neutral. This neutrality is what is meant by secularism. It is a political principle where a secular state may be supported by religious believers and be the home of widespread religious belief.
“To me, secularism is the best guarantee for a multifaith situation. Religion will flourish under secularism. No one would be able to use religion as a political tool.”
When asked if she was worried about backlash or being reproached for her stand, Siti says, “Worried? In all honesty, I am not. I am more worried and angry at the way our country is going. I really don’t care if anyone criticises me or calls me names as I have been called a murtad many times over. I am not afraid of them as they are not God. I am only answerable to God.”
Siti calls on those who are concerned about Malaysia’s slide towards intolerance to come out and speak up.
“Show the authorities that the silent majority is no longer going to be silent. If the politicians aren’t able to do their job, we are no longer going to be quiet. More and more people are beginning to realise there is no reason to be in fear anymore. We do not have to go into battles to win the war, but speak up and stand up we must.”
Siti shares that she and her friends are not planning visits to other churches but will support other solidarity initiatives in other towns and states.
Last week, she went to support Ally’s unity initiative in Kajang.
“He contacted me to go and support him there. So I went with a few other friends. I hope there will be others, especially more Malays, who will organise the same.”
What Siti is planning is to get people out to Putrajaya on March 5 for the Leave Hearing (for the Allah case) at the Federal Court.
“I hope to show the public and the authorities that there are citizens including Malays who do not support the banning of the word Allah.”
Back to her issue of her discomfort at being called a moderate Muslim, Siti has this to say: “A Muslim is a Muslim. There are no two ways about it. The question is, which version of Islam I believe. I believe in universal goodness and compassion.
“My stand on interfaith issues is very simple. Respect. If we want other religions to respect ours, we must give the same courtesy to them too.”