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Why Not?

Friday, 9 January 2015

Pray tell, why the great hatred?

Women raise their lit earthen lamps on the banks of the Yamuna river. - AFP filepic

Women raise their lit earthen lamps on the banks of the Yamuna river. - AFP filepic

IT was the morning of Dec 25. I was at a relative’ house where prayers – Hindu ones – were being held. Outside, festivities were in the air. It was Christmas, after all.

A group came over to the house, with Merry Christmas greetings and all. Then, they started on their mission, proselytisation. Upset, those in the house shook their heads and things got a little ugly.

The missionary-minded ones then stepped things up, accusing those in the house of worshipping the devil. These relatives are vegetarian but, I tell you, that got their goat. Luckily, before anyone one of them could get a bunch of drumsticks (the vegetable, not Lewis Pragasam’s tool of trade) and clobber the intruders over their heads, a saner head prevailed.

A lady stepped up and told the group to leave. “Look, let’s not get nasty with each other. We have many friends and relatives who are Christians. We live like one big family. Let’s not get into a fight over religion. Please leave,” she said. And they did.

Me, I slept through the whole thing but couldn’t help wonder later why we cannot live and let live, why we cannot accept each other as we are, and why we need to impose our views on others and expect them to conform.

Religion, after all, is a personal matter. At the end, it is the individual who answers for his actions – or so most of us believe.

Sadly, as we leave one year and enter into a new one, religion is in the eye of the storm, almost literally.

Remember when the skies opened up over Kelantan, destroyed thousands of home and livelihoods and left so many in misery? There was this guy who blamed it on the fact that hudud law had not been passed in the state. Not the logging, not the drainage, not the unfettered infrastructure. Hudud. Makes you wonder.

And the solution was? A big money seminar on Islamic law. Thank God all that is behind us and the money that is flowing in is being put to good use in helping those who were badly affected by the floods.

Now, comes that terrible incident in Paris when gunmen chose to storm a publishing house and kill police and journalists because they had printed satires about their religion.

I really have no answer to that. Religion has always been a sensitive matter, so who do you blame? The satirist who mocked someone’s religion? Or those who decided to react with such cruel, bloody brutality that hardly defines their own religion? Whatever the provocation, brutal murder cannot be the answer.

Islamic expert Dr Khaled Hanafy has this to say: “It is not a valid excuse that the magazine published anti-Prophet cartoons; insults were directed to the Prophet during his life and after his death. The Quran related such defamations and they will never stop. So, the appropriate response is through thought, art and opinion, not violence and terror.”

A truly refined response from a real expert. Guns and bombs cannot be the response to pen and crayon.

Violence just does not help. We see it as Europe rises against what it considers an invading wave of Islam. The Germans now have Pegida (strange, isn’t it, that the shrill voices in Europe and those at home seem to share similar names, although they are on different sides). These people have rallied in the thousands and they want Muslims to stay out of their country. Thankfully, both the countries’ leaders and the Christian churches have snubbed this far-right group and it’s been lights out for Pegida thus far.

It’s not just Islam and Christianity. In India, with the coming of a Hindu-centric government, the strident voices of that religion are on the rise, too.

Apparently, they are converting people out of the religions and into Hinduism. Which shows how little – and it’s often the case – the extremist know about their own religion.

Hinduism is not like a hotel. You don’t check in out or check out. It’s more like a buffet spread. You walk in, choose from the dishes on offer and set yourself down.

You can walk out and walk in again, and choose a different set of dishes, if you want.

For a religion steeped in rituals, there is no ritual to convert anyone into Hinduism or out of it. Not that I know of, anyway.

So, Mody’s merry bunch are actually making a joke of their own religion. Not very unlike the guys in the Paris publishing house.

Religion, to me, has always been about peace, acceptance, and finding our own way into the afterlife, not about sending people there first.

So, I do hope there will be moderate religious leaders who will now come forward, and join hands to heal, rather than to hate.

Ironically, the words that come to mind are words used by Charlie Hebdo after an earlier round of attacks – love is stronger than hate.

> The writer, who can be reached at raj@thestar.com.my is now on his annual fast for Thaipusam. He will have for company some close family members – Hindus and Christians.

Tags / Keywords: religion , violence , charlie hebdo

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