There are many religions in this world, some mainstream, some outrightly weird. But the adherents have the right to believe in what they want without being attacked and ridiculed, as long as they practise their faith peacefully.
OH dear, the ‘son of God’ is stepping down. Prince Philip of England has decided to stand down from public life, apparently because he can’t stand up very much at the age of 96.
So what has God got to do with it? Well, in Vanuatu, Prince Philip is revered by a tribe as the son of their ancestral local mountain god.
The islanders pray to him every day, asking for his blessings for the banana and yam crops.
And they are all waiting for his second coming, believing that if he returns to the island he last visited in 1974, they will be blessed.
Legend has it that the son of the mountain god had travelled across the seas to marry a powerful woman. Well, Prince Philip the naval officer did marry probably the most powerful woman on earth at that time.
So, the tribe on Tanna Island in the Pacific Ocean believe he is indeed the son of god.
We may not share their belief but we can respect their right to it. There are others with equally strange beliefs.
Diego Maradona is a god, too. That is, for those who believe in Iglesia Maradoniana.
His fans started a religion for him in the year 1998 and there are more than a million followers in more than 60 countries. It seems the supporters of the Maradonian Church count the years since the football legend’s birth in 1960.
They call him D10S. That stands for Diego and the number 10 shirt he wore (diez in Spanish) and sounds like dios, meaning God in Spanish.
The Rastafarians believe that the Ethiopian King Haile Selassie is the God of All. They proclaim Zion as the original birthplace of mankind and reject “Babylon” or the world of materialism. Remember Bob Marley?
There are even those who believe in the flying spaghetti monster.
When it comes to having faith in their stars, you cannot beat the Indians. And I am not talking stars as in astrology, it’s movie stars.
There are temples for MGR and Jayalalitha, the former actors turned chief ministers in Tamil Nadu; there is a temple for Rajinikanth in Karnataka and also temples for (once) voluptuous actresses like Kushboo, Namitha and Nagma.
It’s not a south Indian thing, either. There is a temple in Kolkata where Amitabh Bachchan is revered. There is a statue and photo of him, and rituals are held every morning.
I can understand that, too. Many Indians believe that God resides in every one of us, which is why they greet each other with hands clasped when they say namaste or vanakkam, much like they would do before the idol in a temple. I guess that the more exalted souls make it as big stars and can be revered.
Which is why I have a problem with people who have problems with those of other religions.
To each his own, I say. I have heard many Muslims say that, too. After all, we all believe. None of us really knows for a fact. There’s no need for comparisons and for anyone to claim one religion to be superior to another.
As I write this, it is Wesak Day. And Chithirai Pournami. Two events, two faiths – being celebrated together in many places like Penang, Klang, Melaka and Teluk Intan. I am sure the roads are jammed, there are large crowds but we can live with that.
That’s what makes us this multiracial, multi-religious society. We can embrace each other.
After all, most religions share the same core of goodness. Siddharta Gautama set out to correct wrongs in Hinduism and Buddhism was born. Many Hindus even consider him an incarnation of Vishnu.
Shirdi Sai Baba is revered by Hindus but he lived in a mosque and his mantra was “Allah Malik” (God is King). Hindus and Muslims came to him.
Once when he wanted a drink, a Muslim and a Hindu each brought a glass of water and each wanted him to drink the water they had brought.
The sage poured the water from the two glasses into a larger container and then asked them to separate the water into the Hindu’s water and the Muslim’s water. They could not.
We are like that water. We are the same. It’s only the container that shapes us. Our parents, teachers and preachers are that container.
We all know that the Christians and Muslims are people of the book. A book that preaches kindness, and good deeds.
If only we can practise what has been taught in those books. There would have been no needless honking outside a mosque during prayer. And some kind words would have settled the matter without violence and harsh words, even from those who should know better.
There would have been no one calling devotees of a certain religion devils and the country can really hold itself up to the world as a beacon of religious freedom.
Putrajaya is now showing the way, with space for all religions. And even the Prime Minister has said that extremism must be avoided. Every Malaysian has a right to his faith and inter-faith harmony has to be safeguarded, he said. That sums it up quite nicely.
The writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org thinks that no matter what we believe in – Prince Philip, Allah, Buddha, Christ or Krishna – we are all the same.
And we should respect each other’s faith.