Be careful about swearing on holy books

PERHAPS Matthias Chang had taken a cue from International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz, who made her infamous teary oath on the Quran over the AP issue last July. 

The former political secretary to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, however, went further.  

He got a stack of holy books, including the Quran and the Bible, to swear upon these religious texts that he was not involved in businesses in the country and abroad. 

There was no provocation from anyone to drive him to do that. 

I doubt if even Dr Mahathir, who has a good religious upbringing and a great tolerance for other faiths, approves of such an act. 

Like the Muslims, I am sure followers of the other faiths also frowned on the way their religious books had been used.  

Among the Muslims, the Quran is a revered text of Allah’s commands to the ummah on managing their families and governments, making judicial decisions, doing business, becoming socially accepted and providing a host of practical and spiritual guidelines to the Islamic way of life. 

And there are certain protocols to be adhered to when handling the Quran, as even young Muslims learning their first alphabets know. 

The children are taught that the Quran is not like any other textbook or file that you carry under your armpit or lumped together with other schoolbooks. 

When you see the children going to their Quran nurseries, you see them carrying the Quran over their head or carrying it diligently in their right hand. 

The Quran is laid over a rehal (which, thankfully, Rafidah did), or over a pillow or a mat, or any layer that can shield the Holy Book from any suspected unclean surface. 

In Muslim homes, it is placed in a shelf or showcase of its own – normally at high locations – to project its revered status. 

Furthermore, before handling a Quran, the faithful must first perform the ablution (wudhu’), the cleansing ritual to absolve oneself from negative or unclean thoughts and to focus only on the act of worship. 

And then, before taking an oath, he has to recite a preamble in the name of Allah and His Messenger, Prophet Muhammad. 

Needless to say, even good Muslims are careful when they have to swear on the Quran, for whatever reason. It is not as simple as just placing a hand on the holy book and saying, “I’ll be damned if I am telling a lie.” 

Admittedly, I am quite naive about the protocols used by followers of other faiths when handling their holy scriptures but I dare say they would agree that Chang’s action – which he chose to perform only in front of the Chinese press and the foreign media – was in bad taste. 

His timing, too, was embarrassingly poor as it came at a time when the ulamas were being criticised over the issue of kongsi raya, which has since been resolved after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said they were merely social events and had no religious significance. 

Chang’s move then, only serves to fuel the notion among the ulamas that the Islamic lifestyle is in danger of being usurped by elements of liberalism and pluralism. 

For half-a-decade, Malaysians of different races, faiths and cultural backgrounds seem to be getting on well together. Socially and in business partnerships, their relationship has been successful. 

In a world plagued with prejudices, suspicions and back-stabbings, these elements have diminished in Malaysia and the country is a shining example of a rich melting pot where unity is found in diversity. Let us continue to live like that.  

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