COMMENTBy K. PARKARAN
IN FOUR days, Hindus throughout the world will be celebrating Deepavali.
Since childhood, the auspicious occasion has been special to me. Besides the family reunions that bring so much joy, my memory goes back to that little green wooden house in Butterworth, which I called home.
It was in that attap-roofed house that my classmate Datuk Noorazman Abdul Aziz never failed to visit my family every Deepavali day. Noorazman, who is currently the Bank Islam Malaysia Bhd Group managing director, loved the ghee balls (nei oorundei) that my mum used to make.
When he sent me a text message from Mecca two weeks ago saying that he was performing his umrah with his family, I replied asking him to include my loved ones and me in his prayers.
“Sure, my good friend, I will be glad to do that. I will talk to you when I get back,” was his reply. Such is Noorazman’s Bangsa Malaysia spirit, inculcated in the days of old.
There were dozens of other Muslim, Christian and Buddhist friends who made it a point to visit my family on Deepavali day, some actually gate crashing. We looked forward to all festivals for some clean fun and joy.
These nostalgic memories came to my mind when the issue of Takaful Malaysia’s religious department head Fauzi Mustaffar sending an internal circular forbidding Muslim staff from extending Deepavali greetings to Hindus surfaced last week.
It was reportedly said in the circular that because Hindu festivals involved worship of deities, expressing greetings were akin to practising polytheism and was against Islamic tenets.
It was depressing, to say the least, when a man of his standing chose to hurt the feelings of fellow Malaysians knowingly or unknowingly. It was a dampener of sorts to many of us whose only home is Malaysia. Many Hindus, understandably, were annoyed.
On the other hand, do we allow one insensitive and irresponsible man to deprive us of the joy of celebrating this occasion with our Malaysian brothers irrespective of their religion? Of course not, as Information Minister Datuk Zainuddin Maidin had said that the act by the Takaful executive gave the wrong picture of Islam and its followers to those from other faiths.
“Such an act did not portray the spirit of brotherhood adopted by Muslims,” he said.
We could do with more moderate Muslims in the country speaking up against Fauzi to drive home the fact that Malaysia is a moderate, tolerant and progressive multi-religious country which does not tolerate religious bigotry.
Sadly this subject featured prominently in family discussions and although many Malaysians believe and know that it was an extremely narrow interpretation of one man. Their fear is, understandably, how many more “Fauzis” could be hiding in their closets.
Some are known to surface once in a while and utter some similar statements to hurt the feelings of fellow citizens. Naturally, this is followed by expressions of anger and frustration especially on the Internet where emotions are not checked. In some cases, this unfortunate incidents drive fear into peace-loving Malaysians who look at other options like migration.
That leads to a brain drain which the Government is fighting to stop. In fact, it has launched a “brain gain” programme to bring back our professionals doing well overseas. Let us remind ourselves that actions similar to the Takaful circular will hinder the nation’s progress.
Perhaps we all should remember the obvious fact that the nation was being run from taxes paid by all income earners irrespective of their religious background. Why, shopkeepers selling Hindu paraphernalia also contribute to the nation’s coffers.
In the meantime, let us not be overly upset with Fauzi. We should perhaps forgive him in the spirit of Deepavali and Ramadan and enjoy the week-long break from Friday.
To my friend Noorazman and all Muslims, here’s a “Selamat Hari Raya.” I am anticipating Deepavali greetings from him via the SMS.
COMMENTBy SUHAINI AZNAM
THE muruku and rendang are almost ready.
Within three days of each other, Hindus and Muslims worldwide will soon celebrate two religious festivals: Deepavali and Aidilfitri.
But choking from the smoke emanating from the kitchen, Fauzi Mustaffar, head of the Syariah department of insurance company Takaful Malaysia, issued an internal circular to Muslim staff not to greet Indian friends Happy Deepavali, on the rationale that by doing so, they would be celebrating the festivals of those with other deities.
This would be syirik (against Islam) as Islam is monotheistic.
Fauzi was serious. He had gone on to say “Muslims who have inadvertently wished Hindus a Happy Deepavali, Happy Durga Pooja or Happy Lakshmi Pooja must immediately repent and not repeat it in the future.”
To me, Happy Deepavali is just a wish that my friends enjoy the festivities, both the religious obligations and the social merry-making.
When invited, I always make it a point to attend the Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, Datuk G. Palanivel’s open house and to greet every Indian there a Happy Deepavali.
Some turned out to be Christian but that was okay. They took it in the spirit of the season.
But Fauzi has made me uncomfortable. Not by what he said but that there are probably many more like-minded Fauzis sitting quietly in innocuous offices.
Conversely, how would we feel if in the midst of sailing out the door, only our Muslim colleagues wished us a Selamat Hari Raya? I would feel a loss.
Last week, four friends sat together in a restaurant to break fast. The two Hindus waited politely for the azan maghrib before tucking into the plate of dates we shared. Then my Indian colleague asked if I was going to wish her a Happy Deepavali this year. If she was not such a good friend, I would have been mortified.
As a generous religion of peace, what message are we sending out to those of other faiths?
The fact that his “personal” interpretation has been roundly quashed and the Malaysia Hindu Sangam has made a police report has not assuaged my discomfiture.
Just last June, the national ulama conference in Ipoh declared that Muslims should not celebrate the festivals of religions other than Islam. They were free, however, to attend open houses as a social occasion.
This gathering also enjoined Muslims not to give ang pows to the children of their Chinese hosts, as this was part of the Chinese custom celebrated at Chinese New Year.
One’s children could, however, receive ang pows from them and the Muslim could give out duit raya when their children visited his home during Hari Raya, said Perak Mufti Datuk Seri Harusanni Zakaria, who chaired the conference working committee.
Confused? Welcome to Malaysia.
The holding of joint Hari Raya and Chinese New Year open houses, under the banner of kongsiraya was also frowned upon.
But why are we so intent on antagonising our fellow Malaysians? And is our faith that weak?
As I recall, duit raya stretched back at least to when I was in ponytail and pinafores. Receiving 50 cents then was a lot of money.
It is only in the past couple of decades that banks have been commercialising the practice by handing out little green packets in which to put the money.
There seems to be an effort by the guardians of our religion to take a narrow, moral high ground when it comes to dealing with fellow Malaysians.
Underlying it is a “you versus me” thinking – as opposed to a “you and me” world view.
The danger is that it is the Fauzis who will clash with the so-called “Western- educated liberals” who are demanding a re-look at some legal provisions: Article 11, conversion, the jurisdiction of syariah courts for the non-Muslim half of a marriage, inheritance laws and custody of Muslim children when the mother is not Muslim.
These are the complexities before us today. They are not necessarily bad things – for they demand the constant thinking and evaluation of Islam’s tenets. These are what make Islam a living religion.
But the reality is that Malays in particular, cannot differentiate between race and religion. We are equally and at all times, Malay and Muslim.
While there are Indians who are Hindus, Christians and Muslims, and Chinese who are Buddhists, Christians and Taoists, by constitutional definition and in their own heart, Malays are Muslim.
And here we are, all living together for at least three generations now – and all the richer for it.
I would like to wish all my Hindu friends a very joyous Deepavali.
May the light of good always triumph over evil.
And to my Muslim friends, Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri.
After a month of abstinence and reflection, may our faith grow so strong as to take us into the homes of any of our neighbours to join in the festivities with glad heart.
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