I have always observed that to most of us, being religious is more important than embracing the spiritual aspect of our faith. Being religious after all only entails ritualistic observance of whatever is decreed by our faith.
And so, the Muslims fast and we pray and we pay zakat. And the Christians would go to the church on Sundays and wear a necklace with a cross pendant. The Hindus would swim in Ganges river and break coconuts in the morning before going to work. And so on and so forth.
What our faith brings us is the least of our concern. What our ritualistic observance turns us into does not matter. As long as we perform the rituals religiously, we are after all, religious. And God asks us to be religious.
Or does He?
I have always related this story to my friends. And I am going to tell it here. And let me preface it with a statement. I am not telling this story to insult or to belittle Christianity or Christians.
I used to live near one of the most active churches - if not THE most active and wealthy - in Kuala Lumpur. I have no qualm with that. That church was very active. They organised speeches and sermons almost every other night. The church goers were known to donate up to 15% of their monthly income to that church. And every time they did that, the place would be full of cars, parked everywhere.
Many drivers of the cars would try and make a 3 point turn in front of my house. That was okay by me. But out of 10, 1 or 2 would invariably knock on my gate. Of course it was unintentional. My gate lock would be bent. I had to repair that lock many times. And then the next week it would happen again.
In all the 6 years I was there, this happened many many times. However, there wasn't a single person who had stopped to ring my bell to say sorry. Nor anyone who left a note to say so. It was a small matter to me. And it was not a big deal to me.
But the thing that bothered me was this. It would appear that all the nightly sermons and speeches and all the monthly donations had done nothing to improve common courtesy among all those who had knocked my gate. And sometimes I pondered have we all ever thought what all this religiosity had done to us? Has it made us any better?
And now, at the current moment in this country, we have people who shout and scream about jihad this and jihad that. About caning a woman. About shutting up people who dare to question. About throwing the Sedition Act against some parties who are just raising awareness. What has happened to all of us? To our faith? Is our faith just about ritualistic observance of some rules and regulations?
Sometime I think we are living in a very unforgiving society. Do we blame teenaged girls for abandoning their babies in a drain at the back of a school? Or even killing their babies? In a moment of lust, they could have succumbed to human temptation and they are pregnant.
What do they do? Tell their pious father and mother about it? What would happen? They would be chased away from home? Or caned? Or even kicked and ridiculed by the whole neighborhood? Nowhere they could go without being talked about or whispered about. Oh she is so immoral! Look at her. That young immoral slut! And what will happen to the baby when he or she is born? Bastard child! Anak haram. That's what he or she is. He or she can't even have his or her father's name on his or her birth certificate. That is how unforgiving all of us are. How cruel we are. How nasty we are.
And what choice is left for the teenaged girl other than to hide the pregnancy and suffer alone. And what could she do to avoid the ignominy of being stamped "immoral and unwanted"? Are we surprised then to see so many babies are abandoned or even killed? Does our faith implore us to be such creatures?
How often do we pray for forgiveness when in fact we are unable to forgive? Why do we seek compassion when we ourselves are unable to be compassionate? Have we ever ever prayed for love? Why would we seek mercy when we are, as human beings, merciless?
Take the Palestinian issue. When the Israelis were bombing Palestine some time ago, there were text messages and e mails going around asking Muslims to pray for the destruction of Israel. And for the Jews be killed. We shed tears when we see a Palestinian mother wailing away holding her dead toddler covered with blood on the face in front of a crumbled house. And then we pray for all Jews to be killed. How about the innocent ones? How about their children? Do we laugh and smirk in satisfaction if we look at a picture of a Jewish mother wailing while holding her dead toddler? Is that okay just because that child is Jewish? Where do we go from here?
Has our faith taught us to be heartless, cruel, cold and vicious? The God that we worship and pray to is the Most Compassionate and Merciful. And yet we, His followers are the exact opposite.
What has happened to justice and fairness? Why is it wrong has become right and right has become wrong? Has our faith taught us to forgive some and punish others? Or has our God blinded us because He is tired of our antics?
Perhaps, when Kahlil Gibran wrote "Give me the Nay", he was referring to us in Malaysia now. Perhaps he had a vision of what was going to happen here now. And he wrote:"With man, religion is a field
Tilled only by those who sow it with selfish
whether preachers hoping for eternal happiness
or ignorant men who fear the flames of hell.
Without the penalty of Judgement
Man would not have worshipped any Lord
And without the promise of reward he would
as though religion were a business matter
devotion to its cause will bring him gain;
In the forest there is no religion,
no hideous blasphemies;
for when the nightingale sings
he is not saying: ‘This is just.’
The religion of man appears
like a shadow, then disappears.
After God and the Messiah
there is no religion on earth.
Give me the nay and sing,
for song is the pearl of prayers;
the laments of the nay will reach
far beyond the fading of Life.
If they heard talk of it, justice on earth would
make the jinn weep;
and if they could see it, the dead would laugh.
For those who commit a misdemeanour are
reserved prison and death;
and those who commit great crimes earn
prosperity and fame.
The man who steals the flower is censured and
while he who robs the fields is a daring and
He who murders the body is condemned to
while he who murders the soul remains
unknown to all.
In the forest there is no justice,
nor even punishment.
When the willow’s shade lengthens over the ground,
the cypress does not say: ‘What sacrilege!’
The justice of man is like snow –
once the sun sees it, it melts.
Give me the nay and sing,
For song is the justice of hearts;
the laments of the nay will endure
far beyond the ending of sin."