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Friday, January 28, 2011

The Interlok Quagmire

The political and social typhoons caused by the book "Interlok" had come and apparently gone. A "solution," in the form of a compromise, has, as is usual in Malaysia, been found and announced.

I have not read the book. From whatever I had read in the past few weeks on the subject, as I understand it, the book is a mandatory read in our school as part of the Malay literature curricular. The objections taken against the book is the fact that it contains the dreaded "P" word, which is deemed demeaning by Indian Malaysians.

Interlok is a book authored by our National Laureate, Abdullah Hussain. It was written in 1967 as an entry for a national writing competition commemorating the 10th anniversary of our independence.  Apparently in the 1970s, the book was already used in our schools as a text book for the Malay literature subject.

Quite frankly, I can't for the life of me remember that book although I was in Form 4 and 5 in late 70s. If I recollect, the modern Malay literature mandatory reading at that time was Sandera (which had also won some sort of a competition to commemorate our independence - I remember that book well because it was one of the worst novel I had ever read!) The non-prose mandatory book then was a poem anthology called Di Penjuru Mata Mu, which was a gem of a book, if I may add.

From various reports, I gather that Interlok's theme was one of unity between Malaysia's three main races, the Malays, Chinese and Indians which ran back from the 1900s. In other words, it is a period story, which is a story set in a certain era in the past.

Why the sudden outcry, if I may ask?

It has been around for so many years and now suddenly it has become an issue. Why?

The arguments against the usage of the book, among others, is that it contains the dreaded "P" word (well, heck, this is a blog, and so I am going to use it anyway, it contains the word "pariah"). Granted, that word, if used to describe an individual or a group of individuals now, would be demeaning to them, especially if they are Indians.

However, the story in Interlok is set in the early to mid 1900s. Such word was in fact being used then, just as the word "Keling" was being used in Sejarah Melayu, 400 hundred years ago. (In fact in Penang, we do have Masjid Kapitan Keling. So, are we to change that name?) In keeping with the period against which the story was set, the author used the word. I suppose he had wanted to make the story realistic.

What is the problem with that? It is not as if the author is saying all Indians come from that caste.

The deeper objection is not the against the book but against the decision by the Education Ministry to use that book as a mandatory reading in our schools. While I agree to a certain extent that the Ministry should have been more circumspect in choosing a book for mandatory reading, I could not see anything principally wrong with the decision.

On Tweeter, someone said that the usage of the book may give the impression to the students that such derogatory term is acceptable.

Okay. First of all that consequence is not the result of the book. It is also not the result of the decision to use the book as mandatory reading. That would be the result of the lack of education or the lack of depth among our students. That signifies a wider and deeper underlying social, and perhaps even, political issues which pervade our society at large nowadays. The book has nothing to do with that.

In fact, I would dare to argue that the usage of the book Interlok as mandatory reading could be used to create positive awareness among our students that such derogatory term is unacceptable; that it is passe to do so; that political correctness in this millennium demands the removal of such term from our daily vocabulary and that it is not cool to call any of our brothers and sisters as such.

As a Malay student in late 60s and early 70s, I was taught Malay folklore where the Malays were portrayed as stupid (read Lebai Malang); lazy and dreaming (read Pak Pandir). In Si Luncai and in fact Sejarah Melayu (which was mandatory reading in Form 6), we were told that the Malay rulers were greedy, sex crazed, willing to sacrifice their people for personal gains and that the palace was full of intrigue, back stabbing, jealousy and envy and  power crazy people.

In Hikayat Hang Tuah, we were told that Hang Tuah went to Pahang just to steal a woman from her fiancee so that he could present that woman to his King as a present. Hang Tuah had also apparently jumped into a sewage pond to safe the King's horse, such was his undivided loyalty to his King. Hang Jebat on the other hand frolicked with the King's concubines.

In Badang, he even swallowed the puke of a jembalang just so that he would get superhuman strength!

Isn't that demeaning to me, a Malay? Do we change those story in 2011 in order to make it politically correct? Or to make it - to borrow current parlance - "cool"?

As a young student, I was confronted with those innuendos about my race, my culture and even my faith. Did I shout and scream and run away to a dark corner, sulking and brooding? Were the people of my generation too laid back such that nothing was said about those things?

The answer is surely no. We did not do a thing as like everybody else, we have to confront reality, no matter how hard or harsh the reality may be. The truth is, we will never be peaceful with ourselves until we accept reality. Only after that can we strive to be better and stronger.

While the above is true of everyone of us as individuals, it is also true with us as a nation - as Malaysia. Why must we view everything through a racist and jingoistic eyes?

Having said that, I must comment on the supposed "solution" announced by the Deputy Prime Minister yesterday.

Truthfully, I just wanted to laugh!

The so called solution is that the book Interlok is going to continue to be used but with amendments. What the hell for, if I may ask bluntly?

If a book - by our National Laureate, no less - had to be amended before it could be made mandatory reading in our school, why the hell did we decide to use that book in the first place?

What do we do next? Take away all the work "Keling" from Sejarah Melayu? And amend Pak Pandir and Lebai Malang to make the main Malay protagonist look and sound smarter. And what shall we do to Si Luncai? Do we change the part where he jumped into the sea with his "labu" just so that the King's man would not look too stupid?

Where do we stop?

And, if I were the author of Interlok, I would say, "over my dead body, mate!"

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hairy Chua and the Glove of Gutter Politics

Aah, Dr Chua Soi Lek.

He who modifies the word "motherf**ker" to "personal friend f**ker". Finally he finds that he has a voice after all. That he can speak. That he can express himself orally and vocally, without the help of a video-cam. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Quite often in the past, when circumstances demanded that he speaks, in his capacity as the President of MCA, in order to voice out the grievances and hopes of the Chinese community, which his party claims to represent, he failed miserably.

Quite often in the past, when occasions presented themselves and he did speak, he would do an about turn and wash out the contents of his speech after being chided like a 5 year old boy by the UMNO leadership.

Quite often in the past, he did not find within his anatomy and senses to even utter a single word at the likes of Perkasa and Pekida, which continue to hurl abuses after abuses at the community his party, and himself, claim to represent.

If matters concerning the very particular community his party claims to represent escape his attention, what more about matters concerning other Malaysians and Malaysia at large. Oh well, I suppose, they are not his "personal friends" and therefore he doesn't want to screw around with them.

So, as I was saying, suddenly, Dr Chua (why must it be always the Doctors?) finds that he has a voice. That he can speak. And so he speaks. Yes. He who-was-caught-with-his-pants-down-while-shaking-another-woman-without-wearing-a-glove has spoken.

Awesome. Because the world has been waiting for this messiah of good manners and free love to speak for quite sometime. What an occasion. I mean, this must have been more stupendous than when Chi Chi the gay panda started to look a bit interested in Ivy the virgin panda. Like, wow.

At a time when the Malaysian economy is said to be overly dependent on the American economy, thus putting our economy at risk due to the instability of the American economy, what did Dr Chua speak about?

At a time when Petronas' income and how it is spent is shrouded in mystery and more closely guarded than the Pope and Obama put together, what did Dr Chua speak of?

At a time when principles of equality, universal human rights; issues on corruptions; leakages of government's spending; subsidy cutting; over bloated public service and infrastructure expenditures; widening national budget deficit; rempits on the roads; rising police death; widening national rifts involving religion and race; plus numerous other and myriads of issues of national importance, what subject did Dr Chua find the time to sharpen his hitherto non-existent oratory skills with?

Yes.

Dr Chua finds the time to speak about the PAS lady candidate for the Tenang by-election refusing to shake hands with males without wearing her glove. According to him, a lady like that would not come to a temple. Says he:

"She will not come here (a Chinese temple), she doesn't even shake hands with the people. I have received complaints about this.

“She is like Anwar Ibrahim's wife. She wears gloves when she shakes hands. If you can accept this kind of Islamic values, go ahead and vote for PAS."

Well Dr Chua, I don't know about going to visit a temple, but one thing for sure, I know she wouldn't be caught in a hotel room having sex like a rabbit while being video-taped.

Straight after, Dr Chua's unlikely ally, deputy Domestic Trade Cooperative and Consumer Affair minister Tan Lian Hoe of Gerakan chipped in to say that   her practise was proof of PAS's goal to establish "an extremist Islamic state". How very astute. I suppose soon Puan Normala would be carrying explosives and blow the temple in Tenang to smithereens eh Madam Tan?

If that was not enough, Madam Tan, she from the non-existent party, continued:

This is the most basic thing... Not only men, but when she shakes hands with women, she also needs to wear glove....This is not friendly. It's as if she thinks our hands are dirty... I hope the Chinese voters are careful (with Islamic state). We are very worried about the Islamic state. They want to implement an extremist Islamic state."

Dear Madam Tan. First of all, it was not PAS who declares Malaysia as an Islamic state. It was Dr Mahathir, your supreme leader who declared that. Then as recent as last week, it was your leader, the Deputy Prime Minister, who declared before Hillary Clinton that Malaysia is an Islamic country. Get it? So, before you accuse of some people of being extremist, could you first look into your own skirt, eh I mean backyard, and see your own warts, okay?

If the two of you, Dr and Madam, are not clever enough to know that Muslim women wear glove to shake hands with men not because they are not friendly or they think that your hands are dirty, allow me to educate you. They do so because the Quran prohibits touching of between people of opposite sex who are non-Muhrims. If you don not know what non-Muhrims mean, go and google it yourself because really, I don't want to spoon feed both of you.

Despite being taken to task by none other than the Deputy Prime Minister himself, Dr Chua had remained adamant that he did nothing wrong. As it is, he is reported by Malaysiakini to have said:

"So what is so great about that? That is your religious value which I don't know. How am I to know about the religious values when I'm not practising that religion?”

"I have the right to say that it's basic manners to shake hands with people. That's my values. Understand? You also must value my value, which is good manners, which includes shaking hands."

Well Dr Chua, if your knowledge of Muslim sensitivities and the Malay culture is as much as you know about how not to get caught having sex while being videoed, then perhaps you should retire and open a karaoke centre  somewhere in Muar, no?

You live in a multi-ethnic-faith country, for God's sake. At the very least, own up to your mistake, like you owned up to your past mistake. Then say sorry. And move on.

That would be good manners, don't you think?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lakbir Singh

A farmer named Lakbir Singh was overseeing his herd in a remote pasture in Bolehland when suddenly a brand-new BMW advanced out of a dust cloud towards him.

The driver, a young Malay man in an Armani suit, Gucci shoes, Ray-Ban sunglasses and YSL tie, leans out the window and asks the farmer, "If I tell you exactly how many cows and calves you have in your herd, will you give me a calf?"

Lakbir looks at the man, obviously a yuppie, then looks at his peacefully grazing herd and calmly answers, "Sure, why not?"

The yuppie parks his car, whips out his iPad, connects it to his Cingular RAZR V3 cell phone, and surfs to a NASA page on the Internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo.

The young man then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg, Germany . Within mere seconds, he receives  an email on his iPhone 4  that the image has been processed and the data is stored.

He then accesses a MS-SQL database through an ODBC connected Excel spreadsheet with email on his iPhone 4 and, after a few minutes, receives a response. Finally, he prints out a full-colour, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized HP LaserJet printer and finally turns to the farmer and says, "You have exactly 1,586 cows  and calves."

"That's right. Well, I guess you can take one of my calves," says Lakbir.

He watches the young man select one of the animals and looks on amused as the young man stuffs it into the trunk of his car.

Then Lakbir says to the young man, "Hey, if I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my calf?"

The young man thinks about it for a second and then says, "Okay, why not?"

"You're a graduate from Oxford and a Member of Parliament for Umno," says Lakbir.

"Wow! That's correct," exclaims the yuppie with the customary Umno's Wow Factor,  "But how did you guess that?"

"No guessing required," answered Lakbir. "You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, and to a question I never asked. You tried to show me how much smarter you are, and you don't know a thing about cows. This is a herd of sheep."

Now give me back my dog."

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Three Faces of Malaysia

In just 10 days this year, I witness with absolute disbelief three faces of Malaysia.

A non-Muslim lawyer - apparently, he is an MCA man, whatever that may mean - allegedly wrote a letter to the Prime Minister and carbon copied the letter to some other parties. In the letter, he complained that he has been awaken from his nightly sleep, even at 5.45am, by the azan (Muslim's call for prayer) which is broadcast loudly from the nearby mosque every morning.

He obviously found the azan annoying. Not to mention disturbing. That's because the azan would wake him up from his sleep at 5.45am.

I am not going into the issue on whether in Islam, it is mandatory or even encouraged that azans be broadcast loudly over the loudspeakers, especially in areas where non-Muslims are known to reside.

I am also not going to delve into the practice, by some mosques and suraus, of not only broadcasting azans but also morning lectures and recitation of the Quran loudly over the loudspeakers. This is because the letter written by the lawyer was only about azan.

Let's start from the obvious.

We live in a multi-ethnic-faith country. On Fridays, non-Muslims have to endure traffic jams in areas where mosques are located and near such areas. Muslims would be parking their cars - some double park and some even triple park - near the mosque during Friday prayers.

On Sundays, Muslims and non-Christians would have to endure traffic jams in areas where churches are located when Christians, in turn, do the same in order to attend their Sunday mass.

Off and on, Muslims, Christians and people of other faiths, have to endure some Hindu celebrations. Take the Batu Caves processions for example.

Then we have the Buddhists or Chinese celebration. Loud drums and firecrackers for example.

As a people, we accept those kind of things as part of our daily metropolitan life. Even if some of us do not accept them, we tolerate them. We do so out of respect for our friends and their faith. We do not question them. We do not oppose their acts.

We don't do so although sometimes we are inconvenienced by such acts. But the colours of our life and the conscious joy of knowing that by not objecting we are deliberately partaking in this beautiful celebrations of life far outweigh the inconvenience that is caused to us and our daily life.

Frankly, I find the lawyer's complaint about the azan rather unreasonable, if not downright rude. If he was complaining about the loud recitation of the Quran or the whole morning ceramah being broadcast  from 6am, I might say a different thing. But to complain against the azan is, I think, unreasonable.

This is the face of Malaysia which is becoming more and more conspicuous nowadays. More and more pronounced. More and more frightening. The face of intolerance.

This is sad. Because Malaysia used to be one not only in display but in substance. And really, if no effort whatsoever is taken to address this underlying cross-race-faith intolerance or un-acceptance, a bigger and uglier disaster awaits all of us, I am afraid to say.

If I find the first act unreasonable and sad, the response the act was almost, in current climate, predictable. After Friday prayer, about 100 members of Pekida demonstrated outside the mosque. Banners were unfolded. Effigies were burnt. I mean, why am I not surprised?

Muslims around the world just love burning thing. In Malaysia, we not only burn things (this is not restricted to Muslims as the recent burning of the book Intelok would prove), we spit and stomp on things. We even severe a cow head and carried it all over town, blood and all.

(If I am permitted to digress here. Why is it that Muslims only demonstrate and burn things when non-Muslims are perceived to have insulted Islam? Muslims are not seen to have done so when fellow Muslims kill other Muslims. Like when the Shite kill the Sunnis and the Sunnis bomb the Shite mosques and kill 67 non-Sunni Muslims, for example. I don't understand.)

That the demonstration reeks of political motivations is obvious. YB Nurul Izzah, the PKR Memeber of Prliament for the area concerned, was asked what her stand was on the issue. Her calm and collected response and call for calm was, in my opinion, a measured one. And the correct one too.

If anybody needs proof that the next General Election is not going to be fought on issues affecting the economy and well being of the nation, he or she just need to look at the utterly sickening issues being churned out over the last two weeks.

Umi Hafilda. The azan issue. The Selangor state secretary issue. These are the three main issues creeping out from the bowels of our politicians in the past two weeks.

Yes. Forget about how Petronas' money is being used. Forget about what economics plans we have to counter our over-dependence on the US economy. Forget about how in a country hosting and boasting of the largest oil palm company in the world there seems to be a shortage of cooking oil. Forget about the real issues.

Because I foresee the next General Election is going to be the worst General Election in terms of utter madness and gutter politics. Mark my words. Zaid Ibrahim's photo-shopped picture with some bottles of brandy during the Hulu Selangor by-election would be chicken feed as compared to what will be forthcoming in the next GE.

Thus the second face of Malaysia over the last week was predictable. And there is no hope of it going away. All that we can do is to pray hard. Pray hard that it would not affect our sanity.

The exact aftermath of this whole azan issue is almost comical. According to a certain Minister, the issue was resolved when the "MCA man" has agreed to move out from his home.

Yes, ladies ad gentlemen, in Malaysia, that is how we solve problems. If you do not like it, you leave.

At this juncture, it would not be out of place to quote what Zaki Azmi, the Chief Justice, said last week. He said he is so proud of the judiciary as it is now the best in the Common Law countries. He is even prouder because, according to him we do it "the Malaysian way."

Yes. The Malaysian way.

And that, to me, is the frightening part of it all. The Malaysian way. We do not have space technology. No problem. Buy a seat on a space tour and call our participant an astronaut. Better still, get a space agency to certify that he is an astronaut.

Industrialisation anybody? No problem. Form a company. Use someone else's engine. Knock it into some old chassis. Impose APs and stratospheric taxes for export cars. Make our "national cars" cheaper than the rest. There you go.

The Malaysian way.

Back to the issue at hand. Yes. The "MCA mystery man" has agreed to move out. And so the problem is solved.

What about his deep seated intolerance of the azan and his underlying anger? What about the mobs who demonstrated, burning effigies and carrying wild banners, displaying a serious disability to engage in a civil manner? What about the larger picture of current Malaysia in a boiling broth of inter-race-faith discontent?

No. Problem is solved. Move on please.

Taking this third face of Malaysia to its logical - and probably comical end - may I suggest the followings?

In Selangor, in order to solve the Khusrin issue, perhaps PKR or Khusrin should be asked to leave Selangor.

After all, in Tenang, there is already a report that a teacher was asked to leave Tenang to Johor Baru for failing to "control his wife" as the wife was reportedly going to be PAS' candidate for the Tenang by-election.

In addition, in order to solve the Teoh Beng Hock death, why don't we ask the MACC to just leave Malaysia?

Then, in order to solve all the police death issues, why don't the police force just ask the IGP to leave? Or perhaps the whole Home Ministry should just pack up and leave.

The three faces of 1Malaysia. And just in two weeks in this spanking new year.

Now, who was it who says that Malaysia is a boring place, eh?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Death - how to prepare for it?

Let's be frank. I don't think anyone of us would want to die. Everybody wants to live and live. As long as we are healthy, that is.

However, I would be lying if I say otherwise. There were times - and recently, there were many - when I had just wanted to die.

Such wish would present itself, for example, when I was reading some decisions of our Federal Courts. Or when I was having dinner and the missus switched to channel 104 to watch Akademi Fantasia or some idiotic programme which the people at ASTRO call "comedy" starring the most so-not-funny group, Senario et al. Or when I saw the "new" Proton car, Inspira. Or when I read about some perve marrying an 11 year old girl. Or when I read things which they pass as news and articles in Utusan Malaysia.

These moments are to be distinguished from moments when I wish I could make somebody die. These are many too. Like when I read about another death in police custody. Or about PLUS being "compensated" by the government for making billions.

Whatever it is, my point is, I am sure not many of us could accept death in a good way. How could we? Death however, like Dr Mahathir and his crooked bridge, are a certainty. We cannot escape from it.

The next point is, realising that death is a certainty, how do we prepare for it?

Umberto Eco has a perfect answer. In his text, "Come prepararsi serenemanente per la morte" (reproduced in English in Turning Back The Clock; Harvill Secker, 2007), Eco writes:

"Recently a pensive disciple of mine (a certain Criton) asked me, "Master, how can we best approach death? I replied  that the only way to prepare death is to convince yourself that everyone else is a complete idiot.

Seeing Criton's amazement, I explained. You see, I told him, how can you approach death, even if you are a believer, if you think that, as you lie dying, desirable young people of both sexes are dancing in discos and having the time of their lives, enlightened scientists are revealing the last secrets of the universe, politicians are creating a better society, newspapers and televisions are bent on giving only important news, responsible business people are ensuring that their products will not damage the environment and doing their utmost to restore a nature in which there are streams with drinkable water, wooded hillsides, clear serene skies protected by a providential ozone layer, and fluffy clouds from which sweet rain falls once more? The thought that you must live while all these marvelous things are going on would be intolerable.

So try to think, when you sense the time has come for your departure from this vale, that the world (six billion human beings) is full of idiots, that the dancers at the disco are all idiots, the scientists who think they have solved the mysteries of the universe are all idiots, the politicians who propose panaceas for all our ills are idiots, the journalists who fill page after page with vacuous gossip are idiots, and the manufacturers who are destroying the planets are idiots. In that moment would you not be happy, relieved, and satisfied to leave this vale of idiots?

And then Criton asked me: "Master, when must I start thinking like this?" I told him that one mustn't start too soon, because a person of twenty or thirty years of age who think everyone else is an idiot is an idiot himself who will never attain wisdom. We should begin by thinking that all the others are better than us and then shift bit by bit, having our first doubts around forty, revising our opinions between fifty and sixty, and attaining certainty as we aim for one hundred, ready to call it quit just as soon as the telegram containing the summons arrive. (My addition - ROFLOL!). Convincing ourselves that everyone around us is an idiot is a subtle, shrewd art, not at the disposal of the first Cebes to come along with a ring in his ear (or nose). It requires study and toil. You mustn't go at it too quickly. You must get there gradually, just in time to die with serenity. Right up to the day before, you must still think that someone you love and admire is not an idiot. Wisdom consists in recognising only at the right moment (and not before) that he too is an idiot. Only than can you die.

The great art lies in studying universal thought a bit at a time, scrutinising changes in customs, monitoring the mass media day by day, the statements by self- assured artists, the apothegms of politicians who shoot their mouths off , the philosophemes of apocalyptic critics, the aphorisms of charismatic heroes; studying theories, propositions, appeals, images, and visions. Only then, in the end, will you experience the insight that everyone is an idiot. And at that point you are ready for death.

Until the end, you must doggedly insist that some people say sensible things, that a certain book is better than others, that a certain leader really desires the common good. It's natural, human, and proper to our species to resist the idea that all people are idiots, otherwise why go on living? But at the end you will understand why it is worth the effort and why it is a splendid thing to die.

Then Criton said to me: "Master, I wouldn't like to make hasty decisions, but I suspect that you are an idiot." See, I replied, you are already on the right track." (all emphasis are mine).

I tell you. It is so easy to accept death and die serenely in Malaysia.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

But Dr Ridhuan, I beg to differ

Salam Doctor,

Allow me to  begin by wishing you a happy new Gregorian year. May this new (Gregorian) year bring with it God's goodness for all of us.

I am writing in response to your article, "Politik murahan yang memualkan" .

I have disagreed with you before and I must say, this time, with respect, I disagree with you even more.

First of all, let me say that I do not know for sure whether the Prime Minister's minders did in fact ask the Bishop to remove all crucifixes and prohibit the Christians from reciting hymns at the function attended by the Prime Minister. There are reports which say that that happened. And there are also reports which say that it did not happen.

Whatever it is, assuming that it did take place, one thing is for sure. The instruction or request did not come from the Prime Minister.

I am really disappointed that you viewed the Prime Minister's visit to the function at hand was a lowly act of besmirching his feet with dirt. This is what you said:

"Kesediaan dan kesudian PM yang sanggup ‘mencemar duli’ pergi ke ‘rumah ibadat’ tersebut sepatut diberikan penghargaan dan pujian, bukannya dilacurpolitikkan." (emphasis is mine).

The expression "mencemar duli", loosely translated means to dirty one's feet or sole. That expression is normally used to express gratitude to our Rulers for having graced any of our function with their Highness' presence. It is expressed thus;

"Patik menjunjung kasih Tuanku kerana sudi mencemar duli Tuanku ke upacara ini."

By using that expression to describe the Prime Minister's visit to the function at hand, you are implying that it was actually beneath the Prime Minister to attend such a function and that  the Prime Minister was actually going out of his way to lower himself to attend the said function.

Doctor, with all due respect, that was unbecoming of you as an ulamak.

We live in a multi-ethnic-faith society. It was none other than the Prime Minister himself who is advocating the concept of 1Malaysia. That concept, as I understand it, would among others, entail the acceptance by all of us, regardless of breed, creed and faith that we should, as the people of Malaysia, live in harmony and respect for each other.

The Prime Minister is the Prime Minister of Malaysia. He is not the Prime Minister of the Muslims or Malays only. As President of UMNO, he may be the leader of the Malays who are members of UMNO. As President of the Barisan Nasional, he is the leader of everybody who is a member of the component parties of the BN. But as the Prime Minister of Malaysia, he acts for all of us Malaysians.

In that capacity, he has to attend to the interests of all of us, regardless of our faith and race. If he attends a hari raya celebration, he must also attend a Deepavali and Chinese New Year celebration. The same goes with the Christmas celebration. He just has to attend it because he is the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

It is not beneath him to do so. By attending a Christmas function, he is not "mencemar" his "duli" or dirtying his feet or sole. He is performing his social duty as a Prime Minister. If he did not perform such action, than it is his reputation as a leader which is going to be "tercemar".

Your argument that Muslims are prohibited from attending religious celebrations of other faith than Islam is simplistic at its core. To my mind Islam is all about one's closeness to God and His will. What problem would God have against anybody who attend a non-Muslim celebration if his faith in God and His way is unshakeable?

Are you saying that by attending the function that night, the Prime Minister's faith in God would in any way diminish? I think we should all give the Prime Minister a little bit more credit here.

In fact, the latest pronouncement on this issue was made by Dr Ghaith bin Muhammad al-Sheikh al-Mubarak, a member of the Council of Senior Ulamak of Saudi Arabia. He opined on 23rd December 2010 that Muslims can take part in religious festivals of other faiths if the purpose of their attendance is to attract non-Muslims to Islam.

According to local daily the Saudi Gazette, he said "by attending festivals of other faiths Muslims could help to “pacify their souls” and when a Muslim rejects an invitation to attend such a festival it could alienate non-Muslims and divert them from the right path.

And so Doctor, it would appear now that it all boils down to one's intention. Was the Prime Minister intending to be a Christian by attending that function or was he making a move for unity that night?

While I was studying at King's College, my law library was housed in an old church. Are you saying that I should not have gone to the library because it was in a church Doctor? Are you saying that before entering the library I should have requested the librarian or College authority to respect me by removing all crucifixes adorning the walls?

You cite the example of Caliph Omar not wanting to pray in a Church as an example. This is what you said:

"Sudah tentu kita masih ingat kisah Khalifah Islam kedua, Saidina Omar Al-Khattab yang pernah melawat gereja. Ketika tiba waktu sembahyang, paderi tersebut menawarkan Omar untuk solat di gereja. Namun, Saidina Omar menolak dan memilih untuk tidak solat di dalam gereja kerana ditakuti boleh menimbulkan fitnah. Mungkin orang Kristian akan beranggapan Omar mahu menukarkan gereja menjadi masjid. Semua ini dilakukan atas kebijaksanaan seseorang pemimpin."

With respect Doctor, that is not the true historical account of the incident. Caliph Omar declined to pray in the Church of Holy Sepulchre not because he feared unwarranted aspersions or he did not want the Christians to think that he (Omar) would want to turn the church into a mosque. That was a twisted view.

For the record, Caliph Omar captured Jerusalem after a brief and bloodless seige,  from the Byzantines in February 638. Caliph Omar Ibn al-Khattab accepted the city's surrender from Patriarch Sophronius in person.

Omar was shown the great Church of the Holy Sepulchre and offered a place to pray in it, but he refused. He declined out of absolute respect for the Christians and their church and not out of fear as you stated. He declined because he thought that if he did so, a precedent would be set and that future generations of Muslims might say that Omar prayed there and then they might convert that Church into a Mosque. It was out of that concern and respect that he refused to pray there.

He then proceeded to pray at the steps outside the Church. By doing so he averted the possibility of the Church being turned into a mosque. Such was his great respect for Christians, Christianity and churches.

Fair enough, Omar's fears almost came to reality when in 1193 Saladin's son Aphdal Ali build a mosque near the site of that incident although the location is not exact, for the entrance to the Church was on the east in Omar's time and the present entrance was only inaugurated in the 11th century.

You made a big issue on the apparent Christmas celebration in Malaysia which according to you is way out of proportion considering Christians constitute only about 10% of our populations. Are they to blame if shops and shopping complexes, and in fact the whole commercial world in the whole universe, view Christmas and its celebration as a commercial activity rather than a pure religious event?

The thing about Christmas "celebration" which is way out of proportion in our country and any other country in the world is this. It is not about religion at all. It is the capitalism god at work. You should realise that dear Doctor.

As a Muslim, I am in fact thankful that our Hari Raya is not celebrated in such a big way as Christmas is. At least Hari Raya is preserved as a pure religious event where Muslims would go to the mosque and visit each other and undertake charitable work. Even then, our Hari Raya has, nowadays, morphed into a cultural and social event. Notice for example, dear Doctor, how we have open houses which really in effect not "open" anymore nowadays?

Caliph Omar, for example, refused to build a huge mosque after capturing Jerusalem. He opted to build a modest mosque on the Temple Mount instead. Clearly, size and quantity was not important to him. What matters is his faith I suppose.

Complaining on the number of churches and how big Christmas celebration is in our country is, to me - and I say this with the greatest of respect to you - childish. It is reflective of the inferiority complex which we Muslims are imbued with nowadays. It makes us want to retire into our cocoon, sulking and whining at how big and prettier other people are and how we should resent them and how unfair this whole new world is to us. If the Prophet were to behave like that in his early days in Mekah, I wonder whether Islam would be a great way of life it is now.

The great way of life that we know as Islam is not about public holidays or the size of our mosques. If you are going to compare the number of public holidays we have, are you going to equate football with our religion just because we have a public holiday after winning the Suzuki Cup recently, just as we have a public holiday for hari raya every year? We have more and bigger office complexes than mosques. Don't you feel these office complexes are more important than mosques and thus conclude that our people place office complexes on a higher plane than mosques?

The Prophet (peace be upon him) was well known for his respect to other religions, especially to the kitabiyyah (the people of the book, namely, the Jews and Christians). In a letter from him to Negus, the king of Abyssinia, he wrote:

From Muhammad, God’s Messenger, to the Negus Asham, the King of Abyssinia;

Peace be upon you! On this occasion, I praise God, the Sovereign, the Holy One free from all defects, the Giver of security, the Watcher over His creatures, and I bear witness that Jesus is a spirit from God, and a word from Him, whom He bestowed upon Mary, who was chaste, pure and virgin. I call you to God, One with no partner. (Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya 3.104).

The Prophet (peace be upon him) was not only respectful to a Christian King but he in fact acknowledged Jesus and Mary in his letter. Such was the message of one-ness which the Prophet (peace be upon him) was advocating.

It is known that in Islam, we are allowed to marry the ahlil-kitab (people of the book) without them having to convert to Islam. I would ask, if this is so, would our Christian spouse be required to remove her crucifix before we sleep with her every night? How would she pray in our house in that event?

The contemporary approach towards achieving the globalisation of Islam is one of inclusiveness, dear Doctor. As such, it comes as no surprise, for instance, for Sheikh Ahmed Hassoun, the Mufti of Syria to declare that Islam commands its followers to protect Judaism early last year.

While the world is fast moving into an era of inter-faith acceptance and embrace inter-religious accord, it is disheartening to see Malaysia regressing into medieval insecurity and inferiority complex. It is this complex which causes the likes of the Mufti of Johor to issue a fatwa saying Islam forbids Muslims from dressing up as Santa forgetting that Santa is not a religious icon but rather a commercial icon which has been elevated to a cultural one (which is similar to the act of giving away "duit raya" on hari raya in Malaysia).

You make known your concern of the visit by the Prime Minister being politisised and reminded of an incident where a former leader was undermine by a picture before. That was of course referring to the picture of Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah who was pictured wearing a Kadazan headgear with a crucifix symbol in 1990.

How sad. That picture was misused as a character assassination by none other than the government- controlled mainstream newspapers in an election to defeat the Tengku.

If that happens to the Prime Minister just because he attends the Christmas function recently, don't you think Doctor that it is your duty as an ulamak to educate the Muslim public, as part of your dakwah, to ignore such irresponsible and gutter politics?

By condoning the alleged action in requesting the removal of the crucifix, I am afraid to say that you are in fact indirectly promoting that kind of silly politicisation of theocratic phobias. 

As Muslims, we make noises when people of other faiths perceivably treat our religion with disrespect. If non-Muslims could be asked to wear tudung before entering the mosque to observe the sanctity of our mosque, why can't we Muslims, reciprocate and accord the same respect to other faiths by at least allowing them to bear their objects of faith?

Islam, from the very beginning - and I mean to say from day one - was inextricably connected to Christianity in many ways than we would even care to admit. On the very day the Prophet (peace be upon him) was revealed the first verse Iqra', he did not know what had happened to him. He ran back home in fear, trembling in shock. Do you remember who told him that he had been appointed God's messenger?

It was none other than Khadija's (the Prophet's wife) cousin, Warqa bin Naufal, a Christian with knowledge of biblical lore, who told Muhammad (peace be upon him) that he had been revealed a divine message, just like Moses before him. Such was the close association between Islam and Christian on the very first day of its existence.

Why can't we Muslims acknowledge that and stop being in fear and stop disbelieving in our ability to be true to our faith?

Why can't we work towards inclusiveness, towards unity, towards acceptance and towards one-ness.

Or does God really want us to remind ourselves of how different we are from the rest of the world all the time?

Salam.