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‘Valentine’s Day is not a religious festival’

Luke Rintod of FMT

KOTA KINABALU: A bishop irked by the misconception associated with the celebration of Valentine’s Day has taken offence to Christianity being associated with ‘sinful’ behavior.
Bishop Ng Moon Hing who is the chairman of the executive committee of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) said Christians in Malaysia are deplored and hurt by several public statements made by an ustazah linking Valentine’s Day to ‘sin, Christianity and immorality’.
“In a recent statement made by the PAS Youth leader, quoting a statement by the National Fatwa Council, there was also an insinuation that Valentine’s Day has some Christian elements and sin, which can be interpreted to mean that Christianity condones and promotes sinful activities on Valentine’s Day,” he noted.
He said it was a false impression that Valentine’s Day which is commemorated worldwide on Feb 14, is a religious festival although it is linked to to a Roman Catholic saint.
He said nothing can be further from the truth and criticised a programme aired on national television and circulated on YouTube where the ustazah has said:  “maksiat, disco, couple-couple bersunyi sunyian, inilah tradisi masyarakat yang beragama Kristian” (that vices, disco-going and couples meeting in quiet places are the traditions of the Christians).
“Valentine’s Day is a secular celebration and statements which promote feelings of ill-will and hostility against any particular religious community cannot and should not be tolerated,” he said.
Ng urged those who have the capacity to make public statements that are carried on national television to be professional enough to conduct a scholarly research on what they are going to say.
“Valentine’s Day is celebrated in many countries today and not just in the West.
“It is not a Christian festival celebrated by the church. The earliest records indicate that a feast was dedicated to St Valentine on Feb 14 by Pope Gelasius I, as a martyr of Rome, ” Ng said.
CFM against moral policing
But details of the saint’s background are vague and much of the writings about him have been the stuff of legends and especially romanticised during the Middle Ages.
“The association with love and marriage may have arisen as part of popular culture at that time rather than as religious literature.
“The Catholic Church has removed the memorial of his feast since the promulgation of the new Roman liturgical calendar in the year 1969 (although his name remains on the list of saints and martyrs).
“In place of this commemoration, the feast of two revered saints of the Eastern Church, St Cyril and St Methodius, the Apostles of the Slavs, are celebrated on Feb 14.
“Today, Christians do not commemorate Valentine’s Day as a religious festival. Its celebration by the public is very much within the domain of secular culture and has nothing to do with the Christian faith,” Ng further explained.
According to him CFM does not believe in nor practice the moral policing of individuals and groups in our society.
“The Church in Malaysia has always advocated that we should educate and teach the beliefs and tenets of our faith and live by them rather than to be engaged in spying upon and arresting Malaysians presumed to be engaged in alleged immoral activities.
“The Bible espouses love and hence CFM invites all Christians to express the love of God in their families, with their spouses and their loved ones and also with people from the various communities in Malaysia not only on this special day but throughout the year,” he added.
Individual choice
Ustazah Siti Nor Bahyah Mahmood, 47, a year ago made a remark during an Islamic educational programme aired on TV9, which is owned by the Umno-linked media conglomerate Media Prima, that Muslims should not emulate the sinful Christians.
In the online clip of her remarks, Siti claimed that it was the Christians who normally indulged in vice, such as frequenting discos and dating.
“Selalunya buat maksiat, pergi disko… couple, couple, bersunyi-sunyian, ini adalah tradisi bagi masyarakat yang beragama Kristian bukan agama Islam…,” she had said.
The video, which had been viewed more than 80,000 times, also had the ustazah warning Muslims that celebrating Valentine’s Day would mean “supporting Christianity and the English”
Meanwhile Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) president Thomas Philips had said no religion should be belittled due to a lack of understanding.
“We should not belittle any religion just because we don’t understand it.
“Her comments were not in context as she wrongly understood that Valentine’s Day was a Christian festival,” he said adding that Christians, like others, too know what’s right and wrong.
“Valentine’s Day is a day where people express their love, I don’t see what’s wrong with letting people have that freedom. It’s all individual choices and we should be above all this,” Philips said.
Following the furore over the ustazah’s comment, TV9 yesterday said it regretted the comments made by Siti Nor.
“Since the incident, we have been more vigilant in monitoring the content of our programmes. We want to ensure that our programmes do not offend or create potential sensitive content for any quarters of the society,” said Ahmad Izham Omar, the chief operating officer of Media Prima.

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