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The Meaning of Mutual Respect

By Baru Bian , Ba Kelalan assemblyman
The lecture by Shaykh Afeefuddin Al-Jailani that is being organised by the Islamic Information Centre and supported by UNIMAS’ Pusat Islam has created much unhappiness among Sarawakian Christians who, over the past few years, have had to put up with various forms of illogical and unreasonable interference by the authorities in the practice of their faith. They have unfailingly exercised tremendous restraint and shown remarkable forbearance in the face of unwarranted disrespect and curtailment of their rights. This latest episode is truly a blow to the Christians, who had hoped that they would be left alone to carry on the practice of their religion in peace in the spirit of mutual respect that seemed to still exist in Sarawak. I have received many calls from Christians and Christian leaders on this proposed lecture.

The initial topic of the talk “Muhammad SAW in the Bible” is an affront to Christians, because the Prophet Mohammad is not mentioned in the Bible, contrary to what the topic implies. In fact, the topic itself is considered to be blasphemous by many Church leaders. I was made aware yesterday evening, that the topic had been changed to more innocuous ones. Perhaps the organisers caught wind of the unhappiness of the Christians and changed the topic. However, the seed of suspicion has been planted and many are questioning: will the content of the lectures remain as originally intended?

The burning question for me is: which individuals organised this lecture? I was shocked that they would have the temerity to plan a lecture centered on the Bible without inviting the participation of those that possess the greatest understanding and knowledge of the Bible, ie Christian scholars and leaders. Is it too much to ask that they display the same sensitivity to the feelings of Christians that they demand from us where their religion is concerned? Imagine how the Muslims would feel if a group of Christians proposed to invite a Christian scholar to talk about the Koran. I shudder to think of the reaction from the extreme ‘defenders of the faith’ in West Malaysia.

I would also like to ask why a public university is hosting this sort of event, and who is endorsing it. Are the Sarawak Islamic Affairs Department, and Sarawak Islamic Council aware of it? This sounds alarmingly like the unfortunate UiTM incident of Christian-bashing disguised as ‘brainstorming’ playing out in UNIMAS. In that case, the public is still waiting for some action to be taken by the authorities but it appears that no one has the gumption to do the right thing. We cannot allow this disgraceful attack on Christians to happen in a public university in Sarawak, or at any venue, for that matter.

The Chief Minister has said on many occasions that he will preserve the peace and harmony that exists in Sarawak among the people of different religions. I am therefore disappointed that such an event could be organised and promoted under his watch. I will be writing to the Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister’s Department (Islamic Affairs), Datuk Daud Abdul Rahman to ask him to have this proposed lecture looked into and if necessary, to have the programme cancelled pursuant to the powers of the Sarawak Islamic Council provided in Section 58(1) of the Sarawak Islamic Council Ordinance 2001 and Section 11 of the Sarawak Syariah Criminal Offence Ordinance 2001 which were exercised to cancel a programme proposed by Yayasan Amal Malaysia in Belaga last October. I hope that in the future, the Council will be more pro-active and vigilant when such public talks are organized and stop them immediately rather than waiting for complaints to be lodged.

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