No effort too small in changing the world

This Sunday night, July 1, about 40 people – 20 Muslims and 20 Christians – are gathering at a resort in Bertam for a Raya celebration.

Jun 28, 2018

By Anil Netto
This Sunday night, July 1, about 40 people – 20 Muslims and 20 Christians – are gathering at a resort in Bertam for a Raya celebration.

Quite a number of similar bridge-building events have been held over the last half a dozen years that the novelty has somewhat worn off.

But we cannot underestimate such events in bringing people of different faiths together. Circumstances have changed as well. We are now in the new Malaysia and this coming together has now become something of a norm.

But it wasn’t always a norm (unless we go further back to the 1950s and 1960s).
Remember when Khalid Samad, then of PAS, visited the Church of the Divine Mercy in Shah Alam after winning the parliamentary seat in the March 8, 2008 general election. He received a standing ovation by 350 excited parishioners who were delighted to welcome him.

A few years later, another PAS MP Mujahid Yusof Rawa, with Tasik Gelugor PAS information chief Abdul Rahman Kasim working behind the scenes, began visiting churches in the northern region. Mujahid paid a courtesy call on the then newly appointed Bishop of Penang, Sebastian Francis in 2012.

Not everyone was happy with such visits. When Christians and Muslims planned a 50th Malaysia Day celebration at the St Mark’s Anglican Church in Butterworth the following year, a small group of Muslims protested. Organisers then changed the venue to a nearby Indian restaurant, but when protesters and police turned up, the nervous restaurant owner chased the invited Christian and Muslim guests out of the restaurant. The Anglican pastor, despite police advice to call off the event, then decided to press ahead with the event at its original venue, the church — and the event successfully took place, a fitting way to conclude the 50th Malaysia Day.

The point is, what we now take for granted as the new norm did not have an easy start. It required people to break the ice, to come out of their ‘silos’, so to speak, and join hands with their fellow sojourners on this journey of life to persuade chauvinists.

In a way, this journey reflected the national journey. The biggest test to these inter-faith gatherings came during the ‘Allah’ controversy and later during Hadi’s 355 bill. Then there was the aborted ‘bible-burning fest’ at the Butterworth padang (the tension surrounding which was defused later that day when PAS spiritual leader ‘Tok Guru’ Nik Aziz Nik Mat paid a courtesy call on Bishop Sebastian in Penang).

Among those pioneers who encouraged Muslims to meet their Christian counterparts, Mujahid went on to write a book Berdialog dengan gereja: sebuah travelog kedamaian” (Dialogue with churches: a peace travelogue). He and other regular invited Muslim speakers in churches, Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad and Khalid Samad, all left Pas and joined Amanah. All three won in the 2018 general election, and Dzul is now the health minister, suggesting that they must have made some headway in convincing more Malaysians to be more open in reaching out to people of other faiths.

Abdul Rahman, meanwhile, has opted to remained in PAS, his long-term loyalty to the party still firm. He did not stand in the general election. He, however, sees his mission now as one of facilitating more Muslims and Christians to embrace the path of dialogue, through such simple gatherings and events. “I hope we can go some way in dispelling suspicion among one another through such events.”

These Muslims who broke the walls that separated us from one another continue to pursue the path of dialogue and, in their own way, they are dismantling the prejudice and closed mindsets so prevalent in society. Though small in number, they have played instrumental roles in breaking down the barriers that divide us and the rest of society.

Their examples and those of the Christians in the various churches who reached out to them tells us that no individual effort is too small or too insignificant in renewing the face of the world and bringing about a new creation.

It all adds up — just as all those little individual efforts ahead of the general election did. Think of the Bersih protesters, the volunteers who signed up as polling and counting agents, those who created awareness by spreading messages on social media and WhatsApp, those who convinced family and friends to register and vote. All these efforts were not in vain.

Sometimes, we underestimate ourselves and fail to recognise our own power to make a difference in our world, our common home, to be the salt of the earth.

Rest assured that there are many Muslims and people of other faiths working for change, to bring down barriers and to create a new world where we can all be sisters and brothers promoting the cause of justice and peace. May we always reach out and embrace them in solidarity to transform this land.

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