Pas deputy president visits Christian community at St Anne’s Church

Pas deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man and his delegation dropped by St Anne’s Church in Bukit Mertajam on January 22. They met with Penang Bishop Sebastian Francis, parish priest Msgr Henry Rajoo and representatives of the Christian community.

Jan 28, 2017

By Anil Netto
Pas deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man and his delegation dropped by St Anne’s Church in Bukit Mertajam on January 22. They met with Penang Bishop Sebastian Francis, parish priest Msgr Henry Rajoo and representatives of the Christian community.

The visit is the latest in a series of attempts to build bridges between the two communities in recent years.

Msgr Henry explained to the visiting delegation who St Anne is, and the Muslim side quickly understood that he was referring to Hannah (the Arabic for Anne), the grandmother of Jesus.

Despite the doctrinal differences between the two communities over the person of Jesus, Tasik Gelugor Pas information chief Abdul Rahman Kasim pointed out that the Qur’an holds Jesus in high esteem. Moreover, he added the Qur’an also devoted an entire chapter to Miriam or Mary. No other woman gets such attention as Mary in the Qur’an.

Bishop Sebastian recalled his close affinity to the late Tok Guru Nik Aziz, whom he described as a man of great spiritual depth. For the bishop, corruption — from the upper echelons to the lowest — was the biggest issue facing the Malaysian public. No effort should be spared in overcoming this threat to our society.

The Church, he said, took interreligious dialogue seriously and, as evidence, the bishop flicked through the pages of one the latest issues of the HERALD which discussed or reported on a number of interreligious initiatives. Bishop Sebastian then presented a copy of the HERALD to Tuan Ibrahim as a souvenir. Tuan Ibrahim expressed concern over the declining morality in society which manifested itself in all manner of social problems. It was in this context he said that the party was lobbying for Act 355 amendment bill (commonly known as Hadi’s bill, after the Pas president) to be decided in Parliament.

Tuan Ibrahim said the Pas rally on February 18 in Kuala Lumpur would be peaceful and organised to put forward its case for the bill.

Tamil apostolate leader, Anthony Augustine, expressed concern to Tuan Ibrahim that Hadi’s bill would apply to Muslims initially but later affect non-Muslims.

As expected, Tuan Ibrahim assured non- Muslims that they had nothing to worry from the bill as it was solely aimed at Muslims — though that may not have entirely convinced the Christians.

As Bishop Sebastian had mentioned corruption as a major issue, another question was raised as to whether and how Hadi’s bill would eliminate corruption, if at all.

Tuan Ibrahim conceded corruption would be difficult to eradicate but corrupt leaders would have to be removed.

The Pas deputy leader was then asked about the perception that his party was cooperating with Umno to promote an Islamic agenda. He explained that such coming together was only limited to certain issues affecting the Muslim community where both sides had a similar position such as the Rohingya rally.

Another question centred on women’s groups’ concerns over the treatment of rape victims under Hadi’s bill. To this, Tuan Ibrahim said rape cases would be handled by the civil courts, and only zina would come under the scope of the bill. He pointed out that zina required four witnesses but, throughout history, there had never been a single case of four witnesses testifying in such a case.

Tuan Ibrahim’s explanation, though providing some insight into the party’s thinking, did not entirely clear the scepticism that many held over the bill. Still, the simple dialogue was held with goodwill on both sides without any rancour. Both sides vowed to continue on this journey of building bridges despite the many hurdles, not least of which was Hadi’s bill.

As one observer mentioned, there are four kinds of interfaith dialogue: the dialogues of theology, of spirituality, of common action, of everyday living. If the Muslim community and the Church are serious about dialogue, maybe they should start from the latter two rather than the first two, which would be more delicate.

Dialogues of common action and everyday living could involve cooperation on issues that both sides might have in common, such as, protecting the environment and helping poor children or street people.

For now, the dialogue we are in is still very much at a confidence-building level and, to this end, both sides are planning a joint bowling competition(!) with about 10 teams, each team comprising both Muslim and Christian participants and named after an Old Testament prophet. That should be an activity with a difference.

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