As the conservatives in Pas come under fire for their comments on local elections and other hot-button issues, Mujahid Yusof Rawa continued his efforts to project a more inclusive face to the party. This afternoon he cemented ties with the Christian community in the northern region.
The lunch date was arranged by Mujahid’s fellow bridge builder, the Tasik Gelugor Pas information chief Abdul Rahman Kasim.
Among the Christian leaders invited for the lunch at a sea-food restaurant in Batu Maung were the top brass of the Penang Diocese: Bishop Sebastian Francis, his predecessor Bishop Emeritus Antony Selvanayagam, and Sebastian’s no 2 Vicar General Msgr Bernard Paul. Also present were Sr Margaret, Dr Mary Fernandez, Fr Francis Anthony, Fr Fabian Dicom, Fr Arulnathan, Fr Victor Louis, deacon Joachim Robert and diocesan inter-religious coordinator Arokiadass.
Bishop Sebastian expressed concern over the health of Pas spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat, whom he had met over Thaipusam in 2013. Touching on the recent floods in Kelantan, Sebastian said the church stood in solidarity with those suffering there and outlined the church’s relief efforts. What made these floods different from earlier ones was the sheer amount of mud that swamped the land, he noted, attributing the unusual phenomenon to the alarming deforestation that has stripped forests of their cover. Both Christianity and Islam emphasise the importance of stewardship over the environment, he stressed.
Fresh from a recent trip to Turkey, Mujahid said he was delighted to continue to cement ties with the Christian community. He drew a parallel to the work of St Francis of Assisi, the greatest saint in Christendom since the apostles, who held a landmark dialogue in 1219 with the sultan of Egypt, al-Kamil, nephew of the Muslim warrior Saladin.
That ground-breaking dialogue between monk and sultan held on the banks of the Nile in the thick of the Fifth Crusade was remarkable. Francis was dead against the war – he had been traumatised by his experience as a soldier and decided to turn his back on his inheritance as the son of a wealthy cloth merchant to embrace a life of poverty. And so he set about to meet the sultan, a Sunni Muslim statesman who was magnanimous enough to grant this audacious monk an audience. Francis had hoped to bring about an end to the warfare by converting the sultan to Christianity. In the event, both men held a frank dialogue which left a deep impression on both parties.
After lunch, I asked Mujahid, seen as a future Pas president in the medium term, if he thought Pas members were ready for a more inclusive party. “They should be,” he said without hesitation, a broad smile breaking out on his face. “I think they are waiting to see a more inclusive side to the party.”
But first, Mujahid faces a tough battle to retain his central committee seat in Pas’ party elections in June. Yet so convinced is this modern-day ‘Francis’ (as Johor Malacca Bishop Paul Tan refers to him) of the importance of “building a (more inclusive) civilisation” through dialogue that he is willing to stake his political future on his belief that the party should be more inclusive and accepting of differences and diversity.
Whatever his electoral calculations, Mujahid has laid down the gauntlet and is sticking to his belief in the importance of strengthening ties with those of other faiths. Watch this man.