Why should the likes of Ibrahim Ali, Hasan Ali and Harussani Zakaria hog the headlines? If you are tired of reading about their preposterous statements, meet bridge-builder Abdul Rahman Kasim, who has been working hard to improve Muslim-Christian ties in the country.
You may have read about Tok Guru Nik Aziz handing over a mouth-watering cake to Bishop Sebastian Francis during their recent Penang meeting, which was held at 6.30pm on Thaipusam Day. Nik Aziz was only told by his aides at 4.00pm that day that the meeting had been confirmed. Now what do you give a bishop as a memento at such short notice to help sweeten ties?
Enter Abdul Rahman Kasim, the Mr Fix-it with a booming voice and an equally hearty laugh, who has been instrumental in setting up appointments for talks and dialogues between Pas and churches in the northern region.
Confident that the meeting would materialise, Rahman had ordered the cake (like he did for a previous meeting between Mujahid Yusof Rawa and the bishop) even before Tok Guru had set foot in Penang. Indeed, it was Rahman who had sent out the initial feelers to set up these meetings.
Like a man on a mission, the Langkawi-born Rahman, the Tasik Gelugor Pas information chief, has been the point-man in sending out similar feelers to Catholic churches in the northern region. He is a familiar face whenever the Pas head of inter-religious dialogue, Mujahid Yusof Rawa, or Dzulkefly Ahmad speaks at dialogue sessions with parishioners of various churches. In fact, on the same day the Penang meeting took place, Mujahid and Rahman had travelled to the Fatima Church in Kangar for another dialogue session in the morning.
Rahman, 56, worked for a decade at the Royal Malaysian Air Force base in Butterworth. During this time, a training exposure stint in Australia helped broaden his horizons. He later turned to business as a chicken seller in a local market – an honest living if there was one – for the past two decades.
These days, he is also trying to sell the idea of Muslims and Christians talking to one another. “I feel compelled to do so, because during my parents’ generation we had much better ties. I experienced that growing up.
“My idea for interfaith and inter-ethnic dialogue stems from the fact that we are drifting apart socially and getting more polarised. Why can’t we behave according to the book and have no ill-feeling towards others?”
Why is he focusing on Christianity, though? Rahman is clear about his rationale: “We have so much in common especially a shared Abrahamic tradition; so it is a good place to start.
Providentially, as it turned out, the meeting between Nik Aziz and Sebastian took place on the same day that an unknown group of bigots had scheduled a ‘Bible-burning festival’ in the morning – which thankfully failed to materialise. Rahman felt privileged to witness the encounter between the two leaders: “It was truly amazing to have seen Tok Guru and the Bishop greeting each other. That was part of my mission accomplished.”
Today, because of Rahman’s persistent efforts to reach out to churches, it is no exaggeration to say he knows more Catholic priests and lay leaders in the northern region – and which parishes they are located in – than the average Catholic!
So the next time someone like Ibrahim Ali or Hasan Ali disturbs your peace of mind or gets under your skin, think of the burly Abdul Rahman Kasim as the perfect antidote: an ordinary person doing extraordinary things to forge greater inter-religious understanding.