In a rare landmark visit to a prominent mosque, a delegation of Christians, led by Bishop Sebastian Francis, visited the Abdullah Fahim Mosque in Bertam in Province Wellesley on 14 December 2015.

Abdullah Fahim Mosque hosts visit by Christians

They were welcomed by the hosts, Ustaz Zulkhairi Bidin and his team. The Christian delegation comprised lay representatives and parish priests from neighbouring parishes: Fr Henry Rajoo, St Anne’s, Bukit Mertajam, Fr Victor Louis, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Butterworth and Fr Nelson Joseph, Christ the King, Sungai Petani.

Uztaz Zulkhairi explained the short history of the mosque, which is one of several district (major) mosques in Penang.

The mosque was opened on December 12, 2012. A local resident told me that 12 couples underwent a wedding ceremony on that auspicious date.

The visit was arranged by long-time bridgebuilder Abdul Rahman Kasim, who had previously facilitated the visits by Muslim delegations to various churches in the northern region. This was the first time in memory that a high-level Christian delegation was visiting a prominent local mosque.

According to Abdul Rahman, the blue-domed mosque is modelled after the famous Blue Mosque in Turkey. Bishop Sebastian mentioned to the hosts that popes had visited that mosque several times.

Two local Muslims demonstrated to the visiting Christians how ablution was performed at the mosque before entry into the cavernous carpeted prayer hall over which hung a glittering chandelier.

Inside the hall, the Christian delegation was shown the area where the imam addressed the congregation and the raised pulpit for khutbahs (sermons), which reminded me of the raised pulpits in ancient cathedrals.

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Bishop Sebastian made it a point of asking the ustaz how long their sermons usually were.

“Fifteen minutes,” he was told, a point which the bishop then highlighted to his priests. More than that, and the congregation might doze off; so it was important that the delivery was powerful, said one of the Muslim hosts.

Uztaz Zulkhairi then hosted the visiting delegation to brunch at the mosque conference room during which the Christians were briefed about the activities of the mosque via a powerpoint presentation. Also present were several local Muslim activists and politicians and an old friend of the Christians, Ustaz Soib Mohd Amin.

In his address, Bishop Sebastian pointed out to those seated at the long table that this year, Prophet Muhammad’s birthday falls just before Christmas.

He said the Church uses the term People of God to refer to all people, in a bid to be inclusive.

This year, the Catholic community was also marking a Jubilee year for the Church and Bishop Sebastian reflected on the theme of God’s mercy. “The world needs mercy these days, not only justice, but also mercy. At the level of justice, we can argue and fight — and we must — whenever there is something that is not true, that is corrupt… we must be against all kinds of injustices but beyond justice and injustice, the Pope has chosen to declare a Jubilee Year of Mercy for all people.

He then conveyed the greetings of the peace of Christmas from the Christian community to his Muslim hosts.

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The Abdullah Fahim Mosque is named after a local Islamic scholar who is the grandfather of former premier Abdullah Badawi.

Hopefully, this visit will open the door for more visits and bridge-building between the Muslim and Christian communities, and take interreligious dialogue in the country to another level.

This article was first published in The Herald.

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19 COMMENTS

  1. Meanwhile in BEKASI, Indonesia:

    Indonesian police fired tear gas to disperse hardline Muslims protesting against the construction of a Catholic church in a satellite city of the capital Jakarta.

    Several hundred protesters from a group called Forum for Bekasi Muslim Friendship demonstrated in front of the Santa Clara church in Kaliabang, a neighborhood of Bekasi city, after Friday prayers.

    Witnesses said police fired tear gas as the protesters tried to force their way into the church, which has been under construction since Nov. Some also threw rocks and bottles into the 6,500-square-meter site.

    Ismail Ibrahim, a cleric and organiser of the protest, said they will not disperse until authorities met their demand to cancel the church’s construction permit.

    http://www.nst.com.my/news/2017/03/224041/tear-gas-fired-indonesians-protesting-churchs-construction

  2. An interfaith buka puasa event at a Catholic church in Petaling Jaya was cancelled upon the advice of the police. The event at the Church of Assumption, which was supposed to be held yesterday evening, was called off after organisers were informed that a report was lodged against them.

    “Someone lodged a police report and two policemen went to the church to warn that there might be an individual or group who might cause trouble,” social cause advocate Syed Azmi Alhabshi said in a Facebook post.

    http://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2016/07/02/buka-puasa-at-church-cancelled-after-police-report-made/

  3. Proposal to Expand Sharia Alarms Malaysia’s Christians
    By Simon Roughnee (NCRegister.com)

    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Like its bigger neighbor Indonesia, Malaysia has mostly had the reputation of a Muslim-majority country that does not oppress its religious minorities. It’s live-and-let-live disposition is far removed from the rigors faced by Christians in countries such as Saudi Arabia, where churches cannot be built nor Mass said; or Pakistan, where Christians are expected to adhere to a strict anti-blasphemy law that critics say favors Islam over other faiths; or Iraq and Syria, where hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled war and ensuing attacks by Islamist militias.

    At St. John’s Cathedral and other churches in Kuala Lumpur, a modern and lively city of around 2 million people, worshippers gather every Sunday for Masses in English and in Tamil, the main language of Malaysia’s 7% minority descended from South-Asian settlers who migrated during British colonial rule, as well as in Tagalog, the language of many of the tens of thousands of Filipino migrant workers living in wealthier-neighbor Malaysia.

    But despite U.S. President Barack Obama’s praise for Malaysia in late 2015, during an official visit to the country, describing it as “a majority-Muslim country that represents tolerance and peace,” there are signs of a growing Islamization in politics in this country of 30 million people, where around 60% of the population is Muslim.

    Non-Muslims have been barred from using the Arabic term “Allah” to denote God, with authorities confiscating Bibles containing the proscribed word, after the local Catholic Church lost a legal challenge to allow non-Muslims to keep using the word, which was a long-established linguistic practice.

    The Malaysian Islamic Party – or PAS, to use its Malay-language acronym – has long sought the extension of sharia (Islamic law) in Malaysia. Currently, sharia only applies to Muslims and with civil-law issues such as family disputes and inheritance, while most cases are handled by civil courts.

    Sharia-Based Punishments

    But PAS wants to implement hudud, sharia-sanctioned punishments that include amputation and stoning, beginning in Kelantan province. This northern region of Malaysia has long been home to a stricter version of Islam than the rest of the country, with the local government run by PAS for most of the time since Malaysia won its independence from the United Kingdom in 1957.

    Kelantan borders the southern provinces of Thailand, where the majority of the people are Muslim-ethnic Malays, kinfolk to those across the border in Malaysia, and where more than 6,000 have died in more than a decade of rebellion against the Thai government.

    PAS’ drive to implement hudud received a significant boost in May, when the governing coalition, known as the National Front, agreed to introduce the proposal in Parliament. That deal came just before the start of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, during which believers are expected to fast daily from dawn until sunset, and just before two crucial special elections in which the National Front tested the impact of recent financial scandals affecting Prime Minister Najib Razak.

    The governing parties easily won the special elections, which were held in Malay Muslim-majority constituencies, despite the interventions of Mahathir Mohamad, a former prime minister who strongly criticized the hudud proposals. The proposals would not be applied to non-Muslims, prompting some Muslim critics such as Mahathir to argue that this is unfair.

    “Muslims, if they steal, they get their hands chopped, but non-Muslims only get jailed for two months. This is not Islam! This is not fair,” he said at a June 11 press conference.

    Mahathir was prime minister for 22 years and, despite being 91 years old, remains active in politics, frequently taking the government to task over its perceived failings; he is now aligning with the country’s 25% ethnic Chinese minority against the Malay-dominated government. The government includes some minority representatives who have criticized the push to implement hudud.

    Religious minority leaders, including Bishop Sebastian Francis of Penang in northwestern Malaysia, have warned that, if implemented, hudud would discriminate against minorities, who would be “in jeopardy,” according to a May 30 statement by the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST), which Bishop Francis signed. The statement is posted on the website of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur.

    Describing the hudud proposal as contrary to Malaysia’s constitution, the statement concluded that “we must cherish the unity we have now and not embark on political adventure which can rock and undermine our unity.”

    Malaysian Jihadists

    Separately, dozens of Malaysians are estimated to have joined the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, raising concerns that “lone wolf” attacks could be carried out in Malaysia by IS terrorists filtering unnoticed back to their homeland, replicating some of the recent IS-claimed attacks in Europe.

    A recent murderous Islamic State propaganda video showed what was claimed to be a Malaysian fighter, whose identity was subsequently confirmed by Malaysian police, taking part in the decapitation of three captives, with a warning that Malaysia is a target for IS.

    And in neighboring Philippines, the Abu Sayyaf group – a self-described jihadist organization operating on the archipelago’s remote southern islands, but long dismissed as a group of criminals interested in kidnap for ransom – recently declared allegiance to IS and beheaded two Canadian captives, who had been taken from eastern Malaysia.

    The second of the beheaded Canadians, 68-year-old Robert Hall, was executed last week, after the Canadian government refused to pay a ransom. His remains were placed by militants outside of a Catholic cathedral on the island of Jolo.

  4. Did Low imply Najib’s cabinet is not a ‘God-fearing’ one?
    http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/324626
    MP SPEAKS Yesterday, I had asked what the “cryptic” speech of Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Paul Low at the Christmas high-tea reception organised by the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) really meant – when he said that if the government is God-fearing, then there would be no need for him to be in the cabinet.

    To the overwhelming majority of literate Malaysians – regardless of race, religion or politics – it could only mean two things:
    Firstly, that the Najib cabinet is not a God-fearing one, and needs God-fearing ministers to ensure that it does not completely lose its moral compass.
    And secondly, Low is “God-fearing”, and he is either fighting a very lonely battle – or in any event, fighting a losing battle – among a handful of “God-fearing” ministers who are committed to a national and sacred mission to ensure that the cabinet keeps to the straight and narrow path of serving the people and nation and not just themselves and their cronies.
    Who are the other cabinet ministers who are “God-fearing”, whether Muslim or non-Muslim?
    Furthermore, was Low implying that the country was inundated with so many political, economic and nation-building crisis precisely because the Najib cabinet is not “God-fearing”?
    Is this what Low meant? If not, what did he mean by his speech on Christmas Day?
    It is not open to Low to decline to explain the meaning of his Christmas speech, for if he is so “God-fearing”, surely he is not fearful of explaining what he actually meant?
    Was Low being conceited or humble – conceited in claiming himself to be a “God-fearing man”; humble for conceding that he is not “God-fearing” enough, as the cabinet is crawling with ministers who are not “God-fearing”.
    This is not the only controversy of his speech, the other surprise was Low’s Quixotic attempt to resurrect Najib’s 1Malaysia signature policy when Najib himself appeared to have cremated and buried the 1Malaysia policy after the 13th general election almost two years and eight months ago.
    Was Low being serious?
    Low urged the Christian community to back up 1Malaysia, although in the past 32 months, all cabinet ministers – even the father of 1Malaysia, the prime minister himself – have virtually abandoned the 1Malaysia policy apart from perfunctory acknowledgement of its existence in the Najib pantheon of policies.
    Low said: “We ridicule and do not believe in it (1Malaysia) because certain people and leaders said certain things and looks like we are not serious about it. Sometimes, we even implement policies that contradict the spirit of 1Malaysia.”
    Adding that, “Nevertheless, I believe in the spirit of 1Malaysia.
    “I want to ask the Christian community and other communities – come back to promote 1Malaysia.
    “1Malaysia should be more about the values we uphold and not about ethnicity. We can find common values among ethnic and religious groups,” he noted.
    Was Low being serious in his speech or was he just speaking for the sake of speaking, not expecting his speech to be taken seriously in any manner?
    In the past 32 months, how many times had Low raised in cabinet to urge the prime minister and ministers to be serious in promoting the 1Malaysia policy, and to roll back the rising tide of the politics of race and religion, hate and falsehood built upon race and religious rhetoric, and to move beyond sheer gimmickry of 1Malaysia to serious nation-building policy based on the 1Malaysia objective to create a nation where everyone regards himself or herself as a Malaysian first, race, religion, region or socio-economic background second?
    Najib himself was a poor specimen of his own 1Malaysia policy, or he would not have asked the question in his Umno presidential speech at the Umno general assembly on Dec 10 whether he should be an Malay ultra or be pro-Malay only, and whether he must be Islamic or not.
    Had Najib forgotten about the 1Malaysia policy when he delivered his Umno presidential address after six years and seven months as prime minister – after tens and even hundreds of million of ringgit had been spent on 1Malaysia promotional products?
    It would appear that Najib’s premiership is adrift and at sea, bereft of any direction or vision for Malaysia.
    Did Low raise at any cabinet meeting after Najib’s Umno presidential address that something was amiss about the 1Malaysia policy and asked the premier and the cabinet whether the government is still serious about the said policy and committed to it?
    We need ‘Malaysian ultras’
    Or are we seeing the spectacle of Najib’s government degenerating into a “tail wagging the dog” phenomenon, where small cogs in the wheels of government are controlling and setting the pace and direction of government?
    As for instance, a department like the National Civics Bureau (BTN) disregarding the 1Malaysia policy and continuing to ensure that the ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ ideology is the directing policy of the government and which regards non-Malays as “orang tumpang” (immigrants) and not sons and daughters of the Malaysian soil.
    If Malaysia is to succeed as a nation, taking our rightful place in the international community as a plural society which punches above our weight because of our political, economic, educational, socio-cultural and nation-building achievements, we must ensure that more and more Malaysians embrace the 1Malaysia concept and reject narrow and exclusive racial, religious and cultural interpretations of the Malaysian narrative.
    What Malaysia needs are not Malay ultras, Chinese ultras, Indian ultras, Iban ultras or Kadazan ultras – but Malaysian ultras!
    Why should the prime minister of Malaysia be struggling with whether he should be a Malay ultra or not, if he is still loyal to the 1Malaysia policy and his declaration that he is the prime minister of all Malaysians, and not just of any ethnic group only?
    Can Low respond to these questions arising from his speech at the Christmas high-tea on Thursday?

  5. This UK #1 song on Christmas Day is appropriate for the occasion.
    The Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir’s song A Bridge Over You

  6. Eurasia Review: Create Christianophobia In Malaysia, We Must Not!
    http://www.eurasiareview.com/24122015-create-christianophobia-in-malaysia-we-must-not-oped/

    Malaysians are angry and deeply bothered by the recent issue of Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) organizing what was reported as an “anti-Christianization” conference.

    There is nothing new about the need for such institutions to train students to fear themselves and non-Muslims and non-Malays especially. It is a natural program to instill fear as part of a culture to defend the existence of race-based ideology. It is part of an apartheid strategy of Malaysian education I have written about in many articles.

    What is new is the question: how do we dismantle this system and work towards peaceful co-existence?

    I do not think the Christians and Catholics in Malaysia appreciate being bullied endlessly. I do not think they want to be branded as “evil people trying to spread false and dangerous message threatening Islam”.

    I do not think they need to be associated with the Crusade War a thousand over years ago, or even linked to the brutality of the Christian-imperialist army who were chanting “guns, guts, god, and glory” before annexing cultures and massacring the natives of Latin America, Africa, Asian, and even Northern America – so that the Crusaders carrying the order of the European monarchs can built churches while sucking the blood, sweat, and tears of the natives they enslave.

    I don’t think the Christians and Catholics in Malaysia want to be known as inheritors and carriers of the sins of their fathers. I think they just want to live, work, and worship in peace and be ensured that their safety in an majority Malay Muslim country be guaranteed.

    Why do institutions such as UiTM need to instill such a fear and to unnecessarily turn young and hopefully not-yet-Daesh/IS radicalised students into hating the Christians and Catholics? If Muslims in predominantly Christian nations such as the United States, Canada, and Australia can help protect the safety of Muslims from Christian extremists-wannabe-terrorists, why can’t Malaysia do similarly by not allowing conferences that promote hate to be fed to students?

    Why not encourage education for peace and conflict resolution? Why not teach empathy through ongoing good dialogue amongst Malaysians of different faiths? Why warn them of the “dangers of Christianisation” and not expect some lunatic fundamentalist groups to take the warning one step further and translate it into violent action, sanctioned and legitimised by the authorities?

    What education should look like

    Haven’t we heard the word ‘Islamophobia’? Why create ‘Chistianophobia’ at a time when the world is bipolar, violent, and plagued with all kinds of phobias?

    Let us come back to our senses. Here is my thought on what education should look like if we are to prevent racial and religious riots in future:

    The education of today’s bumiputeras via the special privileges given to them in all aspects, from preschool to postgraduate – especially the education of Malay Muslims through the racially-based institutions linked to the ruling party – has one objective.

    It is to produce more and more members of the Malay-Muslim-bumiputera privileged class who will ensure that the non-bumiputera-non-Muslims be kept outside the gate of equality, equal opportunity and meritocracy, even though they are the rightful citizens of this country whose parents and grandparents have laboured for this country so that the most privileged class of Malays and non-Malays can continue to be created to enslave the labour class of all races.

    No need to have a complex understanding on Malaysia’s philosophy of education, national development, frameworks of class evolution, politics of curricular studies, interplay between race, religion, and ideology, or any other complex theories of neo-feudalism to understand this simple fact of education and social reproduction in Malaysia.

    We need to turn the system upside down and renew prosperity of this country, based not on the advancement of this or that race, but the simple human logic that each and every one of us is a human being with dignity and an important part of Humanity.

    UiTM was different back in the days, especially in the 70s and early 80s.

    There is a vast difference in the way Malays were educated in the institution. It was a place to harness the creative energy and problem-solving gung-ho cognitive capabilities of students who had so much energy than just reading books only, so that they may further their studies and contribute to the development of the nation’s post-independence.

    This is because the leadership knew what education and human liberation meant. Because the first prime minster was a firm, fair, and wise man. A good man. The best we have had.

    However, beginning in the mid-80s till today it is looking like a place to engineer the development of totalitarianism and fascistic mono-ethnic thinking of a diploma mill used for political means by political masters only concerned with their own survival and vainglory, in all the excesses of political authority and one-dimensionality instilling fear of others instead of promoting diversity and the love for ethnic differences and cultural beauty.

    The difference between our premiers

    All these – and not much about the plain honesty of creating a generation of Malays able to see the true nature of their own potentials and be ready for an ever-changing world of globalising predatory.

    Because today’s prime minster is a very weak and unwise man. Not a good man at all. The worst we have ever had, many are saying.

    That’s the difference, if we agree. How then must the rakyat reclaim those once admirable institutions?

    Wake up, speak up, alumni and all. Education is the art and science of creating the free man and woman.

    “A multicultural, multi-vocalic, multidimensional understanding of Malaysia’s complex society.” This is what we need. This is a major theme on global education and international and intercultural understanding that Malaysian institutions such as UiTM need. This is it, rather than ones that continue to stupefy the students with themes that divide and insult the human intelligence as they relate to race and religion.

    These institutions are not fit to be called universities and educational institutions if they continue to nurture cognitive-pathological thinking in an institution that is already mono-cultural. This is not necessary for an institution that denies the opportunities for the students to work together with students of other races, befitting of what Malaysia is and ought to be about.

    I hope this misguided paradigm of educational progress and intellectual attainment can be changed with a gradual change in leadership; one that understands what education in the broadest sense of the word means.

    Whilst universities the world over are taking pride in being globalised and oftentimes scrambling and racing to make their campuses truly diverse and multicultural, UiTM and Mara elite secondary schools i.e. Maktab Rendah Sains Mara (MRSM) are still taking pride in defending the rights to be exclusively one-race, one religion, one-myopic vision at the expense of the development of the students’ minds yearning to be multi-intelligent and able to develop multiple talents.

    This has to change. Malaysians need to push for this change – because education is matter of national interest.

    Enough of Islamophobia. Enough of Christian and Muslims massacring each other the world over. Let us not create another version of Chistianophobia or Islamophobia right here in Malaysia!

  7. Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar of Johor said Muslims can celebrate festivals with their friends and neighbours of other faiths as a sign of respect.

    “This is what Bangsa Johor is about. It promotes closeness, tolerance and mutual respect for each other regardless of race and religion.

    “We should celebrate this in peace and harmony,”

    • In contrast, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, 67, has banned his Muslim subjects from even wishing Christians or each other “Merry Christmas” threatening them with fines of up to B$20,000 and imprisonment for five years.

      There couldn’t be a more stark comparison of contrasts between the very much loved and admired Sultan of Johor!

      Johoreans may not be as lucky as Bruneians who are entitled to free education and free health services, but they can surely take pride in a ruler who is compassionate and understanding and one who truly respects his multi-racial and multi-religious subjects.

      During this season of goodwill towards all men, peace on earth for all mankind, let us wish each other the very best for Christmas and may the conclusion of another successful year be as fulfilling as our future hopes for the new year!

      https://hornbillunleashed.wordpress.com/2015/12/25/on-christmas-you-love-johor-sultan-or-brunei-sultan-more/

    • The Sultan of Johor said he does not understand why the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) needs nearly RM1 billion a year in allocations, just one month after a deputy minister said the budget is not enough for the federal religious agency.

      In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Star, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar said he wanted Jakim to show him how they spent the money during the next Conference of Rulers.

  8. Such interaction and meetups creates friendly environment.
    This is beneficial to all and both sides deserves an applause.
    Certainly removes all the mental fear and psychology barriers put in place by certain federal agencies and politicians.
    Merry Christmas.

  9. Similarities between Islam & Christianity:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LfwvKzfatA

    Say: “O People of the Book! come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than Allah.” If then they turn back, say ye: “Bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (bowing to Allah’s Will).” Al Quran 3.64

    • Azmi should visit temples to better understand the different faiths, but please get clearance from Jakim first.

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