Chased out of restaurant, but Muslims, Christians pull off memorable Malaysia Day dialogue

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A dramatic Malaysia Day in Butterworth that had a happy ending. Despite two police reports lodged against them and having to switch venues twice, including suffering the indignity of being thrown out of a restaurant, participants of a Muslim-Christian interfaith dialogue yesterday refused to give up.

Instead they finally held their Malaysia Day interfaith dialogue at the St Mark’s Anglican Church in Butterworth – their original choice of venue – last night.

The dialogue was organised by Tasik Gelugor Pas information chief Abdul Rahman Kasim and Parit Buntar MP Mujahid Yusof Rawa of Pas and Reverend Canon John Kennady Samuel representing the St Mark’s Church.

But a police report was lodged in Penang Island on Saturday by someone from a small group said to be representing ‘Muka Buku’ which also staged a little protest there. Another police report was believed to have been lodged in Butterworth on Sunday, along with a similar small protest.

When Rev John Kennady heard of these protests, he and his church felt it best to switch to an alternative venue to avoid any unpleasant scenes at the church – a decision the police were believed to have been pleased with. (Incidentally, it was John who had received a threatening note in his mailbox some time ago, warning of a possible bible-burning fiesta at the Butterworth padang, not far away from the church – an event that failed to materialise.)

The new venue for the event, scheduled for 9.00pm to 11.00pm, was Saravanan Restaurant along Jalan Kampung Benggali, just a short distance from the Butterworth Police Station. Arrangements were made for a dinner and discussion for about 30 participants. When he heard about the new venue, Mujahid was not happy: he had been looking forward to having the dialogue at the church.


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Outside the restaurant, the police presence was building up, with a mobile police station parked discreetly in a side lane opposite the restaurant. Journalists and plainclothes police began milling on the road outside the restaurant and then filed into the dining area on the first floor of the Indian restaurant. About 30 members of the church were in attendance along with 20 journalists and plainclothes police. Meanwhile, about 5-10 Muslims believed to be the group that was unhappy with the event also turned up.

Mujahid, Abdul Rahman and John Kennady took their seats at a table on the right of the long room while facing them were several tables of diners. I carried Rahman’s “Selamat Hari Malaysia ke-50” cake, which had two little Malaysian flags affixed to it, and placed it on the table where the three were seated.

Just as the event was about to start, a petite woman, who identified herself as the owner of the restaurant, walked in. She confronted Rev John and accused him of cheating the restaurant by not revealing the real nature of the event. She said the restaurant was only told to provide food for 30 people, and now there were more people (many of whom were unexpected journalists and the police).

John and Rahman tried to reason with her that they had informed the restaurant to provide food and that there would be some discussion. (Rahman told me later that they had earlier agreed with the restaurant that food for 30 should be provided and would be paid for, and if the turnout exceeded that, the organisers were willing to pay for the additional participants.)

But the owner was having none of it. “I give you 30 minutes to leave.”

Faced with that unexpected ultimatum, the organisers and participants decided to leave immediately.

Bye-bye Saravanan Restaurant: Participants leave the restaurant as the owner, right at the back, second from the far left, looks on.

Once again, I had to carry the Malaysia Day cake. Some of the cream from the cake smudged my fingers. I licked the sweet cream off my fingers – mmm, not bad – and wished the owner and others “Happy Malaysia Day!” with some irony before leaving the restaurant.

Now, John had to make a quick decision whether to go ahead with the forum or cancel it. The police officer he was in touch with was advising him to call it off to avoid any untoward incident.

But the good reverend decided to press on and hold the dialogue at the original venue, his church.

Muhajid and Rahman were thrilled. “This is the most appropriate place to hold the dialogue,” Mujahid later told the crowd inside the church hall.

Rahman drove me back to the church in his car while I clutched the precious Malaysia Day cake he had brought for the occasion. Some brown cream from the cake had sweetened one of the flags in the process.

At the church grounds, Mujahid was holding animated discussions with a couple of police officers. “I am here as an MP to participate in a dialogue inside and your job is to take care of the security outside and protect the sanctity of this church – just as you would protect the sanctity of a mosque or a temple.”

Seeing Mujahid and John’s determination to press on with the dialogue, the officers graciously relented.

Inside the small hall at one end of the church building, about a hundred Christians, Muslims, journalists, cameramen, and plainclothes police packed the room. Even the group of about 10 disgruntled people trooped into the room while others looked at them with some apprehension.

But as they entered the room, Mujahid’s assistant had a quiet word with them. “You say you are Muslims, then behave like good Muslims and respect this place of worship. The people here are watching you.”

By then several plainclothes police personnel were already in the hall including North Seberang Prai Deputy OCPD Supt Mohd Shukri Awang seated in the front row of the audience to ensure security.

Mujahid and John sliced the tension in the air by finally jointly cutting the “Selamat Hari Malaysia” cake, as Rahman looked on. Rahman then distributed some gifts from Pas – boxes of toothpaste and toothbrushes “to help you smile at one another”. Each spoke about the importance of dialogue, and the event flowed smoothly without further interruption.

When the session was over, I was called to launch Mujahid’s new book – “Berdialog dengan gereja: sebuah travelog kedamaian” (Dialogue with churches: a peace travelogue). On the back cover of the book were messages from Tok Guru Nik Aziz and Bishop Sebastian Francis. “Tonight’s events show that the path to dialogue is strewn with obstacles, but it is a path that must be taken to dispel suspicion and promote better understanding,” I said.

Himanshu Bhatt of fz.com asked Mujahid to cite his most memorable moment during his two-year-long series of dialogues at various churches.

Mujahid unhesitatingly replied it was during his first talk at the Holy Spirit Cathedral in Penang at the height of the Allah controversy when he explained Pas’ stand on the issue and was given a standing ovation by the 200 Christians gathered in the hall – a response which inspired him to continue these talks. The other occasion, he said, was of course the dramatic circumstances at St Mark’s Church last night.

During the press conference at the end, Mujahid had to tackle a couple of tough questions posed by mainstream media journalists, on whether he had the authority to hold such talks and to represent Muslims, to which he replied he was an elected MP and could talk to anyone he pleased in the course of forging greater unity.

Meanwhile, the Christian and Muslim participants were elated that their Malaysia Day dialogue, which had threatened to go so badly wrong at one stage, had instead turned out to be a memorable occasion under the most trying of circumstances. They even shook hands and thanked the police officers for keeping the peace on their way out.

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J H Robbins

Comment on Gerakan K in response to Pak Tim:

Supreme Leaders!! ??? Like Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini perhaps – Better ‘Jaw-Jaw’ than war – war – so let people discuss, build friendships and understanding, work together for the good of all … this is dialogue not a monologue … history shows that ‘infallible leaders’ tend (on the whole’ to be bad people.

Kamini Philip Koshy

Its time……..we come together as brothers and sisters.
Hate comes from the devil ,love comes from GOD.
AMEN!

anne5563

Anil and everyone involved. Well done. I am so glad all went well. May there be many more such dialogues to come. God bless Malaysia.

phyllis

Actually credit must got to Mujahid (PAS national unity bureau chairman) who is doing something that Jakim can never do.

Look up for Mujahid’s book: “Berdialog dengan Gereja – Sebuah Travelog Kedamaian”, which is about his experienes in holding dialogues with Christian groups in several states.

J H Robbins

Is it not curious that nearly 200 years ago a devout Malaysian Muslim was confident enough to translate the Christian Bible and work across ethnicities and now even dialogue is a source of problems? The person: Munshi Abdullah a.k.a Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir (b. 1797, Kampong Pali, Malacca – d. October 1854, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia), son of Sheikh Abdul Kadir d. 1820 Malacca) the fifth and only surviving child of Sheikh Abdul Kadir, a religious Muslim of Arab-Indian descent had a very strict Muslim upbringing and scholarly education. In 1815, Reverend William Milne, a ‘London Missionary Society’ missionary arrived and… Read more »

bryanbb

this is a hopeful development, at least the word discourse is not translated as a dirty offensive word , that warrants tit for tat retribution to some. and even if nothing concrete can materilaize in a resolution to the controversial issues from it yet , , well at least, cool heads prevail and they have the ears of each other..
nice indicator of a hopeful Malaysia Day..just like how the video “slipstream” gave me a hopeful feeling on what it means as one with a Malaysian psyche pondering the visuals
http://blogoptimizing.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/slipstream/

NJP

IMO Interfaith dialogue can only be a good thing. It helps towards understanding each other and diminishes suspicion. As a Muslim revert I enjoy watching all the Interfaith dialogues that are out there on YouTube. If there are people (Muslim or otherwise) that do not agree and think this will weaken ones faith I say “How dare you question the strength of my faith”. Kudos to all who helped this dialogue to go ahead successfully and hopefully the naysayers learned something about tolerance last night.

Bala

Anil, for your information, the owner of Saravanan Restaurant is Thanenthiran the Makkal Sakthi Party’s president, Najib’s … polisher. You choosed a wrong venue ler!

Tigerz67

Anil, thanks for reporting this story. Inspiring.

tunglang

Anil, your blog is already a lively kopitiam of daily dialogues, of colourful opinions as diverse as Chinese, Indians, Malays, Eurasians & even Ang Mohs! Hope one fine day when you retire, all of us Ah Peks & Ah Chims can gather @ one unpretentious kopitiam to talk anything joyful & reminiscent (except religious bigotry) under the clear blue sky over cuppas of Kopi-O kau kau & bowls of heavenly Penang street hawker food in an ambience of authentic 5-senses heritage without the slippery plastics of HongKee-Korean-Japanese obsessions ala SingLand prevention. Hope by then the said rendezvous kopitiam will not… Read more »

tunglang

Correction: …without the slippery plastics of HongKee-Korean-Japanese obsessions ala SingLand pretension.

tunglang

All the more to be Malaysians of Asian diversity. Just like Penang’s potpourri of spicy, sour, sweet, bitter, hot & icy cold (e.g. TeoChew Chendol loved by eskimos) heavenly street hawker cuisine!

Foodie Past n Present

while we are witnessing the irony of Almighthy conflicts; we are also reading tunglang’s reluctance to embrace (don’t expect 100% but at least acknowlege the change can be positive moving forward) new cosmopolitan Penang food scenes. Food culture evolves over time and do not crucified just because we cannot afford the new lifestyles others take them as norms of present days BUT to allow co-existent of both food cultures to evolve into something more appealing and not die off exponentially….
cheers kopi kau kau with you … peace and prosperity Penang street food

Vakram

“HongKee-Korean-Japanese obsessions ala SingLand pretension” is a threat to Penang food?

I see it more as a wake-up call for Penang hawkers to improve their hygiene and cleaniness in food preparation. The sight of utensils being washed openly on the kaki-lima using the same pail of water repeatedly is one example.

Penang hawkers can maintain their core values of using fresh ingredients, traditional recipe and cooking methods, but certain food handling practices need to be upgraded to keep up with modern-day expectations.

Aminah Sobri

“HongKee-Korean-Japanese obsessions ala SingLand pretension” is a threat to Penang food?

I don’t taste many Penang Street Food. However, with creativity even I get to taste Jakim-approved Chicken Bak Kut Teh BUT definitely by the roadsides now infested with rodents growing big with thrown-away high chlolestrol food.

sptay Penang

and Malaysia wants a seat in the UN Security Council bec it claims itself to be a “moderate Muslim’ country (whatever that means) and (these groups protest at) Dialogue between Muslims & Christians……tragic

Gopal RajKumar

Thank you Gerakan K. It is unfortunately not understood by these self appointed saints and heroes that they have neither the consent (full and informed) nor the authority or power to represent whatever faiths they claim to represent at these dialogues. Lets first ask the US and their (alleged) allies in Malaysia (Ambiga and Anwar and Kit Siang) what authority thy have to declare war on the Egyptian people, the Palestinians and the Syrians first.

Each of these self appointed bored ignoramuses are self serving platforms trying to make a name for themselves.

komlomos

The other priority seems to be smashing new dissent and activism. Note these recent events:
– When gangsters “resisting arest” were killed, a guy who (reportedly) asked on FB whether anyone could hire other gangsters to kill police was accused of endangering the police and “investigated” before being let off.
– 13 persons were jailed for 2 years in addition to fines for an illegal protest against the swearing in of the Perak MP.

komlomos

http://www.malaysia-today.net/mtcolumns/letterssurat/59412-where-is-my-government-malaysians-for-malaysia
Injustices are getting more and more outrageous. The greatest fear of the regime seems to be dialogue between any of the communities it keeps divided.

Muthu

Kudos to the policemen who were there for letting the discussions continue. It was very brave of them to defy their political masters and instead focus on being honourable law enforcement officers.

Mr. Netto, you haven’t tell us what happen to the 10 disgruntled people. Did they stay to listen to the dialogue? What were their reactions?

eddie

Why does politician have to interfere in Religious dialogues ???.. Lawyers should practice law like wise doctors practice medicine.. that should be the way.. The ” PROBLEM” here in this country is politicians making religious remarks…What happened to the ambassador from Vatican ??? Let religious leaders alone talk about faith which should be no concern of the corrupted and racist government.. Do you think we will acknowledge idiotic racist fellas in the GOV promising peace in the nation through their most stupidest dumb founded ideas where religion and its practise is concern??? OMG if ever god exist pls help these… Read more »

Pak Tim

This goes to show how backward the Malaysian public is. We however, applaud the forward thinking of PAS leadership.

najib manaukau

As long as we have these Umno morons running this country there will never be peace ! The morons can only thrive on quarrels between the people and above all their means to divert attention to all the (wrongdoings) that are going on. And who taught them to do all that ? Well, it is none other but the egregious Mahathir, he was supposed to have retired ? But did he ? Yes, only for a while before AB, his own choice as his successor, the Malaysians came out in full force to rejoice and voted AB overwhelmingly in his… Read more »

SamG

Maybe we should call it Interfaith harmony… or Peace or Understanding… Leave out the term Dialog or discussion or talk… since trouble makers react like “Saperti kera kena belacan” when they hear the word, Dialog…

Alex Reina

Its about time. Muslims need to start dialogue with other faiths. It is not right for Muslims to push their faith on everyone else and indeed which branch of Islam should it be?
Allow People to choose their religion or even no religion. Freedom of religion means that worshipers are there because they want to be not because they have a sense of obligation or are forced to be.
I’d rather my place of worship had 10 people that really wanted to be there than 100 who were just going through the motions.

Sivasankaran.C

Every religion acknowledges only one Supreme Being, Names may differ according to the language used, Who actually know the language of God? The purpose of religion is help Mankind recognize the Laws of Nature and live in peace with his fellow inhabitants whether it is human, animal, plants or even the earth. As a Hindu I know that our religion acknowledges the One and only One Supreme Being , but we have given Him thousands of names and forms for our better understanding.

Gerakan K

@Sivasankaran.C,

Your statement “Every religion acknowledges only one Supreme Being, ” is not correct. In Islam, there is mention of other religion and all muslims should respect ‘other religion’. On chinese part, there are Buddhist/taoist/etc. I expect the same for other religion as well.

If you observe in neutral position without any political inclination, these so called interfaith dialog mostly geared toward scoring political points than the actual intention. Interfaith dialog should be done by the supreme leaders of each religion. And certainly not by any politicians be it PR or BN. Do you agree ???

abdul aziz

Well said Gerakan K….Syabas!!

Gerakan K

If you THINK deeply, these actions of so called interfaith quite not PROPER/CORRECT. Under what capacity or authority do they think they are representing a particular faith ??? Do they appointed by someone/group that formally representing a particular faith ???

I see more problems than solutions generated by these actions. Do you agree ???

C.M.Yap

Dear Gerakan K., friends, old and new, have no need of any authorisation to get together to have a chat and share a cake. The bond of friendship is universal. You can chose to join and hold hands or walk way. No one is forced to do either and neither should anyone be coerced into doing either through unrestrained polemics or politically-engineered divisions. Thank you.

mama

Moron.

Yang

Yes more problems will be created by those moron and idiot racist and religioscist and especially GK

Pak Tim

What sort of problem do you see?

Gerakan K

The parties involved must be 1) fully knowledgeable in their religion 2) have the recognised authority to make statements or stances for their religion. Imagine a person who is only understand 50% of their religion trying to explain/describe/have a dialog with people with other religion. We can expect lots of errors, inaccuracy in the process. Errors and inaccuracy in religions are DANGEROUS and can cause tremendous problems. Some may interpret errors and inaccuracy in religion = CRIME = attempt to insult a religion = protest = unrest = civil war = PROBLEMS Interfaith dialog can only be done with supreme… Read more »

bigjoe99

In this day and age, how anyone think its reasonable to object to people talking to each other on anything much less religion is beyond me. How … medieval are some part of the country? And they say people in the jungles or anyone else for that matter are uncivilized?

tan, tanjung bungah

Hi everyone,
Congratulations to the Tasik Gelugor Pas information chief Abdul Rahman Kasim, Parit Buntar MP YB Mujahid Yusof Rawa of Pas and Reverend John Kennedy representing the St Mark’s Church for holding the dialogue! We should be building bridges, NOT burning bridges!

Yang

These moron and idiot racist and religiouscist are under seige because if such dialogue continue and is successful their master from oommoo will hard it hard to hold on to power. They must create the most ridiculous of things just like the surau that need to be demolished once a non muslim pray inside. Likewise those muslim who dialogue in the church – must also be demolsihed(?) hahaha. And mamak food stall must also throw away all the plates and utensil once used by non muslim patron(?) hahaha now we have more idiots and moron racist in the govt than… Read more »

Pak Tim

What s oommoo?

Lukaku

Why so worry about such dialogue ? Scared of crusade war to happen in Malaysia 2013 ?

Under Siege mentality …. Fear because of lack of confidence ? Ridhuan T must address this upfront on TV1 as basically there is only one GOD for all humans if exist.

phyllis

Unfortunately certain groups claim their religion could not be discussed in the same platform with other religions. That is why inter-faith dialogue often fails in Malaysia.

Azri

If you can proclaim your religion as a ‘religion of peace’, then I see no reason why you cannot embrace other religions for an inter faith dialogue.

Freddy

Same GOD, just different paths?

sqmhisword

Jews, Christian and Muslim are all Abrahamic Children. Love; Hope and Faith should fill their hearts…or else none love Almighty God. Blessed Hari Malaysia; Cake diplomacy is the right gesture and matured Muslim-Christian forward relationship. That is what the Quran and Bible talking about…mutual respect of each other faith and belief…under the same positive vibration; agreeable within disagreement in peace, harmony and prosperity. Syabas Hari Malaysia. Thank God for such symbol of Malaysian.