Losing Faith

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

The claim by Datuk Jahara Hamid that a Taoist shrine at the newly refurbished Armenian Street in Penang can cause Muslims to lose faith (hilang akidah) is simply absurd. Being a Muslim, I find her conclusion not only childish but out rightly insulting to Muslims. Perhaps it is confusing to her, as being an opposition leader, everything is confusing so long as the matter makes the rounds in the state assembly and, inadvertently, raises her stature as an opposition leader.

Otto Van Bismarck’s quote “Politics is the art of the possible” is not without reasons. And this is being reinforced by author H.L. Mencken who said that “practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

Imagined or otherwise the word “hilang akidah” has been bandied about with other religious taboos ever since Islam was declared “the official religion of the country” by long-serving Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir in 2001. Mahathir’s intention was nothing more but to ‘out-Islam’ the other major Malay-based political party, PAS (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia). And in doing so he had, unwittingly, confused the whole nation (pun meant).

So one can “hilang akidah” (lose faith) by simply walking into a church or walk past a Chinese or Indian temple or take a peek at a shrine, as declared by Jahara Hamid. Come on, lady, I have been a practising Muslim for almost seven decades now and I have not lost my faith yet, despite the many temptations around me.

I am a byproduct of a mission school and during my formative years attended chapel services with my classmates. We sang the hymns and Christmas carols along with others of varying beliefs but none, I repeat none, of my Muslim classmates have become Christians. And to claim that the mere sight of a pre-war Taoist shrine in a public park would confuse Muslims is not only insulting but demeaning. Are Malay Muslims so easily confused by sight and sounds?

I attended a funeral service of an old friend at a church recently. The previous night my wife and I were at the wake, there were a number of Malay Muslims among the crowd. We were there not to be indoctrinated but to pay our respects to a dearly departed friend. At the end of the service I asked my accompanying reporter, a twenty-something Malay girl attired in a flowing black dress, whether she had “hilang akidah”. She shook her head and smiled. She knew perfectly well what I meant. “Sir, I’ve been to such services before. I am alright,” she answered. I am pleased with her candor. This headscarf-wearing girl, who is a devout Muslim, has never allowed trivia to distract her thoughts. If only we have more of her in our midst, especially within the ruling circle, Malaysia will be a better place to live and work.

The controversial shrine at the upgraded Armenian Street Park in Penang has been around for over 70 years. “Datuk Kong” said a resident “has been protecting the people living in the vicinity. Its presence helps to ward off evil spirits,” he added.

I have seen similar shrines during my tenure in the army. Once while operating in the jungles of Kulim in the early 1970s we came upon a Hindu temple at the fringe of a rubber estate. And like other Hindu temples, the courtyard was adorned with statues. There were two life-size horses at the entrance to the temple. I warned my men not to disturb but to respect the statues. Unbeknownst to me one of the naughtier ones decided to ride on the horse. That night we had a tough time stopping him from “riding” around our jungle base on his imaginary horseback. He came around after the temple priest revived him.

The naivety of some Malay Muslims is mind boggling indeed. If losing faith is as easy as seeing or uttering something un-Islamic I fear for the sanity of the Muslim community in the country. Religious intolerance is fast taking root that soon it is no longer chic to be seen in my non-Muslims’ company. As it is, Christmas celebration is being frowned upon by many. Brunei has banned it totally.

Honestly, I am at a loss as to the direction this bountiful country is heading. Never mix religion and politics. But this is easier said than done.

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