Sunday, 30 August 2009

Beliefs And Non-Beliefs. The Beef Is In The Beef

I profess no religion but I live in Malaysia where the first principle of its Rukunegara is, "KEPERCAYAAN KEPADA TUHAN (BELIEF IN GOD)".

Those guys who framed the Rukunegara are tricky and cheeky monkeys. They never show us whether it is meant to be god spelt with a "G" or a "g" and the
5 Principles of the Rukunegara are always shown in the uppercase (in capital letters lah).

To say it is spelt with a "G" could be deemed subtly suggestive in a country where Islam is the official religion and perhaps counter to the very Constitution (
Article 11) that makes citizens relevant to the Rukunegara.

If it is meant to be a "g" and a meaning of "god" that includes definition in the context of "
Einsteinian religion", then I have no issues dealing with mere difference in nomenclature.

Notwithstanding the above, I have never had issues respecting others for their own beliefs; the principle of "to each his own" is ingrained in my psyche since childhood and those of my generation (believers and non-believers) are more accepting and liberal compared to the government "
engineered" generations of today.

Ironically, I now hear on radio and TV, advertisements for 1Malaysia that depict Malaysians pining for the good old days when Malaysians did not need festive occasions to visit their friends/neighbors of different ethnicity and could freely eat with each other regardless of individual taboos. The character in one advert pines for those long lost days and yet we see the mass-media created discord around us in Najib's 1Malaysia today.

I have childhood memories of having char siew laden wan ton mee with two friends, a malay having his nasi kandar with beef and an indian eating fried koay teow with cockles (and lard) without much fuss at the Casual Market in Taiping.

In those days, those occurences meant we respected each others strength of religious conviction rather than imply our friends' weakness of faith. There was no question of insult or impoliteness as many tend to feel today.

But now, I even have had my kids' friends being forbidden by parents to visit or worse still, eat at our home basically because of pork (curiously though, we never had an issue with beef). We were living in Taman Melawati and then Bukit Antarabangsa (yeah, it's a misnomer) and Ulu Kelang is a predominantly Malay area.

Yet, I have a
Malay Muslim godson who routinely eats at our place and loves things (toys, mementos and such) porcine (we sometimes call him babi as an endearment) yet he does not consume pork ...and also alcohol; are his parents wrong to bring him up this way?

Since early this year we moved to a guarded housing estate in Puchong (yup, in Selangor). The residents here are 90% Chinese (I have the complete list of owners) and because I wanted to be personally involved in solving certain residual issues with the developer I did not turn down a request to be chairman of the residents association (RA).

One of the issues that I thought was already settled a couple of years before we moved here is a Hindu temple relocation matter. The temple was located at what is now the playground area and objecting house owners were only patient because the developer had promised that the temple would be re-located. The temple was indeed re-located after much public hullabaloo and compensation paid to the temple management committee to re-build at the new site. There was the usual bulldozer and tears scene that was rather unsettling to the neighborhood. The temple is now located a few hundred meters away on a hillock which to me seems more ideal.

Two weeks ago, I received a request from the temple committee for permission to have devotees conduct a "Milk Pot" ceremony at the former site of the temple. They said the deity had been residing at the location for the past 180 years and had refused to move. It was said to have demanded that the Milk Pot Ceremony begin at the old site (which is marked by a tree) and certain rituals conducted before they proceed to the new temple in a procession.

The committee requested access from 8.00 am to 3.00 pm on Sunday, 23rd August (refer to letter attached) and the representative whom I met said the actual ceremony would last at most an hour; the rest of the time was for them to return and clean up the place.

I am no Hindu but if they believe in earnest what they say they believe, I am willing to take it
at face value and if I could assist in anyway without too much bother to others I would. It would be the same for me even if they were Jews, Jains or Jesuits or of any religion for that matter. To me it was a request for 1/24th of 1/365 to do something they really believed in.

I enquired around with some residents including some committee members and was surprised (and maybe disappointed) to hear some dissenting voices. While they were all well-meaning, most cautioned caution and fed back that: residents' emotions were still high, nerves were still sensitive, the temple committee cannot be trusted to keep promises, we must avoid setting precedence, we should think long and hard, etc., etc. To me it was a simple and quick "yes" or "no" matter and the case for a "no" appeared lame.

I could not help but wonder whether the type of feedback was due to typical Chinese hubris yet I could understand how Malaysian society has been "bludgeoned" with religiosity over more than 40 years into being apprehensive about all things religiose apart from their own.

I could not help but wonder why none of the residents ever objected openly to the blaring early morning call to prayer from the loudspeaker of the surau located at our housing estate. Is it because of fear of reprisals, or is it the mitigating effect of conditioned reflex?

Our house in Taiping used to be beside the railway track and by virtue of conditioned reflex, we just did not hear the booming noise from passing trains! The human mind is a wonderful thing yet the same cannot always be said about the human mindset; people tend to object merely because they can or are in a position to object, rather than consider the merits of requests or action of others. Maybe I am being too cynical.

I could not help being reminded of the fact that my predecessor in the RA had successfully approached officials of the "supervising" mosque less than 200 meters away (as a crow flies) about the loud speaker. The kindly officials agreed to alleviate the loud daily morning "wake-up calls" by having the surau loud speaker point away from our Taman towards the neighbouring apartments where there are more Muslims. Though it is still loud depending where one's house is located but now, its not as irksome.

I could not help remembering a "turun padang" session by the MPSJ YDP, Dato' Adnan Hj. Md. Ikshan a few months ago when a resident from the predominantly Muslim neighborhood of Puchong Perdana complained so passionately about the request for another surau that went unentertained for years. The YDP's answer was simple; the Sultan discourages too many suraus because fewer people are showing up at mosques and it costs money to maintain suraus that have mushroomed just because of certain development by-laws.

I cannot help thinking of what happened in Shah Alam last Friday where again a Hindu temple re-location issue flared into totally unacceptable reactions from people purportedly from Section 23, Shah Alam.

Images of the grisly cow head must have flashed through newswires worldwide. Yet, what is the beef?

The complaint or grievance in this case is the act of complaining itself; the way it was done.

So much has already been said these 3 days before the nation celebrates its 52nd birthday. Were there reasonable grounds for complaint in the first place? Well, The Malaysian Insider quoted a protest leader, Mohammad Zurit Bin Ramli, as saying a temple would disturb Muslim practices. "The temple will disrupt our daily activities like prayers. We cannot concentrate with the sounds coming from the temple," he said. Sauce for the gander anyone?

Is this the independence we fought for where we cannot even be allowed to agree to disagree without our politicians reminding us, through agitation and mass media of our differences? Is this the 1Malaysia that Najib deems ideal and we are told the rakyat is priority and performance is paramount? Well, Happy 52nd Merdeka Anniversary...for whatever it is worth.

What of the "Milk Pot" ceremony of last Sunday? The temple committee agreed to delay the ceremony to 10.00 am and not to consider this consent as setting a precedence. I took the responsibility of allowing some noise in the neighborhood for one quiet Sunday morning in the year and was in attendance together with my RA predecessor throughout the one hour ceremony to handle any untoward incidences. Fortunately, apart from a couple of phonecalls from concerned residents there was nothing. The devotees did make quite a racket that morning with all sorts of drums, wind instruments and a loud hailer but what the heck!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was rather interesting for me to read the article. Thanks for it. I like such themes and everything that is connected to them. I definitely want to read a bit more soon.