Tuesday, 1 September 2009

More Voices Of Reason

Syed Akbar Ali made sense with this piece. It helped me correct some of my misconceptions about Muslim practices…please read

Places Of Worship
By Syed Akbar Ali

Many, many years ago circa 1997 when I wrote a column in The Sun newspaper, I wrote once about our temples, mosques and other places of worship getting too noisy. My article was reproduced by some nut from PAS in the Harakah or somewhere. He was asking people to get angry at me.

At that time we lived on a 17th floor condo in Pantai Hillpark. Nine years before in 1988 my wife and I (with our baby son) lived for a while in a rented flat in Subang Jaya.

In both places we lived close to mosques and suraus. In Subang Jaya there was a surau immediately behind our flat. Early each morning about 5 a.m. they would start blasting the chanting and recitations etc on their loudspeakers. Our baby son would start crying from his sleep.

(Most recently my good friend Jahamy keeps sending me smses at about 6:00 am in the morning. When I asked him why so early, he said there is a masjid nearby which wakes him up too!)

In Pantai Hillpark, the local mosque would have their ceramah – sometimes up to 9 pm and beyond. Even 17 floors up the condo and some distance away, we could hear their chatter.

I also worked at Maybank (Menara Maybank, Jalan Tun Perak). In the evenings after work, my colleagues and I would sometimes adjourn for tea at our foodcourt. Just nearby, as you come up the small road from Jalan Pudu, there is a Hindu temple at the corner. In the evenings this little Hindu temple would incessantly ring its very loud bell. It used to really rattle my ears. I would have to strain my ears to hear my friends talking.

In other countries you keep your noises inside your temples, churches and mosques. I think that is a very Islamic and civilized thing to do. In Germany church bells can only be heard inside their own walls and not beyond their compound. Neighbours have a right to complain about noise pollution from church bells. The same applies to the call for prayer or azan from mosques in Germany. All sounds must remain within the four walls of your place of worship.

I am sure if there are Hindu temples in Germany, their bells must also abide by the same rules. Its called curbing noise pollution.

Here I would like to point out that the loudness of the ceramah at the mosques or the loudness of the call to prayer has got absolutely nothing to do with their religious fervour.

Instead it has got everything to do with the inventive genius of “kafir” sound engineers in Sony of Japan or Samsung of Korea. As the “kafir” Japanese and Korean sound engineers become more inventive, so do the mosques around the world become louder. The religious fervour is not linked to the faith but to the power of the latest sound systems from Sony, Samsung and LG.

The relevant question to ask would be : what kind of religious fervour is that?

To be true to the faith, the call to prayer should be made using the human voice alone, unaided by 100MW or 250MW “Made In Japan” loudspeakers.

I really feel that all our places of worship inside Malaysia (of all religions) must be governed by zoning laws pertaining to noise pollution. Keep it down. Don’t make noise and disturb the neighbourhood.

My view is also that compared to our population now - there are far too many mosques and suraus, far too many temples and far too many churches in our country. There are thousands of Hindu temples, there are far too many suraus and mosques being built and there are also too many shophouses being converted into churches. The Calvary Church people are building a huge RM160.0 million worship centre close to my house in Bukit Jalil. Do we really need so many places of worship?

If you go to Kuala Kubu Bahru, they have built a huge mosque in the town. I think this mosque can accommodate all the inhabitants of Kuala Kubu Bahru town, including the non Muslims. It rarely has a full house in the congregation.

In Putrajaya the immensely beautiful Putrajaya Mosque also suffers emptiness most of the time. Only on Fridays and the Hari Raya there is a large congregation. On other days few people attend this mosque. Yet just about a kilometer away the latest testimony to religious hubris – a spanking new RM200 million stainless steel mosque also known as the “Masjid Besi” - with a capacity of 20,000 worshippers - has just been opened. This “masjid besi” is going to remain empty too.

But the saddest of all mosques is the huge and beautiful mosque that has been built just outside the KLIA. You cant miss it when you drive to the KLIA. The huge mosque stands alone with hardly anyone stopping over forprayers. It is totally out of the way.

I was in Kedah, driving through the gorgeous paddy fields beyond Alor Setar when suddenly out of the green paddy loomed this huge brand new yellow painted mosque with a huge dome. I am sure that mosque too could also have absorbed all the men, women and children in the surrounding village and still have space to spare.

There is a reason why mosques are getting so huge and so many. They are lucrative construction contracts – Government contracts. So if you are a local politician and you need to pass out some goodies in your precinct, a mosque contract would do the job just right. Plus the bigger the mosque the better it is – and who will dare oppose the building of a larger mosque because building mosques begats ‘pahala’ or blessings.

And unfortunately many mosques have now also become a rebut kuasa place for the political animals who wear turbans and gorilla facial hair. They use the mosques to sow hatred and divide the community further. Here are some interesting verses from the Quran.

Surah 9:107 “There are those who abuse the masjid by practicing idol worship, dividing the believers, and providing comfort to those who oppose GOD and His messenger. They solemnly swear: "Our intentions are honorable!" GOD bears witness that they are liars.”

Surah 9:108 “You shall never stand in such a masjid. A masjid that is established on the basis of righteousness from the first day is more worthy of your standing therein. In it, there are people who love to be purified. GOD loves those who purify themselves.”

The same goes for temples and churches. Temples and churches also generate ‘money’ at the donation box. They provide other “services” like solemnizing marriages, “blessing” babies, blessing a new car, blessing a new business premise etc etc. All this generates money. That is indeed a powerful aphrodisiac to lord it over the worshippers. Temples and churches are not exempt from feuds, squabbles and fighting over money.

Religion does divide people. This is a scientific fact. It is a necessary requirement for religion. If you join one religion, you must leave another. It is mutually exclusive. If you accept one type of holy spirit, then all the others must become unholy. You simply cannot have two holy spirits. They would start arguing with each other.

No apologies offered but these views of mine do not extend to the “deen” of Islam of my choosing –“deen” being a way of life. I am referring to the Islam that is kept safe and secure in the Quran. I am happy to note that even the non Muslims have begun to understand what is in the Quran and use the knowledge to good effect.

Recently a Guna something being an Editor of the Star wrote an article about the Karthika Dewi Shukarno affair. Guna wrote that the ‘scholars say that the Quran does not prescribe any punishment’ for consuming alchohol.

I am glad that Guna knows the content of the Quran pertaining to punishment and consuming alchohol. I also hope he will get to know much more about the Quran. This is useful information.

The Islam that I have come to know and appreciate is the same Islam that compels me to write these views today about mosques, churches and temples. The Islam that I have come to know is far removed from the hate and divisiveness that is ordinarily potrayed on tv and in the media (and also in Shah Alam on Friday).

I am a Muslim. I am NOT one of them (or maybe one of YOU).

“Religion” (as opposed to the “deen” or way of life of Islam) is indeed the opium of the masses. Religion has too often been thwarted to become one of the most divisive forces ever created by mankind. More wars have been fought over religion and more people have been killed over religion than anything else. Religion is likeradioactivity. You touch it you sure “kena”.

If we claim to be sensible people all of us must seriously consider if we really need any type of too intrusive (or pervasive) religion in our lives?

Ponder the following. Compare spending one hour in your place of worship with spending one hour in the library. Compare spending an hour in “devotions” with an hour taking a brisk walk. Compare spending an hour listening to a religious sermon with an hour listening to classical music or listening to a professional speaking about something useful.

Now please answer me this:
Which activity can lead you to carrying a severed cow’s head to insult someone? Which activity can lead you to say that your neighbour believes in unholy spirits?
Which activity can lead you to be inconsiderate of your neighbours right to peace and quiet?
Which activity can lead you to hate your fellow man based on caste or sect?
Which activity would cause you to like or dislike a person because of his dietary preferences (pork or non pork eating, beef or non beef eating, vegetarian or non vegetarian)?

Do answer honestly. I hope it will help you get a better idea of the common variety of “religion”.

As I said before, I am a hardcore, fundamental, extremist Muslim. So to end this, here are some quotes from my favorite book the Quran :

Surah 9:31 “They have set up their priests and religious scholars as lords, instead of GOD. Others deified the Messiah, son of Mary. They were all commanded to serve only one god. There is no god except He. Be He glorified, high above having any partners.”

Surah 9:34 “O you who believe, many religious leaders and preachers take the people's money illicitly, and repel from the path of GOD. Those who hoard the gold and silver, and do not spend them in the cause of GOD, promise them a painful retribution.”

How true. Sadaqallaah – God has spoken the truth.

p.s. If you wish to comment on this topic, please keep it civil – otherwise I will not let your comments through and the world would be deprived of your insight, your genius, your wisdom and your spin. And that would be a terrible waste because the more we share our ideas, the richer we become.

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