Monday, February 8, 2010

Where azan, temple gong and church bell resonate




WHEN I first came here, it was still a British colony, a very familiar world.
The pillar boxes were red, the traffic drove on the left. English was spoken.

What I would never have anticipated were the familiar names.

"Musa" was my "Moses", "Johan" "John", "Daud" was "David", "Isa" was "Jesus", "Ibrahim" was "Abraham".

All the children of Abraham descended from that Middle Eastern crucible of three great religions -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Different revelations of God.

Recently, there were arson attempts against several churches.

What happened was an aberration that deviated from the religious norm in this country.

But the outside world, especially where bigotry rules, seized upon it to support the myth that we are an Arab -style, Taliban, extremist country. Nothing is further from the truth. To which I'd like to testify.

In all my 54 years here I have never experienced any encroachment on my Christian faith. Temple, mosque and church sit happily and comfortably side by side (Pitt Street, Penang). Temple gongs, church bells, and the imam's call to prayer mingle harmoniously. The latter resonates five times a day reminding me that this is a deeply religious country.

I love the sound, and its implication.

An inescapably aesthetic footprint comes with those thousands of individual mosques, all artistically stunning, that populate the landscape.

My favourite is the blue mosque in Shah Alam. Joining them are the Temple of Bright Clouds in Malacca or the biggest temple in the country situated surprisingly in the Muslim heartland of Kelantan. And Hindu shrines.

Growing up in Britain, I went to church and Sunday school religiously (in both senses of the word). Now many of the churches are empty unless it is Christmas, Easter, a wedding, a funeral or a christening.

With the one exception of old ladies like me, there every morning, revising for their finals.

Malaysia is a million miles from the Taliban. We have a lady central banker, four times voted the best in the world, and countless prominent women in public and private sectors alike.

Obama in a recent speech in Cairo paid tribute to us: "There are some Muslim countries that have done extraordinarily well -- from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai". A single sentence. If you or I had said it, it would have passed without notice.

But from the mouth of the poster boy -- on whose words the world hangs -- validated us as an advanced Muslim country. But then he is Barrack Hussein Obama.

At his inauguration they wanted to shorten the name to Barrack H. But he refused. Given all his Muslim kin we can hope for a more open mind towards us.

In Malaysia, it may come as a surprise to see a mosque in the middle of an industrial estate -- technology and Islam are not incompatible.

In Alor Star, a telecommunications tower sits next to one of the oldest mosques in the country. Spirituality and modernity combined. And we are the Islamic banking hub of the world. Halal food is the most hygienic for all of us.

And now the inevitable anecdote. I was at the same table at a function with a gentleman in flowing white robes, the first Saudi I had ever met.

I had preconceived notions about his likely attitude to one of my sex. How wrong I was. He was charming, talkative, pleasant and outgoing. He came from Medina. Did I know it?

I had reason then to be thankful to Tan Sri Azman Hashim. By virtue of writing a book on AmBank, I was able to recount how Al Kaswa, the camel Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was riding as he was fleeing from Mecca, stopped and knelt at the place we now call Medina.

The prophet took it as a sign from God and he remained there in safety for four days. A mosque at Koba now covers the spot. The name of this place of refuge was changed to Medina-al Nabi — the City of the Prophet. The Saudi gentleman, who turned out to be the deputy ambassador, was taken by surprise, possibly mistaking me for a Mat Salleh tourist. That very afternoon, he sent me two of the most elegantly bound copies of the Quran in English. In return, I sent him a copy of the Islamic Encyclopaedia from the pen of my good friend Dr Zaha Rina.

A spirit of harmony binds our multi-religious co-existence. The arsonists, driven by prejudice were acting in contradiction of 1Malaysia. Extremism and violence contradict the teachings of Islam, as does the present impasse in the world between Islam and non-Islam. We should remind ourselves that Baghdad
means the City of Peace and was the cradle of the Golden Age of Islam, civilised ahead of it’s time then.

The destructive acts of mankind like the Spanish Inquisition, the Klu Klux Klan and their racist lynchings, and now in Malaysia, the arson attempts or the crude flaunting of severed animal heads — are often in the name of religion.
This is not my beloved Malaysia. I ask again — a frequently asked question nowadays — what has happened to my warm, gracious, peaceful and brotherly Malaysian?

I still believe they are there — the quiet majority.

Datuk Dr. Paddy Bowie. ,
Paddy as she is more commonly known is Managing Director of Paddy
Schubert Sdn. Bhd. a business consultancy group she set up in 1980.

Graduating on a scholarship from Oxford University, she left the
United Kingdom and moved to live in Malaysia for the past 54 years. She is now
a Malaysian citizen. She is also a writer and political analyst and her views
are highly sought after by the international media. She is a frequent speaker on the
Conference circuit notably the Economist Conferences and the
Pacific Rim Forum in the US, Australia and most East Asian countries.

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