Un-Islamic Al-Islam?

Friday, July 17, 2009 by Unit Media Baru PPUM · 2 comments
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July 16, 2009
Un-Islamic Al-Islam?
The actions of a journalist from Al-Islam magazine of going undercover to two Catholic Churches during Sunday mass, consuming and spitting the Holy Communion wafer - what Catholics believe to be the flesh of Christ himself - out of his mouth before photographing it, can only be described as appalling and offensive. As Leader of Barisan Nasional and UMNO Youth and as a Muslim, I have no reservations whatsoever in condemning this instance of unethical journalism, grounded in both disrespect and ignorance.

Needless to say, these actions are contrary to the goal of an empathetic society that I have been promoting as a way for Malaysians to progress as a people from diverse backgrounds. Empathy requires sound appreciation of one another's unique cultures and sensitivities - it calls for us to consider the perspectives of others before acting in ways that may affect them.

It also violates the Islamic injuction for empathy, plurality and respect, something made clear in the Holy Quran Surah Al-Hujarat, verse 13: "O Mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another".

The Islamic virtues of empathy, respect and tolerance were obviously absent in both the journalist and the magazine's editorial team that sanctioned the publishing of the article and the methods employed to gather information over supposed cases of Muslims converting to Catholicism/Christianity.

Everyone involved in the researching, writing and publishing of this article should have considered the fact that Muslims already find it offensive when non-Muslims do not observe basic courtesies expected when in a mosque, like taking off shoes and covering heads. They should further imagine their own reactions if someone went undercover in their local mosques, pretend to worship as a Muslim and made a mockery of congregation prayer. I suspect Al-Islam failed to consider the fact that the gravity of their own actions were similar to this hypothetical situation where the sanctity of the Muslim place and act of worship are violated. And this is at the heart of the problems we face as a multi-cultural and multi-religious society - people simply do not stop to think about another community's legitimate interests and sensitivities by positioning themselves from another's perspective before acting.

In this case, it is also especially telling that the journalist felt it necessary to go undercover to investigate the supposed instances of Muslim converts to Catholicism, when in fact, as far as I am informed, one can sit through and observe mass without having to be Catholic. This 'blunder' speaks volumes of the journalist's ignorance and the prejudices held even before he set out on his little mission.

I am further disturbed that this article was even published in the first place when ultimately the journalist could find no evidence of Muslim apostates going to Church. There was, in essence, no story to sell. Regrettably, perhaps starved of genuinely informative reports beneficial to the Muslim community, the tone of the article was decidedly mistrusting and almost vindictive - presumably in an attempt to create a sensationalist appeal. At one point in the article, the journalist even wrote of his dissatisfaction in finding nothing controversial during his visit to the first church. These sentiments reflect a certain fetishistic desire to confront "the enemy" when in fact it is completely unnecessary and harmful to inter-religious harmony. Feelings of moral superiority and righteousness vis a vis other faiths, even if unavoidable, should remain private and not manifested in the public domain.

As such, I am hopeful that this issue will not be hijacked or spiral into one that pits Islam/Muslims against Christianity/Christians. It was never about that. Instead, it is a case of unethical, and dare I say, un-Islamic journalism that has inadvertently underscored some of the reasons why genuine harmony is still elusive. Above all, it is a timely reminder to us, regardless of our faiths, to be more respectful, sensitive and empathetic to each other in order to build a better Malaysia which we all call home.

Khairy Jamaludin