Two humble words don’t make a convert

Read in Free Malaysia Today:

Jeswan Kaur| August 23, 2011

Umno and JAIS are making much ado about nothing as it takes more than listening to the words ‘pray’ and ‘Quran’ to denounce one’s religion.

The raid at the Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC) by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) [State Religious Department] under the pretext that the organisers of the fundraiser were attempting to convert Muslims is simply absurd.

Citing Section 4 of the Non-Islamic Religious Enactment 1988, the raid while causing an uproar among religious communities received the support of the Muslim lobby groups.

Among those ignorantly supporting the raid was Selangor executive councillor for religious matters, Dr Hasan Ali.

He defended the raid, claiming that the words “pray” and “Quran” were used in the presence of the 12 Muslims who were among the 100 who attended the dinner on Aug 3.

Are just two humble words “pray” and “Quran” good enough to turn the Muslims who attended the dinner into murtads or apostates?

If that is the case, let me then share my experience with Hasan and all those whose “iman” or faith” sways each time “pray” and “Quran” are recited by the Christians.

Some years back, I had befriended a Muslim woman and we soon became good friends, so much so that she on many occasions sought my help with baby-sitting her school-going daughter while she was kept busy with her local councillor’s job.

I was literally living with this single mother and while our religious sentiments differed, she perhaps took it for granted that I would someday open my heart to her religion of Islam and consider converting.

Show of support

In fact, there were times when she would tease me for not returning to the “true path”, that is, to Islam and even asked me if I was open to converting to Islam.

There were times when just as I was about to take my medication, this friend would ask me to utter “bismillah” only to realise she was going a little too far. Did I take offence? No, because I knew where I stood as far as Islam was concerned.

Likewise, I took no offence when she asked me to accompany her to Mecca, to perform her Haj pilgrimage. I told her I would if only a non-Muslim was allowed to set foot in Mecca, which sadly is not the case.

I remember the first time when I spent the month of Ramadan with her and her daughter. I decided I too would puasa or fast, as a way to lend my support to this friend. I fasted throughout the Ramadan month, like my Muslim friend did.

For the first time in my life I set foot at a Ramadan bazaar and for the first time, too, I ate the kurma or dates during “sahur” (meal consumed early in the morning by Muslims before fasting) and ate and drank next only at night when it was time for “iftar” or break fast.

I was not used to eating at 4.30am or 5am but nevertheless that was the least I could do as a show of support to my friend.

But did I convert to Islam? No, because I never was in love with the religion to want to make it a part of my life. But then this does not mean I respect the religion any less. The fasting was to show support and also to experience what the Muslims did during the month of Ramadan.

Umno, JAIS got it all wrong

Does the fact that this friend asked me to utter the word “bismillah” and point-blank asked me to convert warrant action against her for attempting to convert me?

When she or her daughter did their “puasa ganti”, that is, replace those days they could not fast, I, while under no obligation, joined them as well. Why? Because they were no less a family to me and my faith was not about to crumble just because I decided to fast as the Muslims do and listen to the television for the “azan” (call for prayer) indicating it is time to break fast.

As far as I was concerned, my friend had her freedom to fulfil her religious obligations and I had mine. To fast and listen to the religious talks on television was hardly going to make a “murtad”. It was done to enhance my understanding of what the month of Ramadan is all about.

When this friend of mine decided to go to Mecca, I remember getting all excited and going to bookstores to look for books that would help prepare her for that very important moment of her life.

I read just as she did about Mecca, the Kaabah, doing the “saie” (walking back and forth between Mounts Safa and Marwah) and “tawaf” (circumambulating the Kaabah seven times). In short, I was no Muslim but I knew a fair bit about Islam, because I chose to, for knowledge sake and not for any devious reason.

Back to the DUMC issue, for JAIS to issue a flimsy excuse that it was concerned that the Muslims who attended the farewell dinner would sway towards Christianity only reflects JAIS’ own insecurity over Islam.

As my experience of having lived with a Muslim friend shows, it was all about lending support to a friend in the month of Ramadan. There was no question of my becoming a murtad or embracing Islam. There was no such fear because the intention was clear – to understand and support.

So when the Malay-dominant party Umno and JAIS make “much ado about nothing” over the DUMC farewell dinner, they are only making a fool of themselves, for not having enough trust in fellow Muslims.

It takes more than listening to words like “pray” and “Quran” to denounce one’s religion. I should know, for I have been there and done that, and am still Jeswan Kaur and not the Malay name this friend so fondly wanted to re-name me with.

The question that begs a truthful scrutiny is – is it the non-Muslims who have an issue with Islam or is it the Muslim themselves?

By the way, last Friday, as I sat sipping coffee at a Muslim-restaurant, a young Malay couple walked in to have lunch. The girl, who wore a tudung, nonchalantly ate her lunch, indifferent to the glares of those left wondering at the audacity of this young lady.

Soon after, once the Friday prayer was over, several men with their sejadah (prayer mat) in hand walked into the same restaurant.

Instead of raiding premises of DUMC, the overzealous officers from the religious department should patrol places where they are most needed. But as always, they have a record of making a no show.

Jeswan Kaur is a freelance journalist and a FMT columnist.

“According to inside sources, the thanksgiving dinner function was called Terima Kasih Allah/Jesus,” said Dr Zulkhaini at a press conference at the Shah Alam mosque.

altOn top of the Islamic-themed quiz and the exploitation of Islamic phrases, Jais also found the Malay version of the Bible in DUMC which is deemed illegal in Peninsular Malaysia. It also didn’t help that the Muslims who were present at the dinner had reportedly denied that they are Muslims.**

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