Home Minister very at home with his ignorance

Home Minister very at home with his ignorance
by Martin Jalleh

Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar believes it is his prerogative and position to preach to the Catholic community in Bolehland on what they should and should not believe in.

 "Religion and politics should not mix”– he pontificates. This is ludicrous especially coming from a Minister whose political party’s interpretation of its own religion has politicised almost everything in Bolehland.

The Home Minister  hops on the bandwagon of the horde of “little mullah napoleons” (LMNs) in the country to dominate, dictate, decide and even define what non-Muslims can and cannot discuss, deliberate on, and display in print.

He joins the LMNs in his ministry in hounding The Herald.  He says he was not aware of the instructions by his Ministry to decide whether to suspend or revoke The Herald’s publication permit, yet he decides to threaten the publication.

An official in his ministry had said that Herald may have its permit suspended if it goes ahead and publishes an editorial on the Permatang Pauh by-election, because an editorial on the by-election was a topic under current affairs and politics (Star, 13.08.08).

Yet, as was pointed out by The Herald’s editor Father Lawrence Andrew, the officer had not even seen the editorial. Yet he had the audacity to issue such a threat. And as it had turned out the editorial was only asking people to pray for a just and fair by-election.

So now it appears the LMNs even feel they have the right to tell adherents of faiths other than Muslim what they can or cannot pray for!

Rites & Rituals

“If you are to write on religion, then you are supposed to touch on matters pertaining to questions on rituals, adherence to God, followers and anything related to your divine mission.

“If you go beyond that, definitely you have committed some breaches,” so declared Syed Hamid when responding to questions from reporters on The Herald being given a show-cause letter and several warning letters for writing on politically-related issues and events.

In response to Syed Hamid’s hype the Catholic Lawyers’ Society of Kuala Lumpur homed in on the fact that “(u)ltimately, the interpretation of what constitutes religious matters should be left to the leaders and adherents of the faith”.

In a recent press statement, its president Mabel Sabastian said that the reporting in The Herald was “in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church in social and political charity”.

“The Home Ministry is not in a position to dictate to the Catholics (or for that matter, the proponents of any other faith) the scope of their religion,” she drove home the point.

“In seeking to control the contents of The Herald, the Home Ministry’s warning and show-cause letters go against Article 3 (1), Article 10(1)(a) and Article 11(3)(a) of the Federal Constitution, that is, the right to freely practise one’s religion, the general freedom of speech and expression and the right of a religious group to manage its own affairs.”

“Such controls will deprive the Catholic community of current information and education in relation to their faith. Such an act by the authorities is tantamount to curtailment of religious freedom,” she concluded.

Dangerous dichotomy

Contrary to the narrow and naïve definition of religion by Syed Hamid, the Catholic Church teaches that her religion must go beyond the realm of rites, rubrics and rituals and be one that seeks to respond radically to her “divine mission”.

In fact, the Catholic Church has warned her adherents of having a religion that is “nothing more than the fulfillment of acts of worship and the observance of a few moral obligations”.

She calls the “compartmentalization” of faith (as dictated by Syed Hamid), “one of the gravest errors of our time”. She says that “the dichotomy between the faith which many profess and their day-to-day conduct” is vehemently denounced in the Bible.

Catholics are taught not to view their faith as a purely private affair. It may be true that there are personal dimensions of faith but there are also social dimensions that require believers to live and take their faith into the public and political arena.

Indeed, far from pietism and personalized salvation, the Catholic faith is profoundly social. “We cannot be called truly "Catholic" unless we hear and heed the Church’s call to serve those in need and work for justice and peace,” a Church document succinctly puts it.

In sharp contrast to the narrow perspective of the Home Minister, the Catholic church also believes in carrying out its “divine mission” in solidarity with others. It proclaims that “no matter our national, racial, ethnic, economic or ideological differences, we have a global commitment to love our neighbors and to work for justice.”

“We also have a commitment to work towards a just, even and fair development of our world, where no one society is exalted materially above the rest, and no other society is left, quite literally, in the dust. Development must respect the rights of all nations and their people, always promoting the moral, cultural and spiritual dimensions of each person.”

If Syed Hamid is sincere and serious about religion being related to “your divine mission” then he can find no fault with The Herald which has only been reporting and reminding Catholics of their divine mission – which is the same as Jesus’ divine mission of bringing "good news to the poor, liberty to captives, and new sight to the blind" (Luke 4:18) – a mission that clearly and inevitably and ultimately involved the political realities of his time.

The Catholic Church also teaches that “(t)he members of the Church, as members of society, have the same right and duty to promote the common good as do other citizens. Christians ought to fulfill their temporal obligations with fidelity and competence. They should act as a leaven in the world, in their family, professional, social, cultural and political life” (Justice in the World).

As an organ of the Catholic Church in Malaysia it is The Herald’s responsibility and even sacred duty to keep Catholics informed and involved in playing an active role as citizens of this country – and this logically includes the political sphere too.

Wisdom & Will

The ignorance displayed by Syed Hamid is so reminiscent of what the Prime Minister had warned us of when he opened the “International Conference on Religion in The Quest for Global Justice and Peace”, in July this year.

He had called on religious scholars and intellectuals to engage with the wider public in order for them to play a vital role in “combating ignorance and the perversion of religion” and “in broadening public understanding of religion, and its role in promoting justice and peace,”

“Our religious education should convince us that the dignity and integrity of all human beings is worthy of our respect. Religion should inculcate a truly universal and inclusive outlook, not a mentality that is narrow, exclusive and parochial,” Pak Lah added.

Pak Lah also stressed that there is “the need to amplify the role of the media in promoting a universal and inclusive dimension of religion that focused upon justice and peace”. Will this point by the PM hit home, Mr. Home Minister?

Perhaps there is no better statement by the PM himself that exonerates The Herald, affirms what it has been doing,  and spurs the publication on to continue to translate into reality its “divine mission” than the following:

“Journalists and media practitioners in general should deepen and broaden their understanding of religion, in order to play a more effective role in advancing the universal values of justice, peace and compassion which lie at the heart of our great religious philosophies.”

Come this 31st August, may we be able to truly celebrate our freedom from all religious narrow-mindedness. May God grant to the adherents of each faith, the wisdom, will and way to live out fully their divine mission for the good of all. Merdeka!

(20 August 2008)

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