Thursday, March 31, 2011

Religious pluralism

The concept of the universality of God

At a recent lecture on religious pluralism by Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim at the London School of Economics, expounded the concept of religious pluralism which he proposed to be adopted my Malaysia. Unfortunately the Malaysian authorities instead of welcoming his proposal instead are threatening to punish him saying his ideas may result in the diminution of the status of Islam.

Pluralism is defined as the existence of different types of people, who have different beliefs and opinions, within the same society. In a multiracial and multi ethnic population like Malaysia religious pluralism is something which we should all strive for as that is the only way to attain harmony in a diverse society.

In adopting pluralism is a diverse society would mean that all communities are equal. The people therein accept that all religions, races and cultures are equal. I agree with DSAI that for religious pluralism to flourish in a divided world, it is morally unacceptable to say to people of other faiths, “We believe in our God and we believe we are right; you believe in your God, but what you believe in is wrong.”

Such a belief is the cause of disunity among us resulting in hate and suspicion for one another which are against the basic tenets of every faith. We are willing to fight and kill one another in the name of God – defending our God against the accusations of others, not realizing that it is we humans who need God’s protection not God who needs ours.

DSAI rightly points out that whatever the religion, whether it be Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism and many others, the higher truths which go beyond mere practice and ritual all converge on the singular truth and that is from God we were sent forth and unto God shall we return. The God of the Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs and all other religions are the one and same God whom we call by different names, according to our own culture and language.

It is timely for us as true followers of the various faiths rise above their differences in rituals and form to reach the one true God of all mankind. We may be chastised for doing so but it is the truth that we must be prepared to defend at all costs.

Religion and pluralism in a divided world

Anwar Ibrahim

New Asian Republic

March 22, 2010

Anwar Ibrahim, Opposition Leader and former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia

Let me begin with a cryptic line from T.S. Eliot’s “Burnt Norton”:

“Go, go, go, said the bird: Human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.”

But I say bear it we must for indeed, it is a stark reality of our world that certain religious groups hold that only certain fundamental doctrines may lead to salvation.

This exclusivist outlook unfortunately cuts across the board as between religions as well as within the denominations.

In Christendom, we have seen the schisms and consequent upheavals arising from this sense of exclusivity.

Within Islam, Sunni, Shiite and Sufi denominations have had a chequered history and continue to present the world with a scenario of violence and bloodshed.

The backlash against Muslim migration to Europe has become more acrid in the aftermath of 9/11 and 7/7 with right wing politcal parties benefitting from the new bout of xenophobia and fearmongering. France’s ban on the burqa has elicited heated emotion on both sides, but many Muslims scratched our heads in disbelief when Switzerland outlawed minarets.

Back in the 13th century, the mystical poet Jelaluddin al-Rumi wrote in the Masnavi:

“The lamps are different but the Light is the same, it comes from Beyond; If thou keep looking at the lamp, thou art lost; for thence arises the appearance of number and plurality.”

Those verses couldn’t be more relevant for us today. Despite rancorous debates linking religion to conflict and discrimination, it remains a fact that at a personal level religious experience boils down to certain universal concepts. Where does man come from? What is his purpose? What happens when he dies? The spiritual path subscribes us to a universal quest for truth and the pursuit of justice and virtue.

We rejoice in beauty, both within ourselves and in what surrounds us. We long for knowledge, peace and security amid the mysteries and uncertainties of the universe. In our disjointed world filled with ugliness, violence and injustice, religion gives all of mankind an opportunity to realize values which unify humanity, despite the great diversity of climes and cultures.

Dante – one of the great poets of the Christian tradition – had much to say about this issue. Surrounded by civil strife that tore asunder the landscape of his 14th century Italian countryside, Dante was well acquainted with factionalism and the struggles for power between the Lords Temporal and the Lords Spiritual.

Seeing the damage inflicted by the attempts to overcome these divisions he perceived a solution that was not merely political in nature. Writing in Monarchia he said that the ultimate aims in life are twofold – happiness in this worldly life as well as happiness in the eternal life basking in the vision of God. The attainment of these two goals would come with great difficulty:

“Only when the waves of seductive greed are calmed and the human race rests free in the tranquillity of peace.”

Dante’s vision of universal peace could be achieved only when the nations of the world unite in an undivided planetary polity. This was surely a utopian dream but being European it is worth noting that his dream was not of an imperial Europe.

Nor did he envision the Church expanding beyond its walls. The ruling authority in this utopian landscape would be the faculty of human reason, linking Dante’s vision directly to the philosophical outlook of Muslim luminaries including al-Farabi and Ibn Rushd.

Of course such a new world order never materialized. On the contrary if there is an enduring legacy of Enlightenment thought on the political geography of the world it is the dissection of empires and dynasties into individual, competing nation states rather than a greater unification.

Much blood was spilled to create and then protect these boundaries. Despite attempts by some to purify their lands, the boundaries drawn around the nation-state have been blurred by the advent of modern transportation and communication.

Today’s world is perhaps more diverse and integrated than was the case in the golden age of Muslim Spain, where Christians, Jews and Muslims lived in peaceful harmonious coexistence. And yet we can hardly say that the overwhemling result of this new connectivity is peace and harmony.

Today, freedom of religion without which there can be no religious pluralism, is an entrenched constitutional liberty in the established democracies. As such, favouring one religion over another or granting it a position at the expense of others may be considered as being against the spirit of religious pluralism. Yet this still happens even in certain established democracies in Europe while in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia this ambivalence has been virtually taken for granted until recently.

This is why the discourse on religious pluralism must deal with the fundamental question of freedom of religion and by association the freedom of conscience. The question arises as to whether it is the diversity of religions which makes the divided world more divided or the denial of religious freedom that causes it.

I believe I’m not alone in saying that for religious pluralism to flourish in a divided world, it is morally unacceptable to say to people of other faiths:

“We believe in our God and we believe we are right; you believe in your God, but what you believe in is wrong.”

If the Qur’anic proclamation that there is no compulsion in religion is to mean anything then it must surely be that imposition of one’s faith unto others is not Islamic. But to say this is not to deny the reality of religious diversity for the Qur’an also tells us clearly:

“O people! Behold, we have created you from a male and a female and have made you into nations and tribes to that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware.”

The Guru Granth Sahib tells us that he who sees that all spiritual paths lead to the One shall be freed but he who utters falsehood shall descend into hellfire and burn. The blessed and the sanctified are those who remain absorbed in Truth.

Whatever the religion, whether it be Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism and many others, I believe that the higher truths which go beyond mere practice and ritual all converge on the singular truth: and that is from God we were sent forth and unto God shall we return.

Yet certain leaders of the major world religions continue to make exclusivist claims to the eternal truths rather than accepting the commonality that binds us. If we accept that there can be unity in diversity, religious pluralism can therefore be a unifying force, not a cause of division. That is the way to take us away from darkness into light, from war to peace and from hatred and evil to love and kindness.

As for Muslims, there continues to be the problem of those who reject the value of free speech, free press, democracy, and freedom of conscience. They see the culture of religious pluralism as part of a grand conspiracy by ‘others’ particularly Christians to proselytize and convert Muslims. Pluralism is also a ploy of smuggling Western-style democracy through the back door.

But this is actually an aberration when it comes to the application of Muslim jurispriudence. Outside certain concerns of public policy there is no religious obligation upon Muslims to impose the laws and values of Muslims on the entire society.

The Ottoman millet system is but one example of a system crafted by a Muslim state which was grounded in the principle of respect the recognized the rights of non-Muslims to follow freely the dictates of their religion. It was recognised that this was essential to maintain harmony in a pluralistic environment of an expanding empire.

Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyah, an eight century Hanbali legal scholar offers us a more vivid case. In the case of the Zoroastrian practice of self-marriage whereby men are encouraged to marry their mothers, this is an act deemed morally repugnant from the Muslim perspective.

When asked whether the Muslim state should recognise such unions, however, al-Jawziyah affirmed the rights of the Zoroastrians provided their cases not be presented in a Muslim court and that the said practices are deemed permissible within their own legal tradition. So, he said, the Muslim state has no business to interfere.

It is unfortunate that some of the wisdom of Islam’s classical scholarship are forgotten. Ideological rigidity remains the stumbling block to progress and reform. Muslims must break free from the old practices of cliché-mongering and name calling, move beyond tribal or parochial concerns. A rediscovery of the religion’s inherent grasp of pluralism is very much in need.

The Qur’an declares: Say He is Allah, the One, Allah, the eternally besought of all. One of the greatest medieval Torah scholars, Maimonides, also known by the Arabic moniker Ab? ?Imr?n M?s? bin ?Ubaidall?h Maim?n al-Qur?ub?, in expounding the unity of God in Judaism said: God is one and there is no other oneness like His.

With reference to the phrase “hallowed be thy name” from the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9), the late Swami Prabhavananda wrote that God’s name can be viewed as a mantra, the repetition of which both confers spiritual power and purifies the aspirant’s heart and mind. By means of this practice, God’s “name is experienced as living and conscious, as one with God—and illumination is attained.”

Historically, Muslims viewed the Qur’an as addressing the intellect as well as the spirit. It set out the order in the universe, the principles and certitudes within it, and demanded a thorough examination of them so that we can be certain of the validity of its claims and message. This pursuit would inevitably lead to the realization of the eternal principles of the Divine Unity which in turn springs forth from the Divine Laws.

But the Shari’ah was never cast in stone and evolves continuously through this dynamic process. In order to maintain a middle ground, the essential ingredients of an Islamic methodology must then be conceived in a holistic perspective which will be universal and eternal in appeal.

It is said that pluralism in a divided world serves only to cement the schisms leading to the tired and tiring refrain of the ‘clash of civilizations’ akin to the beating of ‘an antique drum’. This seems to be the metaphor that appeals to the imagination of historians and political scientists.

The upshot is a clash of visions of history, perceptions, and images which in turn brings about differing and often opposing interpretations, not just of history, but world views. Nevertheless, as Eliot says:

“History may be servitude, History may be freedom.”

We should therefore disabuse ourselves of this notion of the clash between civilizations and refocus our attention on the clash that has been brewing within the umma. We see a more dangerous and portentous clash as one that is intra-civilizational – between the old and the new, the weak and the strong, the moderates and the fundamentalists and between the modernists and the traditionalists.

If we look at history as servitude, we could gloss over the historical perspective and consign it to the realm of academia on the ground that we are already in the 21st century.

Turkey and Indonesia are clearly blazing the trail of democracy for other Muslim nations to follow. The impending accession of Turkey into the European Union is also a clear statement of the level of liberal democracy attained though unfortunately the obstacles thrown in the way by some member countries is very telling of the state of Islamophobia.

In Southeast Asia, Indonesia has already reached the finishing line while her Muslim neighbors are still stuck at the starting block. So history is indeed freedom if indeed we are prepared to learn its lessons. Today, jihad has been invoked by certain quarters to legitimize acts of violence in varied forms and guises, blurring the line between jihad and terrorism.

Thanks to the Obama administration, we have seen some palpable change from the Bush policy of selective ambivalence in the war on terror, supporting autocrats in the Muslim world on the one hand, and championing the cause of freedom and democracy on the other. Although after more than a year since the administration took office we have yet to see substantive changes in the substance of American foreign policy with the Muslim world.

Within Islam, freedom is considered one of the higher objectives of the divine law in as much as the very same elements in a constitutional democracy become moral imperatives in Islam – freedom of conscience, freedom to speak out against tyranny, a call for reform and the right to property.

In closing, permit me once again to draw on my perpetual reserve in Eliot’s Four Quartets:

“What we call the beginning is often the end,
And to make and end is to make a beginning,
The end is where we start from.”

Anger is self-destructive

The following story of Gautama Buddha is very inspiring in a world where we are constantly being provoked and harassed. Very often we react with anger against those who accuse us with all sorts of false accusations. Even when we do the right thing which is considered good there those who attack us with all sorts of allegations.

Siddhattha Gautama Buddha

When we are provoked we are tempted to react with anger but will such a reaction solve the problem? If we do that it will only hurt us more than those who we intend to hit back. If we continue to react with anger finally we will be only be destroyed in the near future. Confronting anger with more anger will only be self-destructive.

Many of us may be angry with our spouse, our children, our parents, siblings and friends for the many ‘bad’ they have done to us. Very often these ‘bad’ may be just trivial but we are angered for reasons that we really do not understand. Anger is the cause of the breakdown of many marriages, families and other happily united institutions. Most of us harbor extreme anger and hatred towards our ‘enemies’. This anger in our hearts keeps eating into our inner peace and happiness. The faster we get the anger out of our hearts the better for us.

Another important fact is that when in anger, we can never solve our disputes with others in a logical and amicable manner. We must cool down by getting away from the scene that provoked us and then find ways to solve our disputes with others in a rational manner.

Buddha has a way for us to take the anger away from our hearts and the hearts of those who want to hurt us. Buddha might have nearly three lived thousand years ago but his teachings seem to be appropriate even today, not just to Buddhists but people of all faiths and mankind all over the world.


DEALING with INSULT….Lord Buddha

The Buddha explained how to handle insult and maintain compassion.

One day Buddha was walking through a village. A very angry and rude young man came up and began insulting him. "You have no right teaching others," he shouted. "You are as stupid as everyone else. You are nothing but a fake."

Buddha was not upset by these insults. Instead he asked the young man "Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?"

The man was surprised to be asked such a strange question and answered, "It would belong to me, because I bought the gift."

The Buddha smiled and said, "That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself."

"If you want to stop hurting yourself, you must get rid of your anger and become loving instead. When you hate others, you yourself become unhappy. But when you love others, everyone is happy."

The young man listened closely to these wise words of the Buddha. "You are right, o Enlightened One, "he said. "Please teach me the path of love. I wish to become your follower."

The Buddha answered kindly, "Of course. I teach anyone who truly wants to learn. Come with me."

I would like to share some of the teachings of Buddha with you all. Remember Buddhism Is Not A Religion, It Is A Teaching & Education which is applicable to all regardless of their religious beliefs and even to agnostics and atheists. If we can adopt the many teachings of Buddha we will find the true happiness and peace in our hearts.

Beautiful Quotes for your reflection

1.If you are right then there is no need to get angry
And if you are wrong then you don't have any right to get angry.

2.Patience with family is love,
Patience with others is respect,

3.Patience with self is confidence
and Patience with GOD is faith.

4.Never Think Hard about PAST,
It brings Tears...
Don't Think more about FUTURE,
It brings Fears...
Live this Moment with a Smile,
It brings Cheers.!!!!

5.Every test in our life makes us bitter or better,
Every problem comes to make us or break us,
Choice is our whether we become victim or victorious !!!

6.Search a beautiful heart not a beautiful face.
Beautiful things are not always good
but good things are always beautiful.

7.Remember me like pressed flower in your Notebook.
It may not be having any fragrance
but will remind you of my existence forever in your life.

8.Do you know, why God created gaps between fingers?
So that someone who is special to you, comes and fills those gaps by holding your hands forever.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Anwar and the struggle for reform: A Malaysian epic

March 28, 2011


From N Surendran,

When Anwar Ibrahim emerged from six years in prison, he could have retired from politics and taken to memoir-writing or hit the lecture circuit or catch up on lost time with his family. But he threw himself into a crusade to save the country from oppressive rule, which again put him on the path of head-on collision with Umno and the government.

The crumbling structure of the BN is now held up by a wide array of oppressive laws such as the Internal Security Act, Sedition Act, Police Act, Printing Press and Publications Act; and by tainted institutions such as the police, judiciary, attorney-general’s office and the Election Commission. BN leaders know that Anwar’s reforms will sweep away those laws, redeem those institutions and thus bring about the death of their coalition.

But it is Anwar’s astonishing resilience and fighting spirit that has captured the imagination and admiration of ordinary Malaysians. Though facing terrible odds, he never once gave up. Since 1998, they have thrown everything they have at him, yet he is still standing and still defiant. The government is baffled, their strategy is in tatters; hence, the desperate and now widely discredited sex-tape smear attempt against Anwar.

The involvement of former Melaka Chief Minister Rahim Tamby Chik leaves no doubt of Umno’s constant plotting against Anwar and their complicity in the sex-tape conspiracy. Both Mahathir and Najib thought they could crush Anwar and his reform movement with massive state power and financial muscle; neither men foresaw Anwar’s titanic and ceaseless struggle.

The fact and manner of his struggle itself has brought positive change to the country; the people’s expectations of the government has radically changed and they make their just demands with a boldness unheard of in the pre-reformasi era. Anwar’s epic struggle has put our nation through a process of appreciating, asserting and regaining our rights as citizens and led to a maturing of our democracy. Indeed, there appears to have been a special providence in the fall and rise of Anwar Ibrahim. Like Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, Anwar Ibrahim is Malaysia’s indispensable, necessary politician.

The writer is vice president of Keadilan


Dear friends,

Not many people will choose the path that Anwar did - to fight against a regime that is deeply en-rooted for over 50 years and unwilling to change for the better.

As Malaysians who want to ensure a better future for our children,we need not go through what Anwar is being subjected to - imprisonment,humiliation and persecution.

All we have to do is so simple - mark the right column in the ballot paper come the 13GE.

Yes, all we have to is be brave enough to vote for political change ,a change that will see the dawn of a new and brighter Malaysia for all.

That is our solemn duty to the nation we love.It is the ultimate act of patriotism to our country.

God bless Malaysia

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Family Ties


I ran into a stranger as he passed by, 'Oh excuse me please' was my reply.
He said, 'Please excuse me too; I wasn't watching for you.' We were very polite, this stranger and I.
We went on our way and we said goodbye.

But at home a different story is told. How we treat our loved ones, young and old.

Later that day, cooking the evening meal, my son stood beside me very still. When I turned, I nearly knocked him down. 'Move out of the way,' I said with a frown.

He walked away, his little heartbroken. I didn't realize how harshly I'd spoken. While I lay awake in bed, God's still small voice came to me and said, “While dealing with a stranger, common courtesy you use, but the family you love, you seem to abuse.

Go and look on the kitchen floor, you’ll find some flowers there by the door.
Those are the flowers he brought for you. He picked them himself: pink, yellow and blue.
He stood very quietly not to spoil the surprise; you never saw the tears that filled his little eyes.”

By this time, I felt very small, and now my tears began to fall. I quietly went and knelt by his bed; 'Wake up, little one, wake up,' I said... 'Are these the flowers you picked for me?'

He smiled, 'I found 'them, out by the tree. I picked 'them because they're pretty like you.
I knew you'd like 'them, especially the blue. 'I said, 'Son, I'm very sorry for the way I acted today;
I shouldn't have yelled at you that way.'

He said, 'Oh, Mom, that's okay. I love you anyway.'
I said, 'Son, I love you too, and I do like the flowers, especially the blue....'

Reflection on family

The above story is a good reminder to reflect on our relationship with members of our own families; parents, siblings, children, grandchildren and in-laws. How do we relate to one another? How we react to certain ways they deal with us?

Are you aware that if we died tomorrow, the company that we are working for could easily replace us in
a matter of days and our presence there would be forgotten in a couple of weeks. But the family we left behind will feel our loss for the rest of their lives. Come to think of it, we pour ourselves more into work than into our own family, an unwise investment indeed, don't you think?

So what is the moral the story? We must place our family above all others as they are the ones who will be there when we are in need. They are the ones who will miss our presence and cherish the memories of the past after we are gone.

Do you know what the word FAMILY means?


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