Saturday, August 27, 2011

Charity transcends race and religion

The controversy over the alleged raid of the Damansara Utama Methodist Church(DUMN) by officers from Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor(Jais) highlights a very strange phenomenon where doing charity to fellow humans becomes a crime if done to those from another religion.

We all know that charity is the act of giving money; food or help free to those who are in need because they are ill, poor or have no home. All religions encourage this virtue of charity and in fact it is a basic tenet of every faith and it is a universal fact that charity must transcend race, religion and political ideology. The poor must be offered aid regardless of their race or creed as poverty has no borders.

Most of us regardless of the religion we belong too are at one time or another involved with some acts of charity, which is considered noble. Ironically today the virtue that was exalted all these years is at times seen as something terribly wrong. It is distressing that charity is increasing seen as a crime that must be punished.

Many years ago when I and my friends were actively involved in the society for the poor in our local church we used to visit the estates, squatter areas and new villages to provide all sorts of help to the poor in those areas.

Although we were not rich to provide much funds, the poor families benefitted from our little aid which was in the form of food rations, clothes, school books, educational and vocational guidance and free healthcare and other forms of assistance. There were also those who were given monthly allowance and special allowance to cope with tragedies in the family. Apart from this material assistance those who needed motivation were given moral support and counseling.

We were very careful not to talk about religion to these unfortunate people who will be vulnerable to conversion at times of desperation. Proselytizing was never our intention but helping poor humans regardless of race or religion was our only aim. We were strongly advised by our pastors against using material aid to the poor to entice them into our faith.

In the many years of working with them I have yet to come across one who converted to Christianity because of our aid to them. We respected the faith of these poor people as they did to ours. We never went to Malay kampongs but must admit that there were some of them who were desperate and did approach us for aid, which we could not reject just because of their faith or ethnicity. Visit to their homes revealed deplorable conditions under which they lived and denying any aid for them would be doing great injustice to fellow humans.

However the numbers of Muslims in our aid list dwindled with time, as they were able to get assistance from government agencies in due course. It has to be stressed we did not talk about religion at any time during our acquaintance with these poor people. In fact I for one strongly believe that it is wrong to convert anyone from one religion to another, as all faiths are the same in leading man to the one same God whom we call by different names.

When we were young we were taught that helping the poor is a noble act that should transcend race and creed. Today the basic teaching on charity has changed drastically. We are encouraged to help those from our own race and religion as helping others would be seen with suspicion and intruding into their affairs. It is as though it is all right to neglect our own people but wrong for others to help them. It appears as though there is a right time and place to do good to the right people as doing it at the wrong time and to the wrong people may lead us into trouble. Why should there be a right time, right place and person to do good? Shouldn’t good be done at all times, at all places and to all people?

Charity with ulterior motives is not true charity. Charity as a means to coax people to convert to their religion especially, the poor and desperate, is one that must be condemned by all. Real charity is one that is done with an open heart without any ulterior motives or benefits and is one that transcends race and religion. There should never be a wrong time or place to do good just like there should never be a right time to do bad either. In short charity should be unconditional and carried at all times to all those in deed.

It is morally wrong for the authorities to forbid the Christians or for that matter anyone else from aiding poor Muslims. The Christians are only doing what their religion teaches them – not to see the poor as what race or religion they are but as poor fellow humans who are in need. At the same time Christians should refrain from preaching to those from other faiths including Muslims as that would be disrespecting the other faiths, which is definitely wrong and could lead to all sorts of misunderstanding and ill feelings.

However as in any religion there are always overzealous members who could resort to such skewed thinking which is really regrettable. Education from an early age to forge respect for other religions should be way forward not confrontation and punishment.

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