Sunday 21 August 2011

DUMC 12 about ready to go public By TERENCE NETTO

COMMENT Almost three weeks after the incursion of Jais on a charity dinner held at the Damansara Utama Methodist Centre (DUMC), details of the brouhaha are emerging that are at variance to reports disseminated in Umno-supporting blogs and Utusan Malaysia.

The reports had claimed there was Christian proselytisation of Muslims at the Aug 3 function organised by Harapan Komuniti, an AIDS charity, which was attended by about 120 people, of which 12 were Muslims.

Initially, the chief vents for word - more like insinuations - on the incursion were the Umno-supporting blogs and Utusan which portrayed the AIDS charity function as a cover for Christian proselytisation of Muslims.

azlanThis view was given credence by Selangor state minister of religion, Dr Hasan Ali of PAS, who was then required by his party to brief its central working committee a fortnight ago on the claim he had seen evidence collected by Jais (Selangor Islamic Affairs Department) of Christian proselytisation at the event.

After listening to Hasan, PAS announced that a fact-finding team from the party would meet with Jais and with DUMC on Aug 15-16.

However, Jais declined to meet with PAS, offering the explanation they had first to submit a report to the Selangor sultan, the head of religion in the state.

DUMC at first agreed to meet with PAS and then requested a deferral, claiming the issue was fraught with emotion and required a cooling-off period. No details of the rescheduled meeting were announced.

Harapan Komuniti, the NGO that was the organiser of the charity function, restricted themselves to a press statement that emphasised the point about it being a secular rather than a religious body, interested only in aiding AIDS victims.

Throughout this period, DUMC, on whose premises the function was held, maintained a staunch silence on the matter because they saw danger in the issue crystallising into a Christian vs Muslim thing.

The fact that DUMC is led by an evangelical Christian has spawned speculation that the perception that Christian proselytisation of Muslims may have occurred at the Aug 3 function had some truth to it.

Tacit social understanding

Evangelicals distinguish themselves from other branches of Christianity, Catholic and Protestant alike, by being fervent about preaching the faith to non-Christians.

Catholics, by contrast, believe that in a multi-religious milieu rendering witness to the faith by works of charity must take priority over preaching.

Christians attend a Sunday service inside a church in Petaling JayaLike Catholics, mainline Protestants in Malaysia subscribe to the tacit social understanding that you do not preach to Muslims because of Malay/Muslim sensitivity about their religion.

Both branches of Christianity in Malaysia are loath to give grounds to Muslims to believe they have engaged in provocative behaviour towards the question of Islam.

The Catholic Church's insistence of using the term 'Allah' is a rare departure from this policy. It maintains that the issue would not have arisen in the first place if the English language had not fallen into disuse among young Malaysians, compelling Catholics to use the Bahasa Indonesia version of the Bible which employs that term 'Allah' for God.

The Umno-BN government's strictures on the use of the term 'Allah' by other faiths and sundry other proscriptions have led to the steadily mounting perception among Catholics, numbering 927,000 in a Christian population of 2.2 million, that they are being harassed in untoward ways.

NONEThe Jais-DUMC controversy, although it does not directly concern Catholics, is regarded by the community as an accentuation of this harassment.

Meanwhile, there was no abatement to blog posts on Christian proselytisation of Muslims at the function, with Utusan publishing reports of more instances of Christian evangelism, this time among poor Malay/Muslim children allegedly given free English language classes on Sundays by Christianity-spouting tutors at a school in the Jalan Klang Lama area.

Need for closure

Throughout this tempest the people at the centre of the controversy, the 12 Muslims (11 Malaysians and 1 Singaporean, it transpires) refrained from talking publicly about the function; they merely submitted to being interviewed by Jais at the latter's behest.

Now with the brouhaha having settled into a lull after the initial inflammation, the controversial 12 are ready go public with their take on the whole affair.

NONEPeople with inside knowledge of the affair have suggested that these Muslims are like unostentatious believers one finds in every religion: they are staunch adherents of their faith but do not believe in wearing the fact on their sleeve.

A few had sharp exchanges with their inquisitors from Jais who had a censorious word or two for them on the question of the propriety of their presence on Christian-owned premises.

It transpires that none of them had converted out of their faith and a few proved more than capable of defending the propriety of their interactions with peoples of other faiths.

In short, they are the silent ones of this drama whose versions of what actually happened on Aug 3 at the DUMC would suggest that the bloggers' and Utusan's sensationalising of the affair was febrile and fabricated.

Their versions are absolutely critical for closure to the issue but it is anyone's guess whether, if things come to that, the abatement would just be a brief respite before another recrudescence of Christian bashing.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for close on four decades. He likes the occupation because it puts him in contact with the eminent without being under the necessity to admire them. It is the ideal occupation for a temperament that finds power fascinating and its exercise abhorrent.

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