Thursday, January 26, 2006

Church and State

Two things about Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical DEUS CARITAS EST caught my attention.

First, he reminded Christendom that the foundation of our faith is love because our God himself is love. Exemplified in the Trinitarian fellowship and manifested in God’s humiliation on the cross of Golgotha, love claims our allegiance - because it was God who first loved and gave us his only Son. It also reminds us that love derived from the consequence of faith is always self-giving, costly, and necessary. Where love expresses itself in genuine heartfelt concern, the "richness of...humanity" is experienced, as much as the very presence of God is felt.
They realize that a pure and generous love is the best witness to the God in whom we believe and by whom we are driven to love. A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak. He knows that God is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8) and that God's presence is felt at the very time when the only thing we do is to love. He knows—to return to the questions raised earlier—that disdain for love is disdain for God and man alike; it is an attempt to do without God. Consequently, the best defence of God and man consists precisely in love. It is the responsibility of the Church's charitable organizations to reinforce this awareness in their members, so that by their activity—as well as their words, their silence, their example—they may be credible witnesses to Christ.
Secondly, I am glad that the encyclical drew a line between Church and State while explicating the roles of both. Christianity, above all, is never about building heaven on earth, as even Jesus himself declared that his kingdom was not of this world. The distinction is important for it challenges the Church to ask how indeed to be salt and light - without betraying the cause of love, and without usurping the role of the state. The Church does not impose her values upon the State, and neither do we need the State to regulate or control everything.

The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply.

Related link: Pope Benedict XVI's return to essentials

Monday, January 23, 2006

Legislation and Jurisdiction

Brand New Malaysian carries an opinion by chez1978 on legislating Islam. An excerpt:
"With no apologies to some muslims in the country, Malaysia is not an Islamic State where the Quran and Hadith reigns supreme. In this country, at this point in time, the supremacy of the Constitution is still intact. Laws are not created to grant every supposed "rights" one claims to have, or should have. Article 121 (1A) states that the civil courts do not have jurisdiction in what the syariah courts enjoy, not that they are equal systems. Syariah Courts is not merely an "unequal part of a dichotomy" as Mohamad Hashim Kamali (2000) has claimed, it is not even part of a dichotomy as it is limited to certain areas only as expressly permitted by legislation."
Interesting argument. Check it out.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Controversy continues...

The Moorthy case is entering a lull with the Deputy PM Najib saying the conversion issue is all over and settled, to the dismay of the Hindu Rights Action Force who quickly voiced objections. Meanwhile, much to the consternation of concerned individuals, the nightly vigil outside the High Court was discontinued on the advice of police.

MIC President, Samy Vellu, it appears, is standing with the Indian community which thus far has been the most vocal in their concerns, considering the brouhaha was triggered by events affecting one of their own. Malaysiakini reported that a two-hour meeting with a delegation from the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCBCHS) was held at his office the other day to discuss recommendations to be submitted to the PM.

Samy Vellu said during the meeting, which was also attended by experts and lawyers, that some changes should be made to the governing laws on non-Muslims as certain states adopted laws that might not be very acceptable to non-Muslims. He referred particularly to the case of automatic conversions of children of a muslim convert without necessary consent of his non-muslim wife.

Senior lawyer Haris Ibrahim said among other things, that right and remedy are fundamental to justice and “if Moorthy’s case doesn’t wake the public up to what’s happening, God help this country. [But] I don’t see why God will bother if we ourselves won’t bother.” And that is the blunt reality.

Syariah Lawyers Association president Mohamad Burok on the other hand doesn’t think there is an issue and questions where the confusion lies. With regards to Muslims leaving the faith, he says rules dealing with apostasy are in the works but if you’re curious as to how it’s shaping up, here’s the short version: “The principle is, in Islam, once we are in, we cannot leave. That is binding among all Muslims. It is a matter of aqidah (faith). This is a serious matter.”

He adds: "It may not be specific for those born Muslims or Muslim converts but there will be a method for Muslims to apply to leave the religion through the syariah court. It is not meant to allow Muslims to become apostates. In the process, we will try to tarbiyah (educate) them so they will remain in the religion. We will continue to try to rehabilitate and reform their faith in Allah."

Referring to clamour for amending the contentious Article 121 (1a), Bar chairperson Yeoh Poh Seng cautions against haste in reviewing or amending the federal constitution but adds that, “Any amendment to the constitution, if and when necessary, will only prove useful and constructive if it further promotes fundamental rights and liberties, not if it erodes or dilutes them."

That the issue is delicate cannot be overstated. In fact, in most if not all Muslim countries, dialogue is practically impossible and non-existent. There is a wide chasm between propaganda and reality, and most of us get no further than hand-wringing as far as making a stand is concerned. While I do not believe in confrontational politics, I also do not rule out compromise. The point is where to draw the line; and if there is a line, will there be enough people standing together maintaining that boundary? I remain in prayer.
The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases. Prov 21:1

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Constitution & Conscience

KJ John’s column in Malaysiakini (The Constitution is our Judicial Cornerstone, Jan 9) responding to the Moorthy constitutional wrangle is noteworthy for two reasons. First, he articulated a strong defense for the supremacy of the constitution, and argued that it is rightfully a cornerstone for a just and equitable nation. Second, he inferred that where the national constitution defines and protects the basic rights of all peoples who call Malaysia their home, naturally they will reciprocate in loyalty to and love for the country. He wrote:
"As a Malaysian Christian in this nation and as a father, I want to train and teach my children to love this country that we call our own, but I can only do so with a clear conscience if their constitutional basic rights are protected and preserved under our principles of good governance.

If governance becomes weak and inefficient or over-zealous because of the noisy few or poor enforcement, I fear to teach my children "blind obedience and loyalty" when the whole world is their backyard and they sincerely have other options."
I cannot agree more with his sentiments, although I do wonder (as regards supremacy of the constitution), if the horse has long bolted out of the stable. But I have a couple of questions: Is "blind obedience and loyalty" necessarily an expression of nationalism and/or patriotism? Is it so unconscionable to teach our children to love a country even if that country does not 'love' you at its most basic constitutional level?

I ask these questions as a Malaysian Christian, a resident 'alien', and servant of a higher calling. As one who wrestles daily with being salt and light in a place that God has presumably ordained for me, should I even think of "other options"?

John Piper diagnosed with cancer

John Piper is diagnosed with prostrate cancer, but it’s been detected early which means, the chances of a successful treatment are good. What impresses is Piper’s humility and boundless confidence in God’s goodness, come what may. Such a godly response to what is often considered a death sentence is the greater miracle and I praise God for Piper as much as I pray for God’s will to be done.

Excerpts from his cancer announcement read:

The most dangerous thing in the world is the sin of self-reliance and the stupor of worldliness. The news of cancer has a wonderfully blasting effect on both. I thank God for that. The times with Christ in these days have been unusually sweet.

For example, is there anything greater to hear and believe in the bottom of your heart than this: “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10)?

God has designed this trial for my good and for your good. You can see this in 2 Corinthians 1:9, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” And in 2 Corinthians 1:4-6, “He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God . . . If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation.”

Read the rest of his inspiring letter here. No stoic resignation nor desperate appeals for healing.

Here then is where the test of godliness lies: It is not faith in God's power that distinguishes a godly man, but trust in His utter goodness. Now there's a lesson for me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Changes a-coming...

There's a fascinating post dated January 5 on featuring an interview between Hugh Hewitt and Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio, founder of Ignatius Press and Provost of Ave Maria University. Father Fessio who's a friend of Pope Benedict XVI spoke frankly about the problems of Christianity in Europe and the clash of civilisations, and makes several pointed observations. Here's a brief summary:
  • Commenting on the late John Paul II's view that there would be a new spring, a new era of evangelisation for Christendom, Father Joseph said that's where Pope Benedict XVI differs. Instead, what's more likely is, “...if we are truly faithful to Christ and His word, we're going to be a minority, and a minority which is becoming more and more marginalized, and even oppressed.”
  • Like the retreat of Christianity in North Africa, changing demographics in Europe are a signal of things to come: Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Egypt, I mean, they were all Christian, thriving Christian communities, you know, in the early Church. And now, you can't profess your faith there. You can't bring a Bible in some of those countries.”
  • The Holy Father sees a dynamism in the Bible that is absent in other religions. There is an 'inner logic' that allows Christianity to dialogue with modernity and adapt to changing times because God’s word came through inspired people: “[T]he dynamism's completely different, that God has worked through His creatures. And so, it is not just the word of God, it's the word of Isaiah, not just the word of God, but the word of Mark. He's used His human creatures, and inspired them to speak His word to the world, and therefore by establishing a Church in which he gives authority to His followers to carry on the tradition and interpret it, there's an inner logic to the Christian Bible, which permits it and requires it to be adapted and applied to new situations.... because we can take what's good there, and we can elevate it through the revelation of Christ in the Bible."
  • Christianity survived the Dark Ages because of monasteries that kept learning alive. Under the new wave of religious intolerance and oppression, "... homeschools are the monasteries of the new dark ages ... families are having children. They're passing on the faith to their children. They're giving them wisdom and the knowledge of our culture."

I find Father Fessio interesting - not least because of his affirmation of homeschooling - but also because he understood the need to encourage learning, and the transmission of culture and Christian values through the most natural means we have available: our families. He concluded by saying,

"The future is going to be through education. It can't be any other way. And we believe that it's important to impart to young people a knowledge of Jesus, a knowledge of His word, a knowledge of a tradition of the saints in the history of the Church, a knowledge of our civilization which has produced so much beautiful work. I mean, look at Lord of the Rings, and look at C.S. Lewis. I mean, the impact they've had. Why did it have that impact? These were two highly educated Christians, who took their talents and gave them to the Lord, and look what it's done. So we want to try and impart that kind of knowledge to those who have the talent to imbibe it and absorb it and to go forth and then pass that on."
You just have to read the whole interview for yourself.

Related link:
Mark Steyn - The real reason the West is in danger of extinction

Saturday, January 07, 2006

M.Moorthy Constitutional Controversy Pt 2

Parliamentary Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang (read his Jan 5 post) convened a Parliamentary Roundtable to discuss the wrangle the other day. The meeting which was chaired by Ipoh Barat MP M. Kulasegaran, involved former Attorney General and current SUHAKAM chairman Abu Talib Othman who drafted Article 121(1A), that was adopted in 1988.

Among participants were lawyer/columnist Salbiah Ahmad, Human Rights Society (HAKAM) representative Malik Imtiaz Ghulam; Bar Council representative Ramdas Tikamdas; lawyer/Kota Baru MP Zaid Ibrahim; Malaysia Hindu Sangam president A. Vaithilingam; DAP Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng; Harcharan Singh, vice-president of Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Sikhism (MCCBCHS); and fellow representative Rev Wong Kim Kong who is also the Secretary General of National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF).

At the reportedly heated meeting, 5 resolutions were adopted (Thanks to Screenshots):

  • Restore the pre-1988 Article 121 (when Muslims could seek redress at both Syariah and civil courts) and the repeal of Article 121 (1A) which limits civil courts’ jurisdiction over matters which are within the rule of the Syariah court.
  • Call on Prime Minister to establish a Parliamentary select Committee on the problems created by Article 121 (1a)
  • Civil society is gravely concerned and dissatisfied with the denial of justice in Moorthy's case and other similar cases
  • Forum gravely concerned over the matter in which the state religious authorities enforce Islamic law, in particular against non-Muslims.
  • Call on the Attorney-General's Chambers to act in the public interest in Moorthy's and all similar cases and to represent equality of rights of all citizens, with full regards to the entrenched values of equality in the Federal Constitution, irrespective of race and religion

Meanwhile in an interview with Malaysiakini, head of Independent Living and Training Centre (ILTC) Francis Siva said religious organisations should improve efforts in counseling and rehabilitating the newly-disabled. Francis himself a quadriplegic who had known the late Everest hero M. Moorthy added this damming remark:

“In his condition when he was not capable of making rational decisions, when his physical condition was critical, where were these people who are now fighting for religious rights? Which religious group came to offer him counseling? To cool his body that often became very hot? To give him food? To clean him? There was only his wife. Who taught him to drive as a disabled and gave him a sense of independence?”

That cut me deep.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

A not-so-happy start

What a start to the new year. A friend sent a text message saying there was nothing to be happy about in view of recent national controversies with no hint of a resolution in sight. The Moorthy episode was certainly another downer for Malaysians. In December, the constitution's authority was challenged yet again by its dual legal system following the death of M. Moorthy, a Hindu who converted to Islam (apparently without his wife's knowledge). How contentious and sensitive the debate is can be ascertained by statements reproduced below:
Nik Mustapha Nik Hassan, Deputy Director, Institute of Islamic Understanding
"We are committed. We are convinced about Islam. Islam is a serious religion. It's the only path to us, to Muslims. So we cannot allow people to come and interfere in our religion, in our religious affairs. So apostasy definitely is a serious offence, it amounts to a mandatory death sentence.”

Shad Saleem Faruqi, a constitutional expert at the Mara University of Technology.
"We should leave them alone and try to win them over with love and persuasion. But to use the blunt instrument of criminal law leaves me with a sense of shame and embarrassment."

Salahuddin Yaakob, PAS Youth chief :
“Kes ini merupakan kes besar melibatkan kedaulatan Islam. Andainya Mahkamah Tinggi Sivil berpihak kepada keluarga Mohamad maka sudah tentu ianya menunjukkan bahawa Undang-undang Syariah di negara adalah rapuh dan tidak berdaulat.

Sebelum ini pun kita berasa sedih kerana orang-orang kafir berani mencabar keputusan Mahkamah Syariah, di mana sepatutnya apa juga keputusan Mahkamah Syariah tidak boleh di cabar oleh Mahkamah Sivil. Keputusan Mahkamah Tinggi yang bersetuju untuk membicarakan kes ini juga dilihat sudah mencabar kewibawaan undang-undang negara kita.”

Dr K Sri Dhammananda, President of MCCBCHS (Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism)
“(Following the court decision) there seems to be no legal remedy non-Muslims (in such instances)... This is the biggest seed of disunity (in a multi-religious society) that can be sowed at this time.”

Zaid Ibrahim,
MP, senior partner and chairman of Zaid Ibrahim & Co.
"The constitutional power to review must be vested in the judges. Otherwise, all the provisions of fundamental liberties, whether contained in our Constitution or in legislation, are meaningless. In so far as the Syariah courts are concerned, they too are entities created out of the Constitution, and all Islamic laws are statutory laws enacted by the respective State Assemblies, just like other laws in this country. Why they need to be excluded from review of High Court judges escapes me."
Elisia Yeo of Malaysiakini sums up her article on another religious wrangle, this time involving followers of 'deviant' sect leader Ayah Pin, with comments on what could be the real issues.
In Malaysia, people like Kamariah face another stumbling block in the constitution - drafted by British colonial rulers with advice from Malay politicians - which defines a Malay as a person who "professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay customs."

The definition is crucial because the constitution spells out the privileges, including scholarships and land rights, that the country's ethnic Malays, who make up some 60 percent of the population, are entitled to.

Lawyers say if Kamariah's case ever gets to the Federal Court, and it found in her favour, it could unravel the policies fundamental to Malaysia's economic machinery and undo its delicate balance of race relations.

"I actually shiver at the implications," says constitutional expert Shad. "The issue of conversion out of Islam is not simply a religious issue but is an issue of abandoning the Malay community with all the political implications of the balance of powers between the Malays and non-Malays."

Some recent predicaments faced by non-Muslims and Muslim 'apostates' in a dual legal system society:
  • Kamariah Ali, former muslim and follower of 'deviant' leader Ayah Pin whois fighting for freedom of worship. Her case has yet to be heard by the federal courts although the Syariah Court has found her guilty.
  • Lina Joy, a Malay convert to Christianity, appealed for the word 'Islam' to be dropped from her identity card but was denied both by the civil and syariah courts
  • Shamala Sathayaseelan’s application to nullify her two children’s 'conversion' brought about by her own husband’s conversion to Islam. Shamala has since fled the country with her children
  • Deceased Mt Everest climber M. Moorthy whose 'secret' conversion to Islam sparked a legal tussle over burial rites as his wife claimed he was not an observing muslim if at all he was a convert.
Related links:
NECF (National Evangelical Christian Fellowship) press statement
Bar Council Jan 3 Courting Alienation