Friday, March 30, 2007

Subashini gets injunction

R. Subashini has been granted an interim injunction restraining her Muslim-convert husband from pursuing his claims in the Islamic court. Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, one of her counsel, said the restraining order was pending the disposal of the application of leave from the Federal Court which was filed today. “This mean the husband can’t do anything in the Syariah Court until the Federal Court fixes a date for the hearing,” he explained. (Malaysiakini report)

Still a long way to go, but a step forward, hopefully.

PS: Screenshots Jeff Ooi blogs on a constitutional crisis in the making in a 31 March post. I personally wouldn't call it a crisis 'in the making' because I do believe we already have a crisis in hand.


An attempt by a Muslim woman to renounce her religion hits a brickwall because she did not submit “concrete evidence that she was no longer a Muslim.”

A 24-year-old Muslim woman yesterday failed in her application to renounce Islam on the grounds that she did not practise the religion and was never given religious education.

Syariah High Court judge Jasri @ Nasip Matjakir said the applicant did not submit any concrete evidence that she was no longer a Muslim in action, behaviour or deed that could expel her from Islam.

In her affidavit, read by counsel Hamid Ismail, the Sino-Kadazan said her non-Muslim lifestyle would cause society to look down on her and she would be subjected to the judgment of the syariah court.

Hamid said the basis of her application was under Article 11 of the Federal Constitution — that she had the right to choose her religion and must not be prevented from doing so by anyone.

(Full story in NST)

Thursday, March 29, 2007


This is commendable – a couple of schoolgirls take on the Ribena manufacturer and score points for consumer rights and protection. GlaxoSmithKline pleaded guilty and was fined in a New Zealand court for misleading advertisements regarding Ribena’s Vitamin C content. Schoolgirls Anna Devathasan (l) and Jenny Suo (r), first tested Ribena as part of a school science project in 2004 and discovered that it did not live up to its claims.

Read the story here.

What lessons can we learn from this cautionary tale?

A real world education surely must develop the sort of inquisitiveness and determination that is exemplified by these 2 schoolgirls. Not the type that regurgitates dead facts for examinations, swallows government pronouncements whole, suppresses independent thought, dances blithely to the tune of ‘Malaysia Boleh’, and buys unquestioningly into advertising hype and pop culture. We have a school system that is sadly defined by slogans and racial quotas, taught through textbooks and tuitions, boxed in by parochialism, and emasculated alternatively by fear and despair. And we wonder about lack of political awareness, arts appreciation, creativity, and critical thinking.

It helps, I think, to name the faults, in order to work towards a solution. Then again, I'm a homeschooling parent, so what do I know?

Blogging Subashini

Susan Loone left a comment that on the contrary, the Subashini case DID create an impact on bloggers. And yes, they are generally saying the same things. Here’s another list – my last (unless there are posts offering an interesting angle on the issue). But they all add up don’t they?

Suaram Statement: Non-muslim in legal limbo again

DAP Lim Guan Eng: Non-malay BN component parties must act immediately

South Sea Republic: Syariah court should not be state sanctioned

KTemoc: On Muhammad Shafi Saravanan Abdullah, formerly T Saravanan

WAO: Uphold mother’s rights and access to justice

Straight Talk: A threat to the federal constitution

Sean-the-man.blogspot: Comment on mufti’s “don’t be prejudiced” call

BookofJohn: CFM statement

In other words: Mar 15, 22 posts

Mike’s station: Whose court is it?

sun2surf: Karpal Singh – Resolve civil-syariah overlap

Poetic Justice: Battling the divide- judges from both courts decide?

Last but not least: ARTICLE 11 and all that. View/download/distribute videos in English and Bahasa.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

No time for hand-wringing

I blogged a while back that there had been no commentary on the R. Subashini case. Well, we’re getting some feedback but it’s coming from the usual suspects. You can read them here:

AWAM statement
Malay Law Student letter to Malaysiakini
The Federal Constitution is the highest law of the land – Jacqueline Surin
Judges must show courage – Zaid Ibrahim
Bar Council: Syariah Court only for Muslims
Tricia Yeoh – Centre for Public Policy Studies letter
CFM Press statement by Bishop Paul Tan
Malaysian Gurdwaras Council: Press Statement
Report in Indian Catholic – Non-Muslims disturbed by rights struggle
Article 11 video launch and comment by SIS
Rojak & Cocktail blog comments and links 15 March post

Islamic experts tell non-muslims not to be prejudiced
Fatima Idris’ letter to Malaysiakini – another side of the coin and a call to set up a Constitutional Court

What dismays me is that the news has had little or no impact on bloggers and others in the virtual community. Is there no concern for the usurpation of the constitution by such convoluted reasoning in favour of the Syariah? Are we really agreeing by our silence that a non-Muslim should seek recourse in a Syariah court? I know it’s not easy and there’s also Subashini’s husband who left his wife in the first place and went to the Syariah court to dissolve his civil law marriage.

Yet, the implication is immense, and signals the insidious secession of the rights of all people under a common Constitution to a religious doctrine of jurisprudence that some claim should be elevated above the latter and over all. That day may yet come, but not if Malaysians of goodwill choose to speak up. Objections and appeal to common sense against an apparent injustice have been notable by their absence, as the issue has had no traction in the blogosphere. Instead everyone online seems preoccupied with galvanizing support for freedom of expression and the ‘persecution’ of celebrity bloggers.

I have no quarrel with that and I stand united in the defense of responsible and free expression of speech, online and off. But it would be tragically myopic to fight for virtual freedom when people like Subashini, Rayappan, Moorthy, Lina Joy, S. Shamla, etc are also denied theirs in heartbreaking dollops out in the real world.

Everyone who is rallying behind Rocky and Jeff Ooi frames it as a challenge to freedom of expression (let’s ignore the charge of defamation for a moment) and a battle between old and new media. It is all that, I’m sure, and those who are feeling the heat – particularly ministers, government appointees, and er, one Booker Prize contender – are sounding like children whose favourite toy has been snatched away. So they whine, even threaten to throw the book at bloggers. Perhaps someone should throw Huge Hewitt’s book BLOG: Understanding The Information Reformation That’s Changing Your World in their direction.

But hey, we do need a reasoned and united stand on the big picture - Article 11 and the Federal Constitution. It seems to me that if anything truly matters, this matters just as much, if not more. Not everyone believes we're on a slippery slope, and I'd like to be proven wrong. So I'm hoping for a blogswarm (Hewitt) in defense of the country we want to live in. Right now, if we let this be taken away, everything else is hand wringing at the passing of daylight.

Monday, March 26, 2007

"See first..."

We’ve finally got moving, thanks to the persistence of whip-cracker Ivy!

Phase 2 of our community service at Pangsapuri Sri Semarak lowcost flats in Setapak kicked off a couple of weeks ago with English language classes for children 7 – 15 yrs. We were pleasantly surprised by the response, eager children seated (books and pencil boxes in hand) and all raring to go after they received notice about Free English Language Tuition.

It’s a mixed crowd, largely Malays, with a sprinkling of Indians and Chinese, totaling almost 60 in the first week, and several more in the second week. First, we get the kids to warm up with preliminary icebreakers, and then they break into smaller classes. That’s when our own teens get down to business, each to a class, reviewing their school text, and helping them with reading, writing, and speaking English. What’s exciting was the enthusiasm of our own 8 youths who participated as tutors. They’ve been told we’re not majoring on textbook studies; but more importantly we’re chipping away at walls and developing inter-ethnic relationships.

At a debefriefing session back in church, we got mostly positive feedback as each teen related their own experience – often hilarious – and commented on special problems encountered. I think it proved how much an opportunity to look beyond oneself can galvanise even the most self-absorbed youth into action. It’s a delight knowing that they’re building bridges in a communal society that seems almost irreparably fractured today, signaling what’s possible when churches get involved in our community. Baby steps, but Kingdom work all the same.

It was also interesting to hear responses from the adult residents at Sri Semarak. At a meeting with representatives to consider future plans, most people agreed the English language classes were a good idea, except for one. When pressed, he nodded cautiously and said, “See first.”

Certainly it’s too early to say, and his comment reminds us that if we’re going to do any good, we’ll have to make sure we take the long view and run the course. We’re still involved with the senior citizens – warga mas, as they're referred to – from NACSCOM, and now there’s work with the youths as well. I don’t think it’s easy but here we are. I’m passing the word around; we’re open to volunteers to partner our tuition effort - not for education alone, but for work of restoration.

PS: Follow-up with a first person account at Ethan's blog here.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Under the Word in the world

Some Christians, anxious above all to be faithful to the revelation of God without compromise, ignore the challenges of the modern world and live in the past. Others, anxious to respond to the world around them, trim and twist God’s revelation in their search for relevance. I have struggled to avoid both traps. For the Christian is at liberty to surrender neither to antiquity nor to modernity. Instead, I have sought with integrity to submit to the revelation of yesterday within the realities of today. It is not easy to combine loyalty to the past with sensitivity to the present. Yet this is our Christian calling: to live under the Word in the world. John Stott

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Killing dreams

Jason Clark has an interesting post about church ecclesiology and describes four superficial tendencies. Here's a summary:

1. Hyper-real Church:
Where church is hyper-real, more culture-bound than real, and where its proponents “rather blog, podcast, write about the image of a better and more authentic church than actually be involved in ‘real’ church.”

2. Simulation Church:
Fantasy conception with no depth or substance. We react against a false image of the evil modern church and indulge in endless discussions/conjectures about what’s real and authentic, and ultimately become “endlessly self-referential with our false reality.”

3. Fetish Church:
By countless re-branding and re-imagining, the aesthetic of church becomes the church. We call ourselves “missionaries in a post-Christian context,” expose the shallow commodification of the modern church only to end up being lifestyle-faddish and superficial ourselves according to a yet even more artificial construction of church.

4. Pastiche & Nostalgia Church:
Cut-and-paste church patched together from traditions of ancient church, liturgies, and random images of culture. We promote experience through “aesthetical art spaces, that degenerate into consumer therapy, self-justified with the user experience,” and ultimately become self-authenticating.

You could say each of these ideas represents attempts at being the authentic church, a kind of reaction to what is perceived as the church’s failure to live up to an imagined ideal. Jason asked if we see any of these interplay in our churches. He also seems to say that the above tends towards removing an individual from being involved in the ‘real’ church. Bonhoeffer once wrote that such ideals are dangerous stuff. In his book Life Together he had this to say:

"God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians which his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all
others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first the accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself."

Bonhoeffer seems convinced; our visions of the dream-community must die. Not that we shouldn’t be visionary, but that they should not tie God’s hand in making the Church according to His own vision. He also wrote, "If you love the vision you have for community, you will destroy community. If you love the people around you, you will create community." Of course it begs the question, what is God’s church like then?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Meanwhile, in the real world...

If you crush out individuality by the strong arm of the State,
then ultimately the state will be all,
and the individual and the family will be nothing,
and liberty will be destroyed."
J. Gresham Machen (1934)

Here we go again. This is a landmark judgment with serious implications and there has been so little commentary:

PUTRAJAYA: A non-Muslim married to a person who has converted to Islam has to seek remedy in the syariah court over family matters.

In a landmark ruling, the Court of Appeal also held that a Muslim could make an application to the syariah court to convert his or her underage children without the permission of the non-Muslim spouse. However, the three Court of Appeal judges were divided in their opinions.

Judges Datuk Suriyadi Halim Omar and Datuk Hasan Lah dismissed with costs the appeal of R. Subshini, 28, a company secretary, who wanted an injunction to restrain her husband, Muhammad Shafi Saravanan Abdullah, 30, a businessman, from:

• converting their two children, Dharvin Joshua, 3, and one-year-old Sharvind to Islam; and,

• commencing any proceeding in any syariah court with regard to their civil marriage.

Datuk Gopal Sri Ram, who was the dissenting judge, said the court would hear a formal application from Subshini to stay the order sought by her husband in a day or two.

Very little has been reported about natural justice, the rights of the mother and children, the duplicity of the ex-husband, the legal impasse that shouldn’t be, the creeping elevation of one religious system over and against the Constitution. It’s an almost impossible situation pitting Muslim judges who for obvious reasons cannot be seen to undermine the perceived superiority of Syariah by suggesting the civil courts have greater jurisdiction.

Meanwhile Malaysia Hindu Sangam has released a statement that it is gross injustice to ask Hindus to submit to Islamic canonical law, to which Hindus do not subscribe.

Question: In what way is the gospel of Christ relevant to our society – when all parties of various religious persuasion and ethnicity decry the aggression of the other, and fear the loss of their own cultural identity and way of life? What is the kingdom response to the whittling down of political space by powers-that-be so that the majority race and their religion ride roughshod over the rights of others?

Here's another true story.

A friend calls me up from the Labour Office in a panic saying he fears for his life. At a hearing to demand unpaid salary and commissions, his ex-employer abuses him loudly and threatens bodily harm – all in front of a presiding officer. A scuffle ensues in court, he hurts his hand defending himself, and again, the presiding officer does nothing to restrain the offensive former employer, issues no warning, and ignores the fracas? I am there standing at the lift lobby next to my friend who's ashen-faced and shaking, while his former employer continues to berate and threaten while we leave through separate exits.

Another question: How does the church of God respond to the numerous counts of corruption and systemic evil that are shackling our country and perpetuating a climate of fear?

While conversations continue, life intrudes. Reality is decidedly less pleasant. I have a flood of questions, all emotionally-charged, and none with any resolution in the near term.

More questions: What does the church do in the face of racial polarization, religious extremism, institutionalised mediocrity, urban poverty, abuse of power, and rise in crime? What is the call to action for followers of Jesus other than participating in the political process and eschewing corrupt practices ourselves, and praying for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven? In the Kingdom of God, how does a Christian act justly, practice mercy, and walk humbly?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Barefoot brethren

Thanks Sivin for hosting the get-together and for this photo. All barefoot (ok, some in socks), all brethren (small 'b') and some card-carrying Brethren too :)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Further along the conversation...

The recently concluded QROH seminar with Brian McLaren made me look back through my own archive of writings on emergence. A post dated 29 Oct 04 had this to say:
Pointing to the problems of making truth claims to a culture cynical of adjectives like objective or absolute the church will only find its good intentions rejected. "…arguments that pit absolutism versus relativism, and objectivism versus subjectivism, prove meaningless or absurd to postmodern people: They're wonderful modern arguments that backfire with people from the emerging culture," said McLaren.

The alternative as every emergent reader would know is not to ditch our allegiance to Christ or Scripture, but build authentic communities that draw people the way Jesus himself drew the masses, especially the marginalised, to himself. I think we can all agree with that. There is no question about the need to live authentically as a vibrant community expressing kingdom values in all its demands. But the niggling question is, is that all, and if not, in what way do we have to think about being 'relevant'?
The seminar certainly succeeded in avoiding touchy theological points but instead focused on the larger issue of Kingdom imperatives. No argument there. The Church needs to hear a lot more about being a community contributing to God’s Kingdom within our social reality - without resorting to triumphalism or tokenism. In recent years men like Mark Noll, David Wells, and Ronald Sider have also lamented the scandal of our evangelical digression. On this score Brian is on the same page. Where they differ however is the coherence of a theological mandate founded upon a ‘fixed centre’ (Pascal), which seems the least important in Brian’s dialectic.

Some of Dr Alex Tang’s 9-point observation squares with quite a few evangelicals who fear Brian’s deconstruction of truth (after Grenz) and his emphasis on a less precise notion which is described simply as “being in sync with God” (NKOC) – which arguably sits better with a postmodern sense of spirituality. A whole bunch of people are understandably disturbed, some of whom have articulated their concerns in a hard hitting compendium titled, Reclaiming the Center. It's not a boxing ring for the timid, this book. While Brian claims not to have denied the basic tenets of faith (i.e., Nicene Creed) they may unfortunately be diminished due to the emergent worldview (is there one?) he professes, and because of what appears to be waffling on his part. However Scott Mcknight in an excellent piece attributes the misunderstanding to prophetic rhetoric (or ‘exaggeration’ as Brian admits). It would be assuring if Brian's considerable literate skills clarify the specifics, as theologian John Frame reminds us, God and the devil are in the details.

I was amused when at the forum Dr Voon Choon Khing to everyone’s delight said she couldn’t understand the flak Brian was getting: “Give the man some respect; he’s not stupid.” I too believe Brian to be a sensitive and intelligent man whose soul-searching over real issues has ignited our imagination. As a creative thinker, Brian’s vision can be infectious. Where he gets it right about the church in community, I sense compassion and a genuine desire to loose the church into a world that badly needs salt and light. The ongoing argument is tiresome, but I also happen to believe that serious real estate is at stake in the long term. So what price relevance? Theological reflection demands a rigorous and robust engagement, therefore this part of the conversation is just as needful. Well. As Pas Fong Yang said, the church is reformed and reforming.

Nevertheless I belong to the ‘old’ school. As much as I subscribe to aspects of Brian’s perspectives on the new kind of Christian and his articulation of Jesus’ secret message, it is my conviction that knowledge is not the main or only cause of the Church’s present complacency: it is loving Jesus by obeying Him, which is the crux of true discipleship. It is loving God by loving our neighbour, which is the heart of servanthood. Sadly, obedience, that act of dying to self which is so antithetical to every generation (perhaps more so in this present one) has been bartered for personal fulfilment and heaven on earth. Similarly, old-fashioned holiness is no longer a virtue to pursue while God Himself has been domesticated and no longer feared. That’s a hard message for a world more inclined towards soft options and multiple choices. Perhaps that’s what’s missing. Brian’s ‘nemesis’ D.A. Carson notes:
"People do not drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated."
We need to dream the dream of God, as much as we need to have the mind of Christ. We need to reform the way we do church as much as we need to reaffirm the authority of God’s unchanging Word. We need men like Brian as much as we need scholars like Carson. As long as we’re talking, I’m hopeful.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Brian McLaren's hope

It’s hard not to feel the sense of anticipation in the crowd during the last 2 days with Brian McLaren. No doubt some of us were all ears listening out for key points that might well raise red flags. But there was little or hardly any controversy. There was nothing really new to my mind, possibly because some of us have been around, read some books, lived through the throes of liberal theology, hung out with McGavran (for which we still suffer from a hangover), surfed the Third Wave. In fact, not too long ago, the late Schaeffer asked if the Church had a future in the book,The Church at the end of the 20th Century. Not surprisingly, he pointed to orthodoxy, a genuine relationship with Jesus, compassion and community, as key.

You could say McLaren is restating the same truths for our postmodern generation. Except that the man has a knack for the incendiary. Just as well I suppose, because his books made a lot of people sit up.

Not at the recently concluded seminar however. Then, the messages were 'tame'; provocative only in the way he gently dusted off cobwebs that have settled on our ideas of Church. The only thing I suspect that was a mite too unsettling was his "al-Queda" analogy to the empire language of Jesus - but only if taken out of the larger context of his talk.

I loved the TV-style forum. On stage with “the usual suspects” (as some noted) the conversations were largely amiable, and notable in its ecumenical consensus. Dr Herman Shastri of CCM had a story about a former boy soldier from Liberia who makes crucifixes out of spent shells, and that moved me deeply. Some questions from the floor had a jagged edge I dare say, but then no blood was drawn.

My own take is that McLaren has brought a global perspective to the fore in his explication of the Kingdom of God. Which always merits a hearing, familiar as it is to some of us old fogies. It’s something that has to be said more often. But what if people do not want the Kingdom, but a passport to heaven - which may explain why the Church is in the state she is in today.

Yet I also sensed a bit of self-flagellation (unconscious perhaps?) in remarks about the Church losing her way. In our small group discussion, someone said something like Christianity indeed has done so much that’s wrong "especially to Muslims, and let’s admit it.” It made me wonder if the little that was mentioned about the Church’s failures ought not to have been balanced against all the positive things that God has graciously done through her in spite of everything. So many of our young people and adults know too little about church history they throw the baby out with the bath water, no thanks to the media.

Nevertheless there’s a stirring, as I mentioned to Sivin when some of us met for a sort of debriefing and dinner with McLaren on Monday. Cool! There we were, followers of Christ from so many different churches, sharing, talking – fellowshipping - which pleased me no end. We nodded with agreement when someone spoke up that such a gathering would have been inconceivable in Malaysia 20 or 30 years ago. Isn't that a quiet revolution of hope?

We may have tried to make people ‘nice’ – quiet citizens of their earthly kingdoms and energetic consumers in their earthly economies – but we didn’t fire them up and inspire them to invest and sacrifice their time, intelligence, money, and energy in the revolutionary cause of the kingdom of God. No, too often, Karl Marx was right: we used religion as a drug so we could tolerate the abysmal conditions of a world that is not the kingdom of God. Religion became our tranquilizer so we wouldn’t be so upset about injustice. Our religiosity thus aided and abetter prople in power who wanted nothing more than to conserve and preserve the unjust status quo that was so profitable and comfortable for them.

What would happen, I wonder as I sit in the light of the glorious stained-glass windows of a cathedral in Prague or Vienna or London or Florence, if we again tasted the good news of Jesus – not as a tranquilizer but as a vibrant, potent new wine that filled us with joy and hope that a better world is possible? What if, intoxicated by this new wine, we threw off our inhibitions and actually began acting as if the hidden but real kingdom of God was at hand?

Brian McLaren (The Secret Message of Jesus)

More reports and loads of pictures on Friends in Conversation at Sivin's, Alwyn's, and Dr Alex Tang's. Now these guys really know how to cook, so go there for a blow-by-blow account.

Monday, March 05, 2007


Had to make an unplanned visit to Shanghai for business right after the Chinese New Year break. What can I say? Not having been to Shanghai before, and flying into cold, grey, Shanghai just when stock markets plummeted gave us a little more to talk about. My client commented that Shanghai’s come of age, so to speak: “Now when Shanghai sneezes, US and the rest of the world catch a cold - and not the other way round.”

Shanghai is huge, sprawling. Very busy. There’s a kind of frenzy in the air, the sort that’s typical of a nation playing catch-up. And catch-up Shanghai has. Bicycles whizz by, as if inexplicably misdirected into the wrong movie, while vehicles of all shapes and sizes trundle along, honking all the time without a care. And the buildings - talk about a concrete jungle! Hard to imagine that a lot of the skyscrapers came up only in the last 20 years. We were told that some 6,000 more apartment buildings under 20 stories were presently in the works.

Had dinner at a restaurant (forget the name but there was a long queue waiting to be seated) at Xin Tian Di, Shanghai’s new stylish entertainment district. Great food! Xin Tian Di is an astonishing redevelopment project that’s touted as the model of new China. It's pretty much succeeded at preserving its architectural heritage while flashing its newfound capitalistic visage. The place to be, for sure - for people watching too, what with people from all over the world congregating there.

I was amused when our Chinese host pointed out a brick brownstone building in the middle of trendy drinking holes, clubs, eateries, and fashion boutiques, and told me without a hint of irony that it was here that Chairman Mao met with his comrades to form the communist party. It’s a museum now. Would love to have a look if I ever get to come by this way again.

We didn’t have much time to actually go around but we did pay the obligatory visit to the Bund after dinner, when it’s supposed to be prettiest. The stately colonial-era buildings fronting the Huangpu River mostly house top luxury brands such as Armani. You look around and you tell yourself: for better or worse, the Dragon's awaken.