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A Muslim in a mission school

  • Religion is a private pursuit between a person and his God.

By Mariam Mokhtar

At a time when Malaysia needs to build bridges, to forge a common identity, to stand in solidarity and be united, Jakim's announcement forbidding Muslims, in Malaysia, to take part in interfaith prayers, whether these are part of a mass silent prayer or through separate rituals, is very disturbing.
How will mass silent prayer, make one less of a Muslim? How will separate rituals, which are part of an interfaith event, threaten the Muslim person's faith?

If only Jakim were to be more inclusive and promote unity. The country really needs to come together and heal. Any organization which appears to be intolerant is unwarranted and most unhelpful.

My primary and secondary education was in Mission Schools. First at Convent Bukit Nanas and later, when the family moved to Ipoh, I was enrolled at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, in Brewster Road. Most of the women in my extended family, including the generation before me, are products of Mission schools.

Today, none have become Christian but some wear the tudung, many are hajjahs, and all of them speak fondly of their Mission schools, which they claim had helped shape their characters.

In those days, French, Belgian and Irish nuns were still part of the teaching sorority. During the morning assembly, we queued up in the quadrangle, in straight lines, and I remember that when Mother Superior led everyone in the Lord's Prayer, the non-Christians such as the Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, would silently recite their own respective prayers.

Decades later, none of us have lost our individual faith, although most of us, can recite the Lord's prayer. We fully appreciate that mass prayer, with other girls of different faiths, helped to strengthen our own beliefs.

No-one ridiculed others of different faiths, but we learnt to have greater respect and understanding for the other religions.

Later, when I went overseas, to a Church of England boarding school, the same ritual at morning assembly was repeated. Although the girls were of different faiths, including Jews, it was charming to see that in our diversity, we were praying in solidarity to our respective Gods, and asking for his blessing. The agnostics, would also stand in silent respect whilst others prayed.

If Jakim says that Muslims are not allowed to participate in interfaith prayers, what will happen when a Muslim attends a Christian wedding, and prayers are said to bless the couple? Should the Muslim walk out? What will happen at a funeral when the vicar prays for the deceased?

Similarly, when one attends a baptism, confirmation, or a memorial service, or Christmas or Easter service, or Harvest Festival, prayers of the person's faith are de rigueur. Is Jakim saying Muslims should exclude themselves from these events, which are important milestones in a person's life?

Just before going into battle, the troop leader may say a short prayer. Does Jakim have an alternative for this?

In many government functions, the doa or Muslim prayer is often said at the beginning of the event. The Non-Muslims have no objections, because they fully respect the beliefs of the Muslims, but why do the officials in Jakim assume that Malays are very insecure?

Malaysian Muslims have many things in common with their non-Muslim counterparts. The rising cost of living, the education of their children, rising intolerance, the pollution of the rivers, air and soil, the ageing population and food security.

If we all came together, we could create a much stronger nation. We could be a powerful economic and social force. We could be more prosperous. We swear allegiance to our King, we speak the national language, we try to engage with one another, but some politicians and organizations, continue to divide us.

Jakim has been given an enviable budget of RM1 billion, but if it persists in driving a wedge between Malaysians, right thinking politicians should either trim its budget, or disband it altogether.

Malaysians need strong leadership to bring out the best in people. We do not want organizations which continue to undermine us, so that people live in their separate enclaves and eye one another with suspicion.

Religion is a private pursuit between a person and his God. With an increasingly fractured nation, Jakim could do so much more to help our leaders, by cementing the ties between the people of different faiths and cultures.


1. MalaysiaKini: Jakim: Muslims are not allowed to be involved in interfaith prayers
2. Malay Mail: Johor Permaisuri: Christmas joy doesn’t make me forget Islam

(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)


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