Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Religious ignorance: The great divider - Steve Oh

Source : Steve Oh - Malaysiakini

The Malaysiakini report on Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan's swearing on the Quran elicited a response from PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang that it was an act of kebodohan (stupidity). Few would disagree because it is naive to think that the mere act of swearing absolves one's guilt. It is only the gullible who are fooled.But I was disappointed to read the PAS leader's comments that “We don't have this practice in Islam. It is the Christians who swear on the Bible.”
Anyone who knows the Bible will tell you that this is not true if the implication is that swearing on the Bible is part and parcel of Christianity,In fact the opposite is true.
There are several Biblical injunctions for Christians to refrain from all types of swearing best summarised in this verse: "Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one."Another verse: "Above all, my brothers, do not swear — not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned."Therefore, no one should accuse Christians of swearing on the Bible.
That some Western countries still adopt this practice is more of a quirk of history than a true Christian practice and I reiterate, swearing on the Bible is not an acceptable Christian practice. Thus, non-Christians who accept public office often take their oaths upon their preferred religious text or none depending on their choice. It is not unknown for elected Muslim politicians to use the Quran for this purpose in the West.
Sadly, there is much ignorance about Christianity and false perceptions have been passed down and along in Malaysia in a climate of religious chauvinism and fear. I often meet people who are ignorant of other people's religions and often I have had to correct their false understanding, for example of Islam, though I am not a Muslim. It is because I believe in talking to learned Muslims and reading up on the subject. There is nothing more tragic than those who believe in truth to believe in lies or fallacies about others.
The religious leaders in Malaysia have much to answer for the lack of trust among the different religions and should not take it upon themselves to play God. Often it is those who have the least understanding of their own religion who resort to angry outbursts in false perceptions of offence from others. Their volatile responses betray a lack of security in their own faith, thus their resort to intimidation and even violence.
Political parties such as PAS that want to play a pivotal role in mainstream national politics must prove it is able to govern for all and have a vision that is broad and progressive. Those who have strong religious convictions must learn to respect the beliefs of others, and not be arrogant and presumptuous that their faith gives them the divine right to suppress others.
If God does not do that, why should those who claim to follow Him do the opposite? Let us hope Pakatan Rakyat politicians will help cut a swathe through the jungle of religious ignorance and persecution in the country and that we will all know more accurately about our religion and that of others so that we don't make false and presumptuous statements. I hope ths elucidation on the Christian position on swearing whether on the Bible or some other thing will dispel the fallacy and remedy the inaccuracy in Hadi Awang's statement.

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