Friday, 9 January 2015

Little known Reasons behind why Islam forbids the depiction of the Prophet Mohammad

It was with sadness and disbelief when I read about the Charlie Hebdo killings. However, by today I was most moved by all the solidarity shown by other newspapers and amongst the general public. Nobody is going to kow-tow in fear to the terrorists who were motivated by hatred and an intent to cause fear.

It was reported that witnesses heard the gunmen shout "we have avenged the prophet" as they carried out the killings.

The question that must be on everyone's mind is

Why are the (radical) Muslims so strongly against the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh - peace be upon him)?

Interestingly, the Quran does not forbid the depiction of the prophets or that of Prophet Muhd(pbuh).

The often quoted explanation for the Muslim 'ban' on depiction of the prophets is that it would be disrespectful (as might possibly be, in the case where cartoons are concerned). However, depiction is also banned if one wants to pay respects to the prophets. Hmmm ....

To understand the aversion of depiction, one needs a basic appreciation on the history of Islam.

Prophet Muhd(pbuh) was a messenger of God, one of the many prophets that the (Abrahamic) God has sent as messengers to guide His Children ie mankind. Abraham would be the first prophet and the lineage continues right down through Moses, Isaiah, Jesus, etc and finally Muhd. With the exception of Muhd, all the prophets were of Jewish descent.

But all of mankind are God's Children. Consider the story of what happened after Moses parted the Red Sea for the Israelites to cross safely, but with the Red Sea crashing down on the pursuing Egyptians.

“Then sang Moses and the people of Israel this song to the Lord, and spoke, saying, I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider has he thrown into the sea.”
                                                                        (Exodus 15:1)

However, there is a famous Jewish teaching that illustrates something that many outside the faith do not know. In one of the passages of the Talmud, the following is quoted:

God's angels started singing a song at sea in celebration after Moses led the people of Israel safely across the Red Sea while the Egyptians perished. God rebuked the angels, "My handiwork is drowning in the sea and you utter songs before me!"
(Sanhedrin 39b)

The Egyptians were God's Children too. So God rebuked the angels for celebrating their demise.  
Clearly, every one of us are God's Children.

And of course, the above story also teaches us not to celebrate the misery of others because they too are our brothers and sisters. Back to the main point about Islam.

The above story is mentioned so that some Jewish or Christian radicals will not think that Prophet Muhd(pbuh) was not a deserving prophet because of his ethnicity. That'll be racial prejudice in today's understanding. In fact,  we'll understand why God spoke to Prophet Muhd(pbuh) when we take a look at the situation of Mecca during the time of Prophet Muhd(pbuh) circa 600 AD.

The majority of the tribes living in the city of Mecca, which was an important trade center, practised idolatry and veneration of various spirits and deities. They were praying to gods that were not the One True GOD. I'm sure that meant unfavourable outcome for the souls of those people. Of course God saw fit to put things right as He has always done - by sending messengers in the form of prophets and wise men across time(history) and space(places). So this time, God approached Muhd who was a pious man who meditated in a cave dedicatedly. God did not speak to Muhd directly, His words were dictated to Muhd by the Archangel Gabriel (yes, the same Archangel Gabriel of Christianity). And the Quran was born from the words of God spoken to Prophet Muhd(pbuh) through Archangel Gabriel.

Why did God not speak to Prophet Muhd directly? I can only postulate that Muhd's spiritual cultivation was not high enough to be able to hear God directly but he could hear and communicate with the angels.

It was under direct God's guidance that Prophet Muhd founded Islam. And the manner of Revelation of the Quran is the reason why Muslims venerate it as the true Words of God above other Books of Abrahamic faith like the Old and New Testaments. 

Many non-Muslims do not know why the Muslims circumambulate the Kaaba, the black cuboid building at Mecca. In fact, the Kaaba was used to house the idols of miscellanous deities and pagan gods during the days before Islam

To be brief, events happened and the Muslims led by Prophet Muhd(pbuh) managed to convince the people of Mecca and the surrounding regions to stop their paganistic practices and pray instead to God (or Allah as He is known amongst Muslims and the people of the region in those times). The idols at the Kaaba were destroyed and it is now venerated as a symbol of Islamic triumph. All Muslims face the Kaaba during their prayers and they are to circumambulate the Kaaba should they be able to make the pilgrimage there.

From the history of Islam, we can see that idolatry is something that is really frowned upon by Muslims. 

Islam was built on the foundation of idolatry eradication.

This is the main reason why while the Quran does not prohibit the depiction of Prophet Muhammad and the other prophets, the hadiths (which are based on the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad compiled some 200-300 years after his death) does. And there are also fatwas (Muslim legal opinions and rulings), issued by Islamic authorities which forbid the same.

In order that idolatry not happen with the case of Prophet Muhd(pbuh), it was thus hadith'ed and fatwa'ed that prophets not be depicted. 

Another point would be the fact that God is transcendent and nothing humans can create will be good or accurate enough to represent Him. Those who wish to pray to God should just pray directly to Him (according to the ways and His Names as taught in the Quran) instead of praying to representations of Him. After all, there is always the danger that it is some other spirit that is within idols rather than God Himself.

However, one would find that the different traditions/sects of Islam have different practices with respect to this non-depiction and that the Sunni branch of Islam is strict in this respect.

It was thus I felt how misguided and ignorant the killers were as Muslims, when I read about how the killers shouted "we have avenged the prophet"as they went about their misdeeds.

Clearly, they did not know there is nothing to be avenged because
1) the Prophet Muhd(pbuh) did not forbid his own depiction directly. There are many descriptions of him in the Quran in fact
2) the Quran did not forbid the depiction of prophets

Clearly, they did not know the reason behind the hadiths and fatwas which forms the basis of the rulings for non-depiction. If they did, what is there to be done but shake their heads at the others' ignorance and perhaps start educating them on what God said instead of killing people.

After all, God is forgiving. Just that the radical and misguided do not get it. If they are true Muslims and read the Quran, they'd get it. In fact, all anyone need do is just read the first verse of every chapter in the Quran.

for the record, i'm not a Muslim 

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New Person 2015

The year that was,
Depended not on
what happened to me
Solely Dependent it was
On Who I was

I wish you and all
In the new year
And days to come
A Happy New You

Happy New Year 2015 :-) ♡

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

First Christmas midnight Mass

Merry Christmas everybody! 

I've finally attended my very first Christmas midnight mass at Our Mother of Perpetual Help (OMPH) Church at Ipoh Garden last night.

It was basically just my own decision to experience the coming of Christmas with Christians. No one invited me. I just decided to go and invited myself after consulting some Christian friends on which Church I should attend.  

The decision was simple, I wanted to attend a Roman Catholic Church. Why, one may ask. 

Because of Pope Francis. His papacy has been a breath of fresh air in Christendom. Here are some of my favourite quotes by 

Pope Francis:

The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! 'Father, the atheists?' Even the atheists. Everyone!

Proselytism is solemn nonsense; it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us.

If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge? We shouldn't marginalise people for this. They must be integrated into society. 

I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person's life. God is in everyone's life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else - God is in this person's life. You can - you must - try to seek God in every human life

A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: 'Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?' We must always consider the person. 

Although the life of a person is in a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.

From my point of view, God is the light that illuminates the darkness, even if it does not dissolve it, and a spark of divine light is within each of us.

The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials.

Money has to serve, not to rule.

Politics is a noble activity. We should revalue it, practise it with vocation and a dedication that requires testimony, martyrdom, that is to die for the common good.

There is a need for financial reform along ethical lines that would produce in its turn an economic reform to benefit everyone. This would nevertheless require a courageous change of attitude on the part of political leaders.

The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing. 

The Son of God became incarnate in the souls of men to instill the feeling of brotherhood. All are brothers and all children of God.

To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.

I believe in God - not in a Catholic God; there is no Catholic God. There is God, and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor, but God, the Father, Abba, is the light and the Creator. This is my Being.

I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity.

Clearly, he is winning the hearts of many non-believers and those who used to feel they were marginalized by the Church. I wouldn't be surprised to hear there is a resuscitation of attendance at Catholic Churches because of him. Pope Francis tends to take the inclusive position rather than the excluding position of condemnation in his bid to reach out to people, both believers and non-believers alike. His leadership is inspirational and heart-warming. I hope it's infectious too.

Recently, I heard a story of a "famous" sermon by a priest at the (Catholic) Church of St. Michael in Ipoh. It was regarding the use of joss-sticks by other faiths. He brought a huge joss-stick, supposedly one of those at least 1metre tall ones which are decorated with dragons along it's length, to a sermon. Having caught the attention of the congregation, he proceeded to explain that joss-sticks are merely incense on sticks. After all, Catholics use incense (in a pot) as part of their rituals too. From what I heard, his sermon cleared up a lot of misunderstandings that has lead to aversions amongst some Christians from having anything to do with joss-sticks. 

I had wanted to attend the Christmas Mass at Church of St. Michael to meet and listen to a sermon by this priest myself. Alas, I heard this innovative and inspiring priest was transferred to Bukit Mertajam to help rebuild a church there.

Nevertheless, I heard an important message last night at OMPH. It's about having "faith in the power of Love" to bring about a better world and life for everyone.

Yes, Love. Not "faith in the power Jesus or God" but "faith in the power of Love". Perhaps this message came from Pope Francis himself, it certainly has his signature. 

If everyone were to uphold Love in our everyday lives and actions, we will change this world. Regardless of faith, culture and beliefs. Without bringing in any religious element, we can save the world and bring about a better place and future for the children of the world. All it takes is Love <3

After all, for those who believe, Love is the language of God.

For those who don't, Love is more than enough. 

Merry Christmas everyone. May the essence & spirit of Jesus Christ, which is Love, bless you & your loved ones.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Radicals vs Moderates

About a month ago, my pastor uncle shared a thought and emotion provoking video on the subject of Radicals vs Moderates. I've been meaning to share my thoughts on this subject since then. And just this week, The Star newspaper launched their Voices of Moderation campaign under the hashtag #moderateMY to encourage open, rational and moderate voices. Here in multiracial, multifaith and multicultural Malaysia, we too face the menace of radicals. Finally a call to reason and moderation by no less, the top English daily in Malaysia.

To those who can afford 5min of your time, please take a look at the video below.

For those who don't, here's the summary:
At a conference held regarding the 11 Sept 2012 terrorist attack on the Benghazi, Libya USA Consulate (where 4 Americans died), Saba Ahmed, a softspoken female muslim American law student raised a very good and pertinent question on the "war" against Islamic radicals:

"How can we fight an ideological war with weapons?"

"How can we ever end this war? The jihadist ideology is an ideology. How can we end this thing if we don't address it ideologically?"

Brigitte Gabriel, the Founder, President and CEO of ACT! for America then proceeded to answer her. Well, it seemed to me that she didn't really answer the question but rather steamrolled Saba with facts. Interesting and pertinent facts and points:

1) "there are an estimated 1.2 billion Muslims in the world"
2) "of which 15-25% are radicals according to all intelligent services around the world"
3) "means there are 180 to 300 million people dedicated to the destruction of Western civilisation"
4) "radicals that kill and massacre" "that number as big as United States of America" (population 315mil)
5) WWII Germany: "most Germans were peaceful yet the Nazis drove the agenda. And as a result 60 million people died, almost 14 million in concentration camps, 6 million were Jews."
6) Stalin-era Russia: "the Russians were able to kill 20 million people"
7) Mao Zedong-era China: "the Chinese were able to kill 70 million people"
8) WWII Japan: "Japan was able to butcher its way through Southeast Asia killing 12 million people"
9) 9/11 2001: "we had 2.3million Arab Muslims living in the United States. It took 19 hijackers ... 19 radicals to bring America down to its knees, destroy the World Trade Center, attack the Pentagon, and kill almost 3000 Americans that day

Her most important point:

10) "The peaceful majority were irrelevant"

The rest of the video was really unnecessary emotional and crowd-rousing rhetoric to stir pro-American and perhaps even stoke Islamophobic sentiments.

My first question is, how many of those who watched realised that Brigitte herself was a radical (speaking out against radicals)?

Brigitte herself is the radical leader archetype:
1) loud
2) emotion stirring
3) charismatic
4) insistent
5) persistent

She is no different than the radicals she seek to eradicate. She is herself giving rise to another breed of radicals of her own ideology.

My second question is, how many of those who watched are saddened or angered by these words 
"the peaceful majority were irrelevant"?

Are you part of the peaceful majority? The moderates:
1) who believes in higher ideals of Love and Acceptance, Peace and Harmony 
2) whose voice is soft
3) whose attitude is indifferent or apathetic
4) who thinks "I can't make a difference" and "it's up to somebody else"
5) who tries to moderate but gives up against the louder, insistent and persistent radicals

Are you amongst those above?

Have you read the news recently? Be it local, more so, global news?
Do you see how the radicals are causing conflicts everywhere? Conflicts where innocents and peace-loving moderates like us suffer ...

There are more of us peaceful, loving and harmonious moderates than there are those radicals. Yet we allow them to dictate and lead, to drive the agenda, and rule us. And what comes of this? Fractious and divided societies. "Divide and conquer", that's what the radicals do. "Divide then lead", this is what bad leaders do. This is not something new. It has happened since society came into being. It's as old as the stories in the Old Testament.

These radicals, especially the leaders are charismatic. They stir emotions and play the crowd to the common gathered theme and grouches .. then they rouse anger and direct it against the enemies of their ideologies. And so the peaceful masses fall into their trap, if even for a moment. Yet in that moment of high emotions, new radicals will be born from moderates. From the passion and emotions and a cause greater than self. And like all old radicals, the new radicals too are emotional and passionate about their cause; thus the radicals grow in numbers.

And yet, still the peaceful, loving and harmonious moderates form the vast majority.

It is time to awaken and arise. To recognise the characteristics and tactics of these radicals. Even if they are our leaders. More so, if they are leaders. Recognise them. Fall not into their emotional trap. Once they hear the voice of the majority, no leader will be foolhardy to lead differently.

My last question is the question Saba Ahmed asked:

"How can we fight an ideological war with weapons?"

Certainly not. Ideology with ideology. It's time for us to be heard. Time for us to speak up and share about our ideology. Our ideology of Love and Acceptance. Share with our neighbours, friends and family, enemies even. Speak out, write against the radicals. Simple actions like mentioning our own moderate perspective on the latest radical news over conversations will go a long way to spread moderation and positivity. Especially when we are in positions of influence like the teaching profession or as a leader. It should not be about indoctrination but rather to inspire critical thinking on issues which are radicalised. Let our ideology spread and be the pillars of society. Let our children, grandchildren and generations to come enjoy peace and harmony forevermore.

Let us do it before it's too late. 
Before more conflicts and casulties happen. 
Before our world burns to the ground ...

Please share if you think this is worth it. It's time for the moderate message to be spread.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Aidilfitri (Eid al-Fitr) : Maaf Zahir dan Batin

The celebrations of Hari Raya Puasa Aidilfitri (Eid al-Fitr) just ended. And while I'm not a Muslim, it's difficult as a Malaysian not to feel and be immersed in the spirit of the celebration of Aidilfitri and that of the month of Ramadan.

To me, the most moving ... touching, inspiring and humbling experience of Aidilfitri and the month of Ramadan is the very act of seeking forgiveness through the words "maaf zahir dan batin".

As I understand, it is a cultural practice for Muslims to seek forgiveness from God, one another and even non-Muslims on the day of Aidilfitri. And the phrase "maaf zahir dan batin" (for those who do not know Bahasa Malaysia) means "forgive physically and spiritually" or "forgive from within and without(outside)" is uttered in greeting to all. It is usually uttered in the context of seeking forgiveness.

Starting with the family on the day of Aidilfitri, Muslims seek forgiveness from people at home before visiting friends and family, seeking forgiveness from those whom they meet. The seeker of forgiveness by uttering the words "maaf zahir dan batin" is lowering his/her own ego, swallowing pride and resentment, setting aside past hurt and anger EVEN if he/she felt that the other is in the wrong; to seek forgiveness from and apologise to the other party. Needless to say, this can be a very difficult exercise on any given day. More so when one has to be sincere and seek forgiveness from and apologise to everyone on one day. This is a practice that is said to have mend ties where it had previously seemed that all was lost. I can only imagine how this practice keeps ties cordial amongst Muslims. Surely one would oblige when a person comes sincerely seeking for forgiveness.

This practice is powerful because it helps:
i) one to first forgive the other
ii) lower one's hate and resentment
iii) lower one's ego and pride
iv) raises one's humility
v) improves relationships

There is so much hatred and unforgiveness in the world at this moment. It is retribution-seeking and unforgiveness that's perpetuating conflicts and hatred around the world, sometimes for generations. And it's not just on global and national scale. Such usually begins from the individual and at home. When we have problems forgiving those closest to us at home, such attitude can easily extend beyond home to all whom we meet.

Personally, I strive to practise forgiveness everyday. A few times a day in fact. I do it when giving thanks for the meals I have. At the end of my thanksgiving, "I forgive all who have hurt me, whether knowingly or unknowingly". And I make a sincere effort to forgive those who have caused me hurt on that day or before, whoever it is that my heart is still not at peace with. I find that it's a very good practice and habit that helps me see people without the prejudice of past negative experiences. After all, I found that my negative reactions to certain people is usually not based on the actual incident itself. Rather, it is the bad history and unforgiveness I have with that person that causes me to react more negatively than the situation warrants. If I let go and forgive everyday, my relationship with the other person is wiped clean of dirty smudges and ready to build on positive experiences daily. I can't say how much this practice have changed me and my relationships with people.

How I wish everyone can practise seeking and granting of forgiveness sincerely. The world will be a much better place than it is today. No more wars and conflicts certainly. No more family disharmony. Surely forgiveness will translate into peace and harmony amongst all.

The practice of "Maaf Zahir dan Batin" certainly helps. When all is forgiven, we can strive to build new and meaningful positive relationships for the future. Be it with individuals, groups of people or even nations. Because the journey of reconciliation begins with the first step of forgiveness.

To anyone I know who may be reading this posting of mine, I sincerely seek "maaf zahir dan batin" from you.
Please forgive me for any hurt and pain that I may have caused whether knowingly or unknowingly. I too forgive you for any such trespasses. Let bygones be bygones. May we build our relationship on positive values like Love, Truth and Compassion.

May Love, Truth and Compassion spread to every corner of this world and universe.