by azly rahman
Why not distribute free copies of the scriptures of other religions? I have been reading the complaint of those reading about the latest antic of a nation struggling with the complexities of hypermodernity. I believe I can understand why the negative reaction.
Free copies of the Quran, I believe, should not be distributed as if one is on a national roadshow giving out free minyak kapak (camphoric ointment) - complete with minivans like those used by start-up hip hop and rap artistes. This reminds me of the work of the members of the Christian denominational group Jehovah’s Witness who would go around the neighbourhood handing out pamphlets on ways to true salvation.
All religious texts need to be treated within their rightful context, to be accorded the status of serious literary and literary text first and foremost.
They are to be used as texts in courses that invite interfaith dialogue in which all texts are held in equal high esteem to be debated of their content using discursive and dialogical methods that might hopefully bring about some common truth and weed out many common falsehoods.
One cannot ban the use of the word ‘Allah’ one day, and force others to read the text that contain the name on another and expect non-Muslims to be happy and ready to learn... at best that is hegemonic, at worst idiotic.
Humanism and rationalism
We must go back to the drawing board of our approach to teaching religion in terms of curricular design and how to juxtapose or even infuse it with core ideas of humanism and rationalism. This will take another few decades given the complexity of our society and its present evolution of ‘half-bakedness’ of hypermodernity.
Here in the United States, I have had the opportunity to teach two summer classes on ‘Religions of the World’ and ‘Introduction to Religion’ in a college where I have also been asked, for the last several years, to teach ‘Islamic Scriptures’.
I find it liberating to conduct classes after classes in which my students not only are American and foreign-born Muslims but also Jews, Christians, Catholic, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics, and even Pagans.
At the end of each semester, they have a different perception of each other - more in-depth understanding of what could have remained antagonistic. We read the Quran and the Hadiths and look at the scriptures from a hermeneutic perspective - situate it in the present and projecting it into the future.
Most often, our discussions on jihad evolved into a reflection on the struggles for the human self to explore suffering, violence, and liberation in all religious traditions. It includes passionate discussions on media representation of the concept.
I often wonder if what I am doing is possible in Malaysia but I certainly have the confidence and hope that given the most peaceful way to approach it, a lot can be gained. Essentially religious dialogue need not be painful.
It ought to help foster deep understanding and dispel misconception of ANY religion. It ought to make us become deeply religious and to learn to explore what others believe, to respect them, to learn from the universal themes of spirituality, and ultimately to contemplate our existence within the context of the struggle between Good and Evil and to evolve as more ethical and rational beings - so that we may participate better as political and social beings.
We need to do more than just print our copies of the Quran to distribute to those reluctant to accept them in light of the image of Islam these days.
We need to revamp undergraduate foundation courses in our public and private to include one that teaches the classics of the thoughts of the Eastern and Western tradition and the scriptures of the major religions.
But then again, our university students are not even allowed to be involved in politics and to engage freely in public forum on political matters - how might this be possible with interfaith dialogue then?
We have a long walk to mental freedom and to a philosophical understanding of Islam and other religions. Unfortunately we are now known as people who are good at disrupting dialogues. I hope this perception will change.
But then again, education is about hope, peace, empathy, intelligence, and liberation - these we must use as a basis for a new design once we see major restructuring efforts under way undertaken by perhaps a new political, social, and educational arrangement.
Let us look at possibilities in interfaith dialogue. Let education for peace and justice do that. This should be our commitment to an evolution of a world wise society I wrote about in last week’s column.
I end this week’s opinion piece with these verses:
MERE MORTALS, or
Mantra of a Minimalist
mere mortals we might be
magnificent though within
making sense of our maddening world
of machiavellian moods of Man’s antics
meanderers we have become
mystified by the mediated selves we have been turned into
and when the moments of truth arrive
mirrors will invite us
to multiple worlds
we have made
out of memories we have made
but who knows...
who wants to know?
mere mortals we might be
a speck of dust
but a proud evolution
only if we know - ar