We are hypocrites if we say we love and trust god whom we cannot touch and see and yet fail to love and trust our neighbours whom we can touch and see. Steven Sim reflects.
Today Muslims celebrate Hari Raya Aidiladha or Korban (Eid al-Adha). It commemorates the act of Abraham trusting and obeying god.
Today, in Malaysia we are also confronted with the Court of Appeal’s judgement on banning the Catholic Church publication, The Herald, from using the word “Allah” to refer to god.
It is a sad day not only for religious liberty in our country, but also for the fact that the government is now resorting to controlling what words we can use and what words we cannot use. This is clearly an attempt to control what we can think and what we cannot think. The court’s decision marked the beginning of the Orwellian Nineteen Eighty-Four in Malaysia.
I wrote the article below as a Hari Raya Aidiladha message, first as a greeting to Muslims and secondly as a reminder to all of us of what we have lost as a nation. I hope in the spirit of Hari Raya Aidiladha, we can reflect on the great father of faith, Abraham and his humility to trust.
Maaf zahir dan batin.
Abraham, the Father of Faith
Four thousand years ago, in the ancient and fertile land of Ur in lower Euphrates, where it met the Tigris towards the Persian Gulf, near modern-day Iraq, the Semitic prophet Abraham was born.
It was then a time of political instability with the ancient kingdom of Ur disintegrating under foreign invasions. Being nomadic herders, Abraham’s father Terah (Azar) uprooted his family to move in search of better prospects.
Abraham is today recognised as the great spiritual father of three major world religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The family journeyed across the Fertile Crescent to as far as Egypt before Abraham finally settled in “the land of Canaan”, modern day Palestine.
Today, more than half the population of the world trace their religions to that of Abraham’s. Yet in his own days, Abraham and his family were a religious minority. His own father Terah was probably opposed to Abraham’s faith in the Creator God.
Abraham the religious and political minority
We can almost imagine how Abraham, his wives and children had to endure ridicule or even persecution for being a religious minority. We can even imagine Abraham being mocked for calling god a certain name.
And to make the matter worse, Abraham and his family were migrants, foreigners, “orang asing”, “pendatang” among the surrogate communities where they pitched their tents.
Although the Terah-Abraham clan was sizeable, they were a minority group, perhaps even with very little political power. In fact, Terah’s grandson, Lot – Abraham’s nephew – became victim in a political invasion together with all his family and possessions.
Having no kings or governments to appeal to for justice and rights, Abraham had to assemble his own little army from farmhands to rescue his nephew.
But yet in all these, the great spiritual books of all three Abrahamic faiths recorded how Abraham persevered. In other words, he trusted god will be with him and see him through.
Today, our Muslim friends commemorate an important event in Abraham’s life – the sacrifice of his own son, the Festival of the Adha. The episode is a further proof of Abraham’s unyielding trust. Abraham obeyed god when he was asked to sacrifice his own son on the altar.
Strange as it may sound to modern minds, Abraham’s act of trust was not without context. He knew his god has been benevolent and kind to him and his family. He knew his god was unlike other gods who demanded human blood. His act of trust was borne out of a genuine experience of the goodness of god in his life previously.
If you like, to Abraham, god’s goodness was empirical – evidenced throughout his long life. The son was finally spared by divine intervention just moments before the knife pierced him.
Today, some Jews, Christians and Muslims dispute which son Abraham actually sacrificed. Perhaps such a question is important. But I think to be obsessed with it is to miss the point.
If there is one important lesson which we can learn from Abraham’s life, it is his humble trust. Abraham trusted god, his son trusted Abraham, his son trusted god.
And when we say we trust someone, it must mean that we give that person the benefit of the doubt. It must also mean, we admit that we really do not know what the outcome will be. Therefore trust can only exist in a situation when we humble ourselves like Abraham and recognise that we cannot possibly be right all the time.
In other words, trust begins when we realise that we are not perfect; we do not have perfect knowledge, we do not have perfect devotion, we do not live perfect lives.
I believe, risking criticism from greater minds than me, to trust like Abraham did is to realise that our knowledge of the truth is tentative, at best. And if that is the case, we ought to be more charitable and generous to others who may not share the same convictions as us.
Malaysians need this trust
Perhaps at this juncture of our country, when religious extremism and political manoeuvring threatened to further divide us, trust is what we really need. To trust the Almighty – to be humble and to recognise that we are not perfect, and to trust each other – because if we recognise that we are not perfect ourselves, then who are we to judge others as if we are god?
Sometimes, admittedly it is easier to trust and love god. After all, god does not annoy us with human idiosyncrasies or compete with us for economic or political power. But I believe we will be hypocrites if we say we love and trust god whom we cannot touch and see and yet fail to love and trust our neighbours whom we can touch and see.
“Do I a mere mortal made from a handful of dirt dare speak again and again to my Master (God)” – Prophet Abraham.
“Let’s not have fighting between us, between your people and my people. After all, we are family” – Prophet Abraham.
Steven Sim is the Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam.