Friday, January 29, 2010

Movie Review: Avatar

A movie review by Jason Kumar, a 2nd generation Malaysian in New
Zealand, for Thinking Matters.

"Cameron’s strongest messages in Avatar are about capitalism, technology and nature. However, these messages are paradoxical at best, and ultimately undone in their telling. Avatar’s assault on corporate exploitation and capitalist greed comes packaged in ironically one of the most costly, commercially bloated movies in history. The film’s criticism of technology too is problematic. Cameron (who is responsible for the ultimate inspiration of industrial terror, Skynet), extols the virtues of a simple, natural way of life and attacks technology, seen especially in the final (thrilling) battle between Jake and the exosuited Quaritch. Technology has created dehumanized, disembodied souls. But what is Cameron’s solution to this
hyper-technological unease?

Well, more technology, in fact. One of the central moral values in Avatar is the virtue of seeing through different eyes. And technology is the means of achieving this moral end. Compassion for ‘the other’ in Avatar only occurs via technological incarnation (much like another sci-fi film that came out last year, District 9). The mining corporation CEO, Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), and the SecFor
soldiers embody a kind of blindness as they view the Na’vi as nothing but savages and a hindrance to the extraction of the mineral ore. Jake himself is only able to undergo a conversion of understanding by taking on the body of an Avatar and living amidst the Na’Vi. This culminates in his relationship with Neytiri and in being able to meaningfully express the phrase “I see you”. And, of course, this is the point. With Avatar and its wonderland of technological tricks, Cameron has given the audience new eyes to see. At the close of the nineties, the Wachowskis’ The Matrix protested our Cartesian technological imprisonment, and it is interesting that this last decade has ended with Cameron’s promotion of deeper technological immersion.

Another paradox is also found in Cameron’s handling of spirituality. The deity of the Na’Vi is the “All Mother” or Eywa, who inhabits nature and connects all energy and life. Imbibing the New Age theosophy universal to Hollywood, Cameron presents us with a pantheistic god who is morally indifferent and who, as Neytiri tells Jake, will not “take sides”. But Cameron cannot hold true to this vision. In the climactic third act, when the characters are confronted with the horror and presence of evil, the pantheistic god is forgotten and Cameron must employ a very literal deus ex machina. He wants the amoral, quasi-mystical ecological god but knows he needs the moral judge of Christian theism who does in fact take sides. Like all stories, including the more real one we find ourselves in beyond the walls of our theater or cinemaplex, there can be no resolution unless God steps in to end evil.

Avatar is a sensory-action feat that deserves an audience. Cameron has delivered a ride that has taken the medium to new heights. But where the director’s goal isn’t just to gratify the senses or present an escapist experience, the film falls flat. With Avatar, Cameron has returned to his place at the top of the world – but we can be grateful that the throne of David is already occupied."

Continue reading

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Kepala Khinzir, Kepala Lembu Dan Kepala Raksasa Di Kalangan Kita

Terjemahan dari rencana Farish A. Noor bertajuk “Pigs' Heads, Cows' Heads and The Demons Among Us

Terjemahan Mahabharatta dalam bahasa Melayu-Indonesia, Hikayat Pandawa Lima, menceritakan episod menarik dan mustahak yang berlaku atas medan pertempuran Bharatayudha. Putera Pandawa bernama Yudistira – seorang pertapa berjiwa damai – terpaksa berjuang dengan Raja Prabu Salya. Prabu Salya memiliki suatu senjata hebat yang tidak boleh dikalahkan oleh sesiapa pun, iaitu, Raksasa Chandrabirawa.

Raksasa ini tidak mudah ditumpaskan kerana ia menjadi lebih kuat setiap kali ia diserang. Jika tangannya dipotong, tangan baru tumbuh semula, lebih berkuasa dan bahaya dari sebelumnya. Ratusan pendekar cuba mengalahkan raksasa ini tetapi mereka semua gagal . Malah makhluk itu menjadi lebih kuat selepas pertarungan kerana ia dibekalkan keganasan dan kebencian.

Namun Prabu Salya telah diberi amaran bahawa beliau akan tumpas di tangan ‘orang berjiwa murni yang tidak mencederakan sesiapa’.

Apabila Raksasa Chandrabirawa datang berdepan dengan putera Yudistira, baginda enggan berlawan. Walaupun dilontar cemuhan dan provokasi Chandrabirawa, Yudistira tabah berdiam dan langsung tidak bertindak keras. Maka Raksasa itu naik berang melihat tingkah laku Yudistira dan api kemarahannya semakin marak sehingga ia musnah dibakar obor kebenciannya sendiri. Termakbullah legenda bahawa Prabu Salya akan ditumpaskan oleh ‘orang berjiwa murni yang tidak mencederakan sesiapa’.

Hari ini, ada golongan yang ingin mengapi-apikan keadaan di Malaysia dengan perbuatan provokasi, bertujuan untuk menyalakan rasa gusar dan benci di kalangan kita. Kita melihat insiden sedih dan memalukan di mana kepala lembu dan kini, kepala khinzir pula dipancung dalam kemarahan.

Walaupun pihak berkuasa bertanggungjawab untuk menghentikan kitaran keganasan dari berterusan, kita, setiap warga Malaysia, juga memikul kewajipan memilih bagaimana kita bertindak balas terhadap perbuatan provokasi mereka. Pada masa sebegini, fikiran tenang dan emosi tabah harus dikekalkan. Inilah saat kita diseru mencontohi jiwa Yudistira dalam sanubari kita. Semangat cinta damai putera bijaksana ini adalah aktif serta melibatkan suatu keputusan untuk menghindari perangkap golongan provokator.

Kitaran benci dan keganasan hanya dapat dihentikan apabila kita sendiri mematahkan rangkaiannya yang di depan mata dan enggan membiarkan diri menjadi bidak dalam permainan api dalang yang tidak berprinsip dan takut mendedahkan diri mereka di muka umum.

Sudah cukup kita melihat insiden kepala lembu atau kepala khinzir ini! Marina Mahathir menggesa kita agar jangan biarkan provokasi mereka membawakan persengketaan (27 Jan 2010) jadi marilah kita – warga Malaysia dari setiap lapisan masyarakat yang pelbagai kepercayaan – memulih kembali kebebasan negara kita dari golongan fanatik, penakut dan provokator ini. Kebencian tidak dapat dikalahkan dengan kebencian, dan sentimen perkauman tidak akan ditumpaskan dengan lebih racun perkauman.

Seperti Yudistira, kita harus membuktikan bahawa cinta akan keamanan, cinta sesama kita adalah kuasa yang mampu menewaskan raksasa di kalangan kita. Dan seperti Yudistira, kita mesti faham bahawa pasifisme bukanlah kelemahan, malah ia adalah ekspresi paling ketara bagi jiwa bebas lagi bijaksana yang enggan berkompromi dalam mengikuti jejak dendam dan kebencian.

PS: Photo courtesy of Allianda.wordpress

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why I use ‘Allah’ – a layman’s perspective

By Pastor Eu Hong Seng

In the current ongoing debate, some are of the opinion that Christians should just give in and forego the use of the word “Allah” so that the threats and attacks on churches will stop and Malaysia can continue to enjoy her peace and move on unhindered to developed nation status.

Now, more than ever the country needs clear-minded Malaysians and not “confused” citizens, Christians included.

There are ten salient facts and reasons and I would like to address these to the ordinary man in the street and lay people in the Church. (1)

1. The use of “Allah” predates Islam

“Allah” is the Arabic name for God, and it indeed pre-dates Islam and even Christianity. The pagan Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula called God “Allah,” even though they worshipped hundreds of idols in addition.

Christians all across the Arab World today use the word “Allah” for God, and if one were to read an Arabic Bible, he would find that God is indeed called “Allah.”

“Allah” is also the name that Jesus Christ called God. “Allah” is the Arabic equivalent of “Elohim,” which is Hebrew for God. The “im” is a plural appendage of respect, and so the word is “Eloh,” which is very similar to “Allah.”

In addition, the Aramaic word for God is “Alaha,” and Aramaic was the language which Jesus himself spoke.

Moreover, the word “Allah” is found in the English version of the Bible which we read today.

In Matthew 27:46 we read: “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ – which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” The word “Eloi” is the Aramaic form of the Arabic “Allah.” (2)

It is important to know the fact that Christians in Malaysia didn’t start using “Allah” only recently, as some contends.


2. It is used all over the world by Christians.

The Arabic word is commonly used by Christians to describe God in such countries as Egypt, Syria and Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation.

So it is not just a Malaysian word, for the Malaysian context only. One cannot just decide to copyright an “international” word and hope to escape ridicule.

And anybody in Malaysia can tell you that it is more than just one word that can be involved. The focus now may be on one word, thereafter the contention will be expanded to include other words, and at a later stage any other word or words that the “authorities” may so decide.


3 “Allah” was used by East Malaysians before they joined Malaya

The SIB church was formed in Sarawak state in 1928, nearly 30 years before Malaysia’s independence, and were already using “Allah” in their worship and literature.

And some of them don’t even speak BM or English, only their own mother tongue and in their mother tongue, the word used is “Allah.” So it’s not only the Alkitab, the BM Bible. The other Scriptures which use “Allah” are the Kalibatand Lunbawang Bible.

Daniel Raut, a senior leader of SIB Church — the largest Malay-speaking congregation in the country – said it will not drop the use of the word “Allah,” even though Christians fear for their safety.

“Since our forefathers become Christians in the 1920s, we have been using Allah even in our mother tongue,” said Raut, who is from the Lunbawang tribe in eastern Sarawak state.

Furthermore, how does one propose that its use be restricted to East Malaysians only? What happens when they come to work in West Malaysia? What about the thousands who are already in West Malaysia? What about our existing West Malaysia Bahasa Malaysia churches? What happens when an East Malaysian crosses over to Labuan (a Federal Territory) for the weekend?

Some proponents of the “East Malaysia only” concept take it a step further and suggest (to those of us in West Malaysia), “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” The Malay equivalent is “Masuk kandang lembu, menguak. Masuk kandang kambing mengembek” (When entering the cattle pen, moo. When entering the goat pen, bleat). [That] Perhaps it is time the new minority, moo and bleat with the majority.

Though debatable, the new political landscape has all the major political parties, including the key partners of the Barisan, not aligned with Caeser, on this issue.


4. The success of our National Language education policy

Since the introduction of the National Language policy, our emerging generation has become more proficient in Bahasa Malaysia. And with the continued emphasis, the next two generations can be expected to be not only proficient but dependent on the Bahasa Malaysia as the lingua franca in our nation.

Alongside the Allah contention, there are clear intentions to further impose restrictions on other words like “Injil” (Gospel) and “firman” (faith). (3)

So the logical question we all are asking is “how would this pan out?”

Any strategists will tell you that in winning the generational war, ignore the “old diehards” and focus on the future generations.

Our grandchildren and great grand-children, will find themselves reluctant to read Scriptures in a language they are less proficient and also not be able to access the Alkitab, and also, perhaps be the first generation who have never heard of “firman” and “Injil?”

I can understand the zeal of the government to Islamize the nation, (4) but I pray that they can do so with honesty and integrity. “Bring all to the table” and aim for the hearts. Malaysians will respect you for that.

But no coercion, no bullying, no media misrepresentation, no scrambling the minds of our children and no re-writing of Scriptures!

But I also pray that by the same token and in the true spirit of religious freedom, the day will soon come, when others, if they so desire be allowed to share their respective faiths with our Muslim friends as is fully acceptable and permissible in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world.

Surely, Indonesia is a great example to us on what freedom of religion is all about. Sharing one’s faith with another should not be narrowly interpreted as with ‘intent to convert’. Understanding one another’s faith is surely an excellent way of promoting goodwill, peace and harmony among the multi religious population in this lovely country of ours.

Under the present circumstances, the many proposed “inter faith dialogues” and formation of councils to facilitate such dialogues will be nothing but a monologue, as the other faiths are “gagged” in the name of the constitution.



5. Used by others as well

The Sikhs use “Allah” in their Scriptures. Do we stop them next?

What about Hindus, who also refer to one of their gods as “Allah?”

Rigveda is the most sacred scripture of the Hindus, and one of the attributes given to God Almighty in Book no 2 Hymn no I verse II, is ‘Ila’ which if pronounced properly is the same as Allah. (5)

So it is not a Christian issue alone.

What the Christians are asked to do, the Sikhs and the Hindus will be asked to do, eventually.


6. Constitutional right to “manage” our own religion

This right must include how we address our God.

Over enthusiastic bureaucrats, consequentially are interfering with the worship & education of Christians – CDs have been confiscated, Sunday School materials are held up by customs, besides the confiscations of the Alkitab.

According to Prof. Dr. Shad Saleem Faruqi (6), the Malaysian Constitution provides that Islam is the religion of the federation. But all other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony: Article 3(1).

In respect of religion, every person has the right to three things:

1. To profess

2. To practice

3. And, subject to Article 11(4), to propagate his religion: Article 11(1).



Every religious group has the right to:

1. Manage its own affairs

2. Establish and maintain institutions for religious purposes.

3. Acquire and own property and administer it: Article 11(3).

4. Establish and maintain institutions for religious education: Article 12(2). (7)

Our constitutional right, to manage our own affairs, to practice religion freely has been increasing under threat particularly over the past two decades.


7. Dictating what should be in the Scriptures of a major religion in the world

This suggestion that another word be used is perhaps “the biggest joke.”

Whether one agrees or not about the word is not the main issue.

The basic issue, lest we forget the obvious, is that each and every religious Scriptures is the sacred book – of Christians (including the Kalibat and Lunbawang), the Sikhs and the Hindus.

We are not talking about some supplementary textbooks or a “pseudo scripture” just written recently.

Are those who argue for a substitute word suggesting that all these Holy Books be re-written to accommodate a few?

If it is suggested by adherents of the respective faiths, this could perhaps be more acceptable. But when followers of one faith, suggest (and insist) that believers of another faith, re-write their Scriptures to pander to their“unsubstantiated convictions” then we are not too far from the “height of arrogance.”

I know Malaysia is “boleh-land” but this move to “force” the other religious groups to rewrite their Scriptures is preposterous.




8. Prominent scholars of Islam and Muslim organizations have supported the use of “Allah” by Christians

In Malaysiakini dated 13th Jan 2010, Constitutional Law expert Abdul Aziz Bari contends that it is pretty clear that the use of Allah by Christians has some basis in the Quran.

This is strengthened by the exposition of eminent scholars, including Egyptian scholar Shaykh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi (Maal Hijrah award recipient 2009) who said that Christians, as part of the Abrahamic faiths together with the Jews and Muslims, can use the word ‘Allah’. (8)

Earlier on, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) on 4th Jan 2010, also issued a statement viz –

“With regards to actual and historical practices, Christian Arabs have been using the word “Allah” to refer to God in their religious sources since the inception of Islam, and have never been challenged by private Muslims or Muslim governments on this ground. Islamic law is clear that followers of the Christian faith have the right to practice their religion according to their own religious teachings.

[Malaysia has long been a good example of Islamic tolerance and] We call on the Malaysian government to uphold the religious freedom of Christians and to let the court ruling stand. We also urge Muslim NGOs to respect Islamic teachings and long-held Islamic traditions, and to withdraw their opposition to the use of the word “Allah” by their Christian compatriots.” (9)

We would like to hear from our government a more coherent and intelligent response to these prominent voices than simply quote “this is Malaysia.”


9. Our State Anthems will take on a new meaning.

How does one sing the state anthems of Selangor, Perak, Kedah, Pahang, Johor, Kelantan and Trengganu now, since there are references to “Allah” in these songs, as it is now implied to refer to the Muslim God only?

In schools, about 30 years ago, we were told we were singing to “God.” Now are our children to sing only to one particular God?

[See appendix below for list of affected State Anthems]

Unless, of course, one is liberal and don’t mind singing to all gods or any god or just the Muslim god.




10. We need to keep in mind that there was “good harmony” in the first 30 years after Merdeka, with freedom to use “Allah.”

It never was an issue until enthusiastic politicians promulgated the infamous ISA gazette in 1982, referring to the Alkitab as a document “prejudicial to the national interest and security of the Federation.” The rest is history.

What an insult!

But the Christian community has always been a peace loving people. For the sake of harmony, Christians engaged in closed door meetings in the past, to negotiate “restricted use” of the word rather than to bring it to the courts. And we were always assured by the government that we could use our Alkitab.

But today, they are saying we cannot use the word and the various government agencies started confiscating various Christian materials, not just the Alkitab.

And the claim is we “used to accept it” – but that’s because we have been tricked into negotiating behind closed doors in the name of the Malaysian culture of “talk and resolve quietly.”

So because “nobody” heard from us, now they (even rulers) take advantage and say, we accepted it all these while.

This is absolutely not true.

Christians have been moaning, complaining, objecting and writing to the government for years.

Should we concede for the sake of peace alone?

Friends, perhaps the time of closed door meetings – where our views are deliberately misrepresented (10) and compromised – where the minority is always bullied and threatened into submission for the sake of harmony and in the name of sensitivity, is over?

It is indeed sad, that after 52 years of independence, the country is still not ready for mature dialogue, and is still struggling to hear the voice of reason.


We disagree with this view, as the leaders of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), the component members being the Roman Catholic, the Council Churches of Malaysia and the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship of Malaysia, have met on several occasions over the last few years and have repeatedly affirmed the wishes of the Christians, both in East and West Malaysia, ie we would not compromise on the use of the word “Allah.”

The dissenting voice is a very small minority and is obviously being used to portray a misleading view.

I would urge all Christians to refer to the “Kuching Declaration” dated Sept 1989, where the Roman Catholics, the CCM and the NECF came together to formally adopt a united stand to use the word “Allah.”

[See - http://www.necf.org.my/newsmaster.cfm?&action=view&menuid=154&retrieveid=976]

This is not a race issue, this is not a Malay supremacy issue, this is not even a religious issue. And this is definitely not an East-West Malaysia issue. (11)

Before us are simply constitutional and “human rights” issues, a call to respect the spiritual convictions and Scriptures of other faiths. This is simply a call to exercise common sense and to respect boundaries – i.e. no rewriting Scriptures!

I hope and pray that the above facts and reasons would help Christians understand that we are not insisting on using “Allah” to “irritate” the “easily confused people” of the land.

We continue to pray for peace and seek a reasoned solution, so that Malaysia can indeed shine as a land so affectionately known as “truly Asia.”

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Malaysia: Whose God?



Aljazeera: Religious tensions are rising in Malaysia following a High Court ruling which declared non-Muslims could use the Arabic word "Allah" when referring to God.

Christian churches have been attacked across the country and protests have been held in major mosques against the decision.

The issue has highlighted the tensions between minority ethnic and religious groups and the Malay Muslim majority.

The ruling came after a recent petition by Malaysia's Roman Catholic Church, whose main publication, the Herald, uses the word "Allah" in its Malay-language edition.

Rev Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, has said there is no other appropriate term for God in Malay.

The word "Allah" has been used by Malay-speaking Christians for centuries, as well as by Christians in Arabic-speaking countries and in Indonesia.

On this edition of 101 East, we look at the current debate raging in Malaysia over the ownership of the word 'Allah.'

101 East presenter Fauziah Ibrahim is joined by Marina Mahathir, a social activist, Khalid Samad, a Malaysian opposition MP, and Yusri Mohamad of the Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement.


Muslim activists have claimed repeatedly that Christians in Malaysia refuse to drop using the word Allah because they want to confuse and convert Muslims, thereby posing a threat to national security. The claim is both groundless and insincere.

We need to make judgments based on solid facts, not groundless charges. In fact, one should ask, "Who is being converted?"

You may want to read the relevant statistics found at Krisis Praxis blog

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Antara Tuhan Dan Allah

KrisisPraxis: "One major demand from the Malay protestors is that Christians stop using the word Allah on grounds that Christians can find a simple alternative, that is, simply substitute the word Allah with the word Tuhan. Unfortunately, this demand only betrays the ignorance of the protestors. I would have thought that any Malay would know that the meanings of the words Allah (God) and Tuhan (Lord, Rabb) are not the same. How can they suggest that Christians simply use the word Tuhan to substitute the word Allah? To express the issue linguistically, Allah and Tuhan have different senses even though they have the same reference.

Both the terms Allah and Tuhan are used in the Malay Bible. Following the precedent set by Arab Christians, Allah is used to translate el/elohim and Tuhan(or TUHAN in caps) is used to translate Yahweh (YHWH). The two words are sometimes paired together as Yahweh-Elohim in 372 places in the Old Testament (14 times in Genesis 2-3; 4 times in Exodus;8 times in Joshua; 7 times in 2 Samuel; 22 times in Chronicles; 12 times in Psalms; 32 times in Isaiah; 16 times in Jeremiah and 210 times in Ezekiel etc.).

More importantly, the word Tuhan is also applied to Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Thus we read of the LORD Jesus as Tuhan Yesus (The word LORD was used to translate the word kurios 8400 times in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament. It refers to human beings only 400 times and refers to God 8000 times. Of these 8000 times, 6700 are substitutes for the word YHWH). The transference of the title kurios LORD/YHWH to Jesus Christ is testimony to the belief in the deity of Christ right at the beginning of Christianity.

This simple statistical survey shows clearly that the demand by Muslim demonstrators that Christians simply substitute the word Allah with Tuhan is unreasonable since it renders many Biblical references to God and Jesus Christ incoherent. First, the substitution is incorrect since the meaning of Allah and Tuhan are different. Second, it creates an absurd situation when Christians try to translate the paired words Tuhan Allah (LORD God). Are Christians now required to call the LORD God, Tuhan Tuhan? This sounds like committing linguistic redundancy. Worse still, the repeated words Tuhan Tuhan come across to Malay readers as suggesting that Christians believe in a plurality of Lords/Gods (since the plural form in Malay is expressed by repeating the noun and setting them in apposition). Finally, Christians are unable to express the Lordship of Jesus Christ as one who is distinct from the Father and yet shares with the God of the Old Testament, the name that is above every other name – kurios /Tuhan (Philippians 2:9, cf. Isaiah 45:23). In other words, Christians are rendered unable to affirm the deity of Jesus Christ and teach the doctrine of Trinity without the foundational words that maintain the semantic relationship between the words Allah and Tuhan as they are applied distinctively in the Malay Bible.

Christians in Malaysia would do their utmost to maintain religious harmony in Malaysia. Indeed, the Christian community has made many concessions to accommodate the concerns of the Malay community. However, it cannot accept the demand that it abandons the use of the word Allah and adopts the word Tuhan as a substitute simply because some ill-informed Malays take offence at their practice – an offence which would not have arisen if only these people set aside emotions and prejudices and examine the historical and linguistic evidence in a calm and rational manner. At the very least, Malays (or rather Muslims) should understand that believers are not at liberty to change the meaning of their Scriptures, the Word of God, to satisfy the unfounded scruples of man."

The Bible Translator

Mengenal Al Kitab Anda -01

Monday, January 11, 2010

God’s Story: Why We Are Who We Are

The world is pretty messed up. We don’t need to look far to find racial conflict, injustices, corruption, poverty, hatred and environmental degradation in our Malaysian society.

It’s easy to get really upset and angry about what’s wrong with the world. We all hope and yearn for a better world to live in.

If our hunger points to food and our thirst points to water, could our desire for a "better world" be a clue to something else? Perhaps we have forgotten how it once looked like.

Created For Good

At the very beginning, God worked creatively to get the universe up and running. He also made people in His own likeness so that we could enjoy a loving relationship with God, with each other and be His partners in eco-management - caring and ruling the earth. It was designed to be a place of beauty, abundance and harmony.





Broken By Evil

Until the day when everything went terribly wrong. We decided to run our lives apart from God and became self-centered. But there is no happiness apart from God. As a result, we seek our own good above others' and exploit natural resources in greed. Death, sorrow and sickness entered the world. The wonderful relationship with God, with each other and with nature was tragically broken.





Rescued By Grace

But God loved the world too much to leave it that way so he came to our rescue in the person of Jesus. Not because of how good, humble or smart we are. He lived the perfect life of love that we should have lived. He died the sacrificial death that we should have died for our wrong doing. Through his death on the cross and coming back to life again, Jesus restored our relationship with God and broke down the walls of hatred that divide us from each other and the entire creation.

Renewed To Change Together

The renewal of a “better world” that reached its climax in the death and resurrection of Jesus will be fully completed in the future. In the meantime, Jesus invites you and I to follow after Him and sends us out as His people of healing justice to transform relationships, social systems and environmental stewardship.

It's not about us or our selfish agenda.
It's all about God and His Kingdom for the world.


Where are you in this Story? Will you be part of this revolution of grace?

Darlene asked me to write something about God's Story for the new church plant website. (Yes, I would be part of a church planting effort in Puchong starting from March 2010 so TheAgora may be orphaned soon but we're still thinking thru how it might fit the young church... or maybe not!) This draft gospel presentation was inspired by the 'Four Circles' developed by James Choung. I tried to contextualize a tad for Msians so your feedbacks would be most welcome!

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Leaders of Metro Tabernacle Church forgive attackers

PETALING JAYA: Leaders of the Metro Tabernacle Church said they do not harbour any ill-feeling against the culprits who set fire to their church and are thankful that the Government has strongly condemn the arson attack.

The statement of forgiveness is made as Christian groups, lawyers of all faiths and politicians from Sarawak loudly protest against any acts done to throw the country into chaos.

Metro Tabernacle’s senior pastor Rev Ong Sek Leang said the church did not condone such acts but would forgive those responsible.

“We have a congregation of about 1,700 who are Godly and forgiving.


"It is a very sad day for Malaysia but a great day to know that most Malaysians do not think like that,” he said.

The Christian Federation of Malaysia chairman Bishop Ng Moon Hin called on the Government and all peace-loving Malaysians not to give way to extremists wanting to throw the country into chaos.

The National Evangelical Christian Fellowship of Malaysia said these irresponsible actions would be a setback to the Prime Minister’s agenda of 1Malaysia and derail the country’s effort to move out of recession.

Bar Council Malaysia said any display of violence and bigotry against any faith was deplorable — and demonstrated a worrying trend towards extreme disrespect and prejudice.

“We call on the law enforcement agencies to take immediate steps to investigate these incidents and prosecute those responsible to the fullest extent of the law,” said its president Ragunath Kesavan.

The Malaysia Muslim Lawyers Association said it did not condone the act of arson against the churches, but the acts were proof that the usage of the word “Allah” was deemed as sensitive to the Muslim community.

Its president Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar urged the Muslim community to remain calm and not to participate in any act that might jeopardise the efforts of the Government and concerned parties to handle the issue in the best manner.

Kedah Gerakan Youth chief Tan Keng Liang called on the Government to take extra security precaution to protect the churches and all other places of worship.

In Miri, senior Iban leader Datuk Peter Nyarok Entrie said folks in the Land of the Hornbill — where mosques, churches and Chinese and Indian temples were built side-by-side — viewed the misunderstanding among fellow Malaysians living across the South China Sea as very worrying.

Parti Rakyat Sarawak president and state Minister Datuk Seri Dr James Masing said religious bodies of the different faiths should find a mutually acceptable way to resolve this controversy.

Assistant state minister Datuk Daud Abdul Rahman, from the Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu, said the state government had always practised tolerance and acceptance in handling issues of religious and racial nature.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat Sarawak chairman Baru Bian said the usage of Allah’s name was a non-issue in Sarawak despite the name widely used by all religions in the state for decades.

Loving The Enemy

(Matthew 5:43-48) 43"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Sermon Audio on "Loving The Enemy" can be downloaded here with group discussion questions.

Salam 1Malaysia! We are continuing a series of sermons based on the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus spells out what it is like living as the people of God’s Kingdom, what it means to be a community that follows after Jesus as their King. He is challenging the kind of empty religion that looks good on the outside but is corrupted on the inside. Many people think, “I’m morally okay since I’m not a serial killer or I don’t sleep with someone else’s wife. When I swear in God’s name, I don’t break my oath. I’m basically quite a good person lah.” But Jesus goes deeper than the outward, external action. He zooms in to our inner hearts, our hidden motives and secret intentions. “No, that’s not good enough. You have heard that it was said that… But I tell you this…”

You should not commit murder in your heart with hatred. It is a sin to commit adultery in your heart with lust. Your word is your bond. Tell the truth in what you say. Don’t need to swear at all.

Again we see how radical Jesus’ message was to his original audience and to us today. He is not abolishing the Old Testament Law by lowering the standard. Instead He is fulfilling the purpose of the Law by going to the root of the problem. Sin must be dealt with radically in our heart. And this is the “righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law”. It’s not just following the letter of the law, but also keeping the spirit of the law. It is obedience that comes from the inside out.

In the passage we read just now, Jesus does the same thing again. You see, the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself is not something new. It’s also found in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 19:18, it says, “'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.” But as time went by, the people in Israel began to limit love only to their fellow Israelites. Who is my neighbor? Only my own people. My relatives. Those who share my race and religion. So I’d love them exclusively. The rest are not my neighbors so I can hate them. Some folks (like the Qumran community famous for the Dead Sea Scrolls) would go around saying, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy'. But they heard it wrong. The part on ‘hating your enemy’ was not there in the biblical text.

So Jesus sets the record straight: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” In that famous parable we call “The Good Samaritan,” an expert of the Law asked Jesus this very question: “Who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus told him this parable which most of us know by heart: “A man was robbed, stripped, beaten and left half dead. A priest happened to walk past, and when he saw the man, he quickly moved on. Then a Levite who works for the temple saw him but ignored his needs as well. Lastly, a Samaritan stopped and took pity on him. He took care of him and paid for his medical fees. Now who is a neighbor to that victim?”

In those days, the Jews did not associate with the Samaritans due to many racial, religious and political reasons. Hmm… If that sounds strangely familiar to us in Malaysia, it’s because we too have different ethnic and religious groups living side by side with each other but with precious little contact and understanding in between. By telling the parable, Jesus subversively expanded the definition of a ‘neighbor’ to go beyond friends and families and include even the Samaritans. A neighbor is anyone in need whom you can help.

So He broke down the walls of hate by including even outsiders as a neighbor to be loved as well. Instead of rejecting sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors, He ate with them in fellowship meals. This is how the Kingdom of God looks like. To those who think “I’m a loving person. I love my own people”, Jesus says “Your love is too narrow. It’s selective on who you want to love. Don’t pick and choose. Love your enemies also.”

But it’s so hard, almost impossible to love our enemies, right? Pray for those who persecute me? Are you serious? This is something that I struggle to learn as well.

On a personal level, there are people who purposely hurt us or anger us for no good reason. Some play office politics and give us an unfair deal. How can I love someone who offended me, betrayed me, insulted me and broke relationship with me? Do you know someone like that?

In certain societies, the decision to follow Jesus may mean losing your job, your loved ones and even your life. Persecution is the cost of discipleship. Although in Malaysia, it has not come to the point of martyrdom, we still experience milder forms of persecution like the destruction of church buildings, the ban on the word ‘Allah’ in our Bahasa literature, restrictions on the liberty of conscience for some Malaysians and so on. Sometimes persecution can come in the form of the insults, ridicule, false accusations and gossips.

So how should we respond when we experience things like that?

Do you remember that Star Wars movie called “Return of the Jedi”? I watched it as a kid and one of Soo Inn’s ecommentary uses it as a helpful analogy. In the movie, the hero Luke Skywalker tried to avoid fighting the bad guy Darth Vader, who was also his own father. But when Darth Vader threatened to turn Luke's sister to the Dark Side, Luke went crazy and chopped off Vader's mechanical right hand. Then the evil emperor, who was observing this duel, made a tempting offer: "Good! Your hate has made you powerful. Now, fulfill your destiny and take your father's place at my side!" (Finish him off!)

And the evil emperor is right – there is a kind of power that comes with fear, anger and hate. To those who have a tidak-apa attitude when it comes to suffering or injustice in the world, they may never get angry at anything. And if we are too engrossed with the comforts of life to care much for the suffering around us, then probably we need to be more concerned about what God cares about and be more aware of what’s happening out there.

But for some of us who care deeply about social justice, poverty, human rights… it is often easy to get angry, depressed and furious at unjust things happening in our country especially when those responsible often don’t pay for what they have done. And it’s tempting to surrender ourselves to rage and hatred. At first, our righteous anger is directed against real injustice… That righteous anger gives us motivation and power to fight evil. But when we are angry, it can also quickly lead to unrighteous anger and careless decisions… Soon we draw the line between good and evil along the lines of us against them… of one race against another (we are the good guys, they are the bad guys) when in reality, the line of good and evil cuts across every human heart. When hatred and anger consumes us, we are drawn towards the Dark side.

At the climax of that Star Wars movie, young Luke Skywalker refuses to choose the dark side. He refused to deliver the final blow. Instead, he threw away his light saber and chose to suffer and die for being true to the Light. Yet it is his very "weakness" that inspires his father Darth Vader himself to love once again and to reject the dark side in his final moments. The Jedi knight saved the galaxy through his weakness.

When Jesus says: Love your enemies, He didn’t ask us to do anything that He himself is not prepared to do first. And He already did it on the cross when He forgave and prayed for those who crucified him saying “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Come to think of it, aren’t we all in fact sinners who have rebelled against God and we were once His enemies? Yet Christ died for us that we may be reconciled.

This does not mean that our Christian response to evil must be passive. In Romans 13, we know that the state is granted authority by God to bear the sword and punish the wicked. So Christians can and should use all legal means at our disposal to fight evil and corruption.

But we are not to repay evil with evil, but with good. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Jesus is calling us to let go of our bitterness, vengefulness and personal vendetta. The path of the kingdom is love (even to our enemies), prayer for those who persecute us and the willingness to suffer for Christ.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who suffered so much in Nazi Germany during World War 2, said "This is the supreme command. Through the medium of prayer, we go to our enemy, we stand by his side, and we plead to God for him."

Still, this is not something easy to do. Where do we get the power to do the impossible? We cannot do it unless by the empowering grace of the Holy Spirit.
In the Bible passage today, I think we can find some powerful reasons or motivations for us to love our enemies. The first motivation is found in verse 45: “So that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

What does that mean? John Piper explains it this way (and I quote) “This does not mean we can earn our way into God's family by loving our enemies. Rather it means that when we love our enemies, we prove ourselves to be in God's family. If you love your enemies the way God loves his enemies, then you show that you ARE a child of God. You are seen to be a child of God… You can't earn the status of a child. You can be born into the family or you can be adopted into the family. You can't work your way into it. Jesus means that loving our enemies shows that God has already become our Father, and that the only reason we are able to love our enemies is because he loves us first...” End quote.

And how did we become part of God’s family in the first place? How did we get adopted as a child of the Father? It’s through forgiveness… By grace, God in Christ has forgiven us (His enemies) even though we don’t deserve it… When we look at the horror of our own sin and then look at the holiness of God, we see our utter hopelessness. But the good news is Christ has taken our punishment on the cross so that we can be reconciled with our Father and be adopted into His family. Our wrongs have been freely forgiven through faith in Christ.

Have we not experienced God’s forgiveness and grace? If we have been forgiven so abundantly by God, how can we not forgive others? If we have truly known God as our Father, surely this relationship ought to overflow in love for our enemies as well. How can we not forgive after having been forgiven so much?

The second reason or motivation to love our enemies is this: It’s because God causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

In other words, we are called to imitate our Father in Heaven who makes no distinction between the just and the unjust when sending good gifts of His creation. His kindness is lavished on both moral and immoral people. He sends rain and harvest to the padi farmers in Kedah, the farmers in Kelantan, the pineapple farmers in Sarawak – it doesn’t matter if they voted for Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat, it doesn’t matter what they believe or don’t believe.

So we love our enemies because that is how God treats His enemies. He causes his planet to rotate for the evil and the good, and produces oxygen for the righteous and the unrighteous. John Calvin describes it as a divine kindness that is common to all. Some people call it ‘common grace’. But this grace is not saving grace. It does not mean that God will not punish the wicked and reward the righteous one day. Of course, He will ultimately do that.

And it’s important to keep this in mind. Because what makes it so hard to let go of our anger is the overwhelming sense that the person who offended us does not deserve to be forgiven. If the hurt is deep and great injustice was committed against us, there is a valid sense of moral outrage. We feel that if we forgive this person, we trivialize the seriousness of that wrong he has committed. This evil must not be forgotten or ignored. So how do we resolve this tension of unconditional love on one hand and the cry for justice on the other?

Part of the answer is found in God’s promise of final judgment. Because God alone is the perfect Judge, we are freed from the personal craving for revenge. The question is: “Do you trust God to set things right? Do you believe He sees the issues and the offender’s motives far better than what we can see? His justice is purer and wiser than ours. We can’t improve on His judgment. And He has promised there will be a day of reckoning… Will you trust Him as the perfect Judge?”

Consider Romans 12:17-21 “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

We don’t take justice into our own hands because the ultimate Punisher is God. Our motives are mixed at best. Our judgments are limited in perspective. But He sees all and His eyes are pure. So don’t take revenge, leave room for God to repay.

In fact, this is also the example of Christ Himself. 1 Peter 2:21-23 “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

So leave room for God’s wrath. Entrust yourself to God who judges fairly. Justice shall be served but in the meantime, we need to be set free from the craving for revenge. We do so by imitating God who shows His kindness to both the wicked and the righteous. We do so by trusting in God’s promise to deliver justice. Be perfect just as our heavenly Father is perfect. The word ‘perfect’ doesn’t mean we can be 100% without sin in this life. It actually means: Be “complete”, be “all embracing” in your love just as God is merciful and all-inclusive in His love.

The third motivation to love our enemies is this: If we love those who love us, how are we different from the tax collectors? And if we greet only our own brothers, do not even pagans do that?

Don Carson gives us some background on tax collectors: In those days, a Roman citizen can literally buy a territory in the Roman empire and he would have rights to collect taxes from that place. Then he can outsource the collection to the local “Ah Long” or ‘Mafia’ type of people. They in turn outsource to others to collect taxes from the rakyat. These tax collectors would have a quota to hit, and they can keep skim off the rest of the money for themselves. Corruption goes all the way up this multi-level tax ladder. As a result, tax collectors were despised as traitors of their own people.

But even tax collectors have friends. At least they can have lunch with other tax collectors. Despicable though they may be, they have their own ‘in’ group. Even the pagans (those who do not worship Yahweh) greet their own brothers, so how is the church any different if we only love and greet those who love us in return? It is when we love our enemies that people will see something peculiar in the church.

To be salt and light in the world, we must live as a radically different kind of people. If we only love people who are lovable and beautiful, how are we any different from everyone else?

Loving our enemies displays the distinctiveness of the Kingdom in a fallen world that has seen too much of violence, hatred and bloodshed. It’s a radical counter culture.

OK fine – But is this Christian ideal of loving your enemy practical or not? Does it really work in a fallen world like ours? Chairman Mao Zedong once said (The Little Red Book, 1964): “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” You want social change? Use force, violence and the will-to-power. So can this message of Jesus about loving our enemy really change the world?

I think it can. Let me encourage you with the real life story of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. He was a pastor and civil rights activist who struggled against racial segregation and discrimination. Do you know that in the 1950s there was a custom in the southern parts of America that African-Americans had to sit at the back of a bus? On the 1st of December 1955, Mrs. Rosa Parks, an African-American woman was arrested by the police for refusing to stand and let a white bus rider take her seat. It would be the spark that lights up a revolution. Martin Luther King, a pastor in the city and other community leaders called a meeting and a big crowd came to the church. The decision was made to boycott the bus company in protest. For 381 days, they would walk or carpool to work instead of taking the bus. This is an example of civil disobedience.

In retaliation, his home was bombed by terrorists. His wife and their baby daughter escaped without injury. When he arrived home he found an angry crowd waiting to take revenge. But Dr. King told them to go home: "We must learn to meet hate with love".
Eventually in 1956 the Supreme Court declared that local laws for racial segregation on buses were illegal. The boycott was a success. As a symbol of reconciliation and victory, Dr. King and a white minister, Rev. Smiley, shared the front seat of a public bus together.

Throughout his career, he was jailed and beaten many times. In the end he was assasinated at the age of 39. Through it all, he did not retaliate with violence but with forgiveness. The legacy of his life transformed a whole nation without causing bloodshed and continued to inspire civil rights movements all over the world. This is not an idealistic pie in the sky … It can be done. It has been done.

Of course, his example is not perfect but I think we Malaysian Christians can learn a lot from his model of balancing the New Testament ideal of unconditional love with the prophetic justice of the Old Testament. It is not enough to just talk about love we need to also care deeply for justice. It is not enough to get angry over injustice we need to promote righteousness in a way that loves our enemies.

With this story in mind, listen to these famous words by Martin Luther King when he preached on the same Bible passage on loving our enemies. Listen for its prophetic relevance to how the church should live in Malaysia today.

He said: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power.

The relevance of what I have said to the crisis in race relations should be readily apparent. There will be no permanent solution to the race problem until oppressed men develop the capacity to love their enemies. The darkness of racial injustice will be dispelled only by the light of forgiving love. For more than three centuries American Negroes have been battered by the iron rod of oppression, frustrated by day and bewildered by night by unbearable injustice and burdened with the ugly weight of discrimination. Forced to live with these shameful conditions, we are tempted to become bitter and to retaliate with a corresponding hate. But if this happens, the new order we seek will be little more than a duplicate of the old order. We must in strength and humility meet hate with love… Time is cluttered with the wreckage of communities which surrendered to hatred and violence. For the salvation of our nation and the salvation of mankind, we must follow another way. (What is this other way?)

He goes on: While hating segregation, we shall love the segregationist. This is the only way to create the beloved community.

To our most bitter opponents we say: "We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with spiritual force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory." End of Quote

This is the way of the cross. This is how we setup signposts of the Kingdom that points to a different way of being human. Not through hatred but through love for our enemies.

Bringing this closer to home, I wonder how can we apply this in our Malaysian context? Recently we hear of disturbing news of intolerance in our country like the famous cow-head incident. There was a protest against the proposed construction of a Hindu temple in Shah Alam where some irresponsible people stomped and spat at the head of a cow, a sacred animal for Hindus. It was a clearly provocative act, with threats of violence.

Or the recent case of two Muslim journalists who sneaked into a Catholic church as spies to take Holy Communion, then spit out the host (bread) and took photographs of it to be published some more. This is a sacrilegious act to Catholics who believe the host to be the real body of Christ. And the internet went on overdrive with angry condemnations.

For such a time as this, how should we as Christians respond?

I don’t have any easy answers and this may sound naive but just wondering (and I invite you to imagine with me. Maybe you can come up with more creative and better ways of doing it). I wonder: What happens if the Church or individual Christians issue a calm statement that what these people have done is wrong, and relevant authorities should investigate and charge if any law is broken. But at the same time, we also say, “We forgive you for what you have done. You may have been manipulated by people with vested interests. We would like to meet you personally, sit down over coffee and listen to what you have to say and why you behave like that. Maybe we can find a win-win solution”. I wonder how the society would react when we respond in love and respect when insulted and provoked like that? Would it make Malaysians sit up and take notice: “These Christians are really out of this world lah”?

For such a time as this, the world is watching. They are asking: “Which community has beliefs that make its members treat people in other communities with love and respect- to serve them and meet their needs? Which community's beliefs lead people to demonize and attack those who violate their boundaries?" (Keller) For such a time as this, the world is looking for answers.

When we encounter intolerance, fear and racial tension in our beloved country, may we also receive wisdom and courage from the Holy Spirit to find creative ways to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us… This is the way of the cross.

Will you be part of this culture of peace in a time of racial polarization? Will you follow Him even if it costs a great deal?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Why is your Allah not my Allah?

By Erna Mahyuni

As an East Malaysian, I am neither surprised nor angry about Malay/Muslims being up in arms over the 'Allah' High Court ruling.

It was to be expected, really.

What does anger me is getting comments from West Malaysian Christians that it is 'silly' for Christians to lobby to use the word 'Allah'.

One rather un-enlightened Christian said that "Allah is also a word used to describe one particular god in a pagan religion...so for Christians to use 'Allah' is strange and silly."

The whole 'Allah' debacle highlights a bigger, more endemic problem in the Malaysian, or should I say West Malaysian mentality: General ignorance of how the 'others' or 'lain-lain' live.

It seems very hard for most West Malaysians to understand that:

•Not all bumiputeras are Malay.
•Not all bumiputeras are Muslim.
It isn't just West Malaysian Muslims who have a very limited worldview but Christians as well.

They don't understand that in East Malaysia, with its high population of indigenous Christians, Bahasa Malaysia is used in services.

Most of these Sabahan and Sarawakian Christians have spent their whole lives thinking, praying and referring to their God as Allah Bapa (Father God).

And now the government says they can't. That only Muslims can use the word 'Allah' when that isn't true in other countries.

Look at Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, which allows the printing and dissemination of bibles in Bahasa Indonesia that refer to God not as 'Tuhan' but as 'Allah'.

The Indonesian Muslims don't worry that their brethren will be 'confused' by these bibles. So why is our Home Ministry and all these religious groups up in arms?

The answer to that is politics. Religion is, unfortunately, something as mixed up with politics as is race. Political parties unabashedly use religion as a tool to win debates, with Umno often accused of trying to 'out-Islam' PAS.

Religion is not a private matter in this country and is, instead, aired like so much dirty laundry. What other Southeast Asian country has officially sanctioned civilian peeping Toms who consider it their civic duty to weed out fornication?

Malay is our language, too

Despite the many varied ethnicities in Sabah, they have managed to get along without bloodshed or May 13-like incidents.

How have we managed it when West Malaysia's three main races mostly give each other a wide berth? It's called tolerance, people.

All Sabahans speak a slightly modified version of Malay with the funny little suffix 'bah' tagged behind a lot of words or sentences.

In rural areas, this heavily-accented version of Malay is the only means for most people to communicate with each other. They speak, think, dream and yes, even pray in the language.

Sabahan Michelle Quek asks: "Is it more important to recognise that some Muslims lay claim to the word as being exclusive to their faith, or recognise that a practical need for the word exists for East Malaysian Christians?"

Her question embodies the difficult balancing act that Malaysia has in attempting to address the needs of its varied peoples as well as the gulf between East and West Malaysia.

Kavin Ch'ng, who is married to a Sabahan says that locally, for many generations, Malay-speaking Christians have always referred to Allah and Tuhan in the same breath.

"Why only now does the government kick up such a fuss?" he asks. What is important, Ch'ng says, is mutual respect.

"I think there is a way to co-exist - if only our government can actually wrap its head around the concept of context."

Sarawakian El'Bornean finds it disturbing that West Malaysians now want to dictate how one's personal faith is practiced.

"The true Malaysians are here in Sabah and Sarawak," he says, citing examples of his Muslim friends who have no qualms sitting with friends in non-halal stores and visiting churches.

Despite being surrounded by Christians, East Malaysian Muslims do not consider their faith easily shaken, he asserts.

Sabahan Dusun Zara Kahan has a humorous, if facetious, solution.

"If (some) Muslims insist on ownership of the term 'Allah' then Christians must do the same with the term 'Tuhan'. Do you know how many Hari Raya songs will be in jeopardy? End of issue!"

No, we don't want to convert you

In West Malaysia, technically Christian worship services in Malay are illegal. But Sabahan and Sarawakian students ask for them anyway.

Many of these Malay-speaking East Malaysians feel uncomfortable attending worship services in English because the terms are unfamiliar. Muslims often cite the 99 names of Allah and for Christians in East Malaysia as well as Lebanon and Syria, Allah is their name for God.

All this talk about 'confusion' is really the product of West Malaysians not mixing with their East Malaysian brethren.

If you visit the Dusuns in Ranau, you could well meet locals as fair as highland Chinese with slanted eyes who would greet you with the traditional Muslim salam.

Wander into an East Malaysian Chinese coffee shop and you would see tanned, Malay-looking locals happily digging into char siew or other pork dishes

In East Malaysia, you can't easily tell what faith someone professes or what race his forefathers were just by looking.

This is very disturbing to the West Malaysian psyche. I have met West Malaysians who get very agitated when I refuse to tell them either what religion I profess or what race I am.

They don't know what to do with me because they can't categorise me. I don't fit into their safe little boxes which decide how they will treat me.

What annoys me as well is this West Malaysian paranoia that Christians have a secret ongoing campaign to convert Muslims on the sly.

Let us be honest. If converting Muslims to Christianity was as easy as pouring holy water into your drinking water or putting the word 'Allah' in all available religious literature, the Pope would have sanctioned it years ago.

Christians don't get 'brownie points' by forcibly converting unwilling Muslims.

I suppose all the Malay-looking Christian East Malaysians really confuse the locals to the point they rabidly proclaim that churches are succeeding in their nefarious campaign to take over Muslim souls.

In East Malaysia, Christians and Muslims come in various sizes, shapes and colours. Even huge extended families often have different religions, sometimes staying under one roof.

It is not unusual for an East Malaysian to have not just Christian, but Buddhist, Muslim and animist relatives. A friend of mine says it is a convenient excuse to celebrate the many public holidays with more gusto.

When told that someone is marrying a person of another race, the common reaction is: "Oh, your kids will be cute!" No heated discussion about traditions or religious differences because the unspoken assumption is that the couple will work them out.

Because they do.

Be Malaysia, not 1Malaysia

A well-known comedian talked about the recent Al-Islam undercover foray into churches. Its so-called investigative journalists entered churches on false premises and desecrated the communion wafer.

Did the Christians protest? asked the comedian. Did they declare bloody war? Did they have angry sermons and plan noisy demonstrations outside churches on Sunday?

No. What did the Christians say? "Forgive them-lor. Pray for them-lor."

The comedian mused that the incident was actually excellent public relations for the church.

Despite our annoyance with West Malaysian intolerance, do you see East Malaysians picketing?

We gripe, we grumble, we send politely worded statements. Yet we still believe in the Malaysia that our Tourism Ministry tries to sell, but which seems to be a myth in West Malaysia.

Do you want to know why? Deep in the heart of most East Malaysians, we truly believe in tolerance. We believe in the ideals of Malaysia.

We don't have to give 'muhibbah' a name because we live it. Since 1963, we have lived as Malaysians, believing in true tolerance and that race or religion matters little.

We truly do believe that West Malaysians can and should get over us using 'Allah' to worship God. Isn't Allah the God of all mankind? Isn't your Malaysia our Malaysia too?

Erna Mahyuni, a Sabahan, is a Malaysiakini team member.