Will mosques forever close their doors to infidels?

SEPTEMBER 6 — It was nice to hear about heartwarming stories at the sidelines of the Bersih 4 mass rally in Kuala Lumpur last weekend.

Three Catholic churches — St John’s Cathedral in Bukit Nanas, St Anthony’s Church in Pudu, and the Church of Our Lady of Fatima in Brickfields — offered refuge to rally-goers should police clamp down hard on them.

Since that did not happen, St John’s offered them free buns and water, with Buddhist group Ti Ratana Penchala Community Centre parking its food truck there. It was a similar scene at St Anthony’s.

At Dataran Merdeka, dozens of Muslims performed their prayers on the streets, with non-Muslims forming a ring around them to prevent any disturbance. Many also informed their friends to refrain from honking their maddening vuvuzelas during the prayers.

Of course, not everybody was happy with these gestures of kindness.

Pro-Umno portal MyKMU.net had said prior to the rally that the Catholic churches were just provoking the police by offering to shelter participants should the rally turn ugly.

In an article that carried no byline, the portal said the churches did not offer such protection before, and were doing it only to play the religious card in the run-up to the Sarawak state elections.

Muslims who prayed on the streets were also chided by some of their brethren for forfeiting comfort and peace in nearby mosques. Some accused them of putting on a show of piety, or trying to make questionable statements.

Muslims should be able to pray wherever it is convenient for them. I saw a man praying at a quiet corner in a shopping mall a few weeks ago, and I had to stop myself from wondering why he had done so.

Muslim participants of the Bersih 4 rally pray near Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, August 30, 2015. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
Muslim participants of the Bersih 4 rally pray near Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, August 30, 2015. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

Those who were lucky enough to have spent some time overseas would perhaps have performed their prayers in a public area at least once. And people would just let them be, knowing it is part of every Muslim’s personal obligations.

Many forget that fact when they live in a country that offers so many exclusive privileges for Muslims.

Here, some Muslims complain that prayer rooms in shopping malls are too small, too stuffy, too stinky. As if it is an obligation for everyone to accommodate Muslims, simply because well, they are Muslims.

Muslims may be the majority in this country, but that should offer them no special treatment. They should instead feel blessed that most places are thoughtful enough to offer them a place for them to perform prayers every few hours daily.

These people feel special when they see prayer rooms provided in buildings overseas, not realising that prayer rooms elsewhere are afforded not to just Muslims, but to all faiths.

It is common to see shared quiet rooms where Muslims can perform their daily prayer, Christians can hold their mass, and for others to meditate and contemplate on life — all in the same place.

This willingness to share, however, is rarely extended by Muslims here.

During Bersih 4, the nearby Masjid Jamek was open, but was indifferent towards accommodating and welcoming adherents.

Participants were blamed by some media for “occupying” spaces for prayers by resting there and the sound of the vuvuzelas outside were panned for “annoying” the focus of Muslims who were trying to pray.

I went on a holiday in Siem Reap last week, and it was a humbling experience to witness Buddhist rituals under a giant Buddhist statue in the Kulen Mountain National Park.

The ancient temples in the Angkor complex themselves were definitely among the most sacred and holiest places for local Hindus and Buddhists hundreds of years ago, and now anybody can walk in and have their breath taken away by their religious majesty.

I have had the same experience at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, just months before yet another fatal bombing. In Tokyo, I was free to give my respects and try out the purification ritual at the shrines. I am sure many of my readers have their own similar experiences.

But non-Muslims would have little chance to do so in our mosques. When it comes to prayer, some in the Muslim community seem to close themselves off from the world, relieving others the chance to observe and find out what it is that makes Islam so attractive, if any.

Mosques used to be the centre of Malay communities back in the day. It was a place for socialising, for children to learn, some even had bazaars in their compounds.

There has never been a time where mosques are as many as they are right now. But instead, most are as lifeless as ever.

Mosques are built huge and ornate, but sometimes just a tool for politicians to win voters’ hearts. Instead of making mosques attractive, religious authorities vilify those who avoid them.

Worse still, there is some sort of a possessiveness towards mosques and Muslim praying areas.

Who can forget when a Buddhist group decided to borrow a surau, or prayer hall, in a Kota Tinggi resort for meditation two years ago?

Instead of showing hospitality, many Muslims went berserk. The owner of the resort was called in by the police. The surau itself, was in the end torn down as it was deemed “polluted” by the Buddhists.

That is how much some Muslims value their places of worship.

The recent heartwarming stories we heard of others accommodating Muslims should at least open the eyes of Muslims.

It would be a nice gesture if Muslims can also respect non-Muslims’s acts and places of worship. Instead, we see protests against a cross hung at a church. Christians cannot use the word “Allah.” Their bibles are seized.

Non-Muslims have shown they can open their doors to Muslims. Will we ever see Muslims reciprocating?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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