When tolerance is not the solution

MAY 14 — Last weekend was the groundbreaking ceremony of the Dhammaduta Malaysia Buddhist Centre in Putrajaya, the federal territory’s first Buddhist house of worship.

It will serve the roughly 2,000 Buddhists who live here.

The complex is only the second non-Muslim house of worship in Putrajaya, after the Devi Sri Lalithaambigai Alayam—a Hindu temple complex that is still under construction after almost a decade of consultation.

But if you live in Putrajaya, you will hardly notice the existence of these two sites.

In fact, some of the Malay-Muslim majority here believe that the federal territory is an exclusively “Muslim” area. 

One viral WhatsApp message that made the rounds last year — I found it through my residential area’s WhatsApp group — claimed that Putrajaya is a blessed territory thanks to the government, the only place unique enough to be “free” of non-Muslim buildings.

False as that piece of “news” was, you can understand why some came to that conclusion. There are two mega mosques in the territory: the Putra Mosque in Presint 1, and Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin Mosque just down the boulevard in Presint 3. And there are numerous suraus in each precinct.

By comparison, both the Buddhist and Hindu complex are located in Presint 20, the southernmost secluded part of Putrajaya that is nearer to Dengkil and an Orang Asli village than to the territory’s centre.

According to minister Ong Ka Chuan when he launched the groundbreaking last week, the Buddhist complex is part of the government’s plan for a multi-religious enclave in the administrative capital.

Still, it feels slightly disingenuous when you consider that the only Islamic “structure” in the so-called enclave is a cemetery.

The recent incident in Johor Baru where an ethnic Chinese driver repeatedly honked outside a mosque on Friday after he found his car blocked by other cars on a public road sparked a debate about how we should conduct ourselves in such incidents. 

Traffic disturbances caused by worship are a real problem in our plural society and they need real solutions. 

It is a problem common to all religions when the congregation converges in one place. It just so happens that the Muslims converge every week, and being the majority, it is ultimately a problem that affects others much more.

So, is putting all houses of worship in an enclave the answer? I believe there is a reason why traditionally houses of worship, especially mosques, are always situated at the centre of a community. 

They serves as the heart of each community... to provide solace and easy access to God.

Traditionally, mosques are nearby so Muslims can just walk there from home. There are several hadiths which says that whomsoever walks to the mosque will be rewarded, and the greater the reward the further he walks.

Today, very few of us walk to the mosque and it looks like just the less-privileged foreign workers walk to the mosque, especially on Fridays.

My fellow Malay Mail Online columnist Praba Ganesan in his Thursday article titled Is it really about parking? suggested that the fault lies not with race and religion, but with poor governance.

Praba posited that such overcapacity is cyclical, and at most times predictable. After all, Friday prayers and Sunday mass only happen once a week and at no other day, and similarly festivals like Thaipusam and Wesak have a set date. 

As such, the problem can be alleviated if only local governments and authorities can band together to facilitate — if they so wish.

While I agree with Praba, I believe there is an additional malady that builds upon the inertia against being accommodating during worship and it is exclusive to the dominant Malay-Muslims: a sense of privilege.

Being the majority, there is a feeling that the whole country must grind to a halt to accommodate Muslims: the extended lunch break for Friday prayers, the allowance to leave your post for daily prayers, and as we reach Ramadan, the shorter working hours and inevitable plummeting productivity.

Of course these are only possible because Muslims here can afford to do so, hence the insistence that political power must stay with the faith. 

In countries where Muslims are not the majority, for example, the window for Friday prayers may be shorter and you have to rush back to work and study. But then the prayers, and the convergence, would be shorter too.

Closer to home, this privilege may manifest itself in how some mosques carelessly use its loudspeakers by default, with no mind for residents affected by the volume of the broadcast. And this affects Muslims as well. 

In 2014, an elderly Muslim man was reportedly bullied after making a complaint against a mosque in Pasir Gudang. One of my friends has had his name “advertised” in a mosque after making just such a complaint. And several of my fellow residents were shamed and chided for not “being grateful” after complaining that such loud broadcasts in the early morning had startled their infant children.

It is always a challenge when navigating a multi-religious society. But it helps to recognise the country’s pluralism, that each person deserves the same respect no matter the faith.

When religious clashes happen, we speak of tolerance. But “tolerating” is the exact reason why they happen—because some felt that they had to tolerate for so long, that it is eating them up inside.

We need to move beyond tolerance to acceptance. And realise that we are many, but we are also one.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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