March 31 — Dr Kassim Ahmad is a Muslim. I am a Christian. Dr Kassim Ahmad is a Malaysian. I am a Malaysian. Dr Kassim Ahmad is a human. I am a human.
Dr Kassim Ahmad has been controversial. Some of his views about Islam are not approved by the religious authorities in Malaysia.
Now frail and in his eighties, the one-time leader of PSRM (Parti Sosialis Rakyat Malaysia) has held his controversial views for decades — in 1981 he was released after 5 years of detention without trial; Dr. Kassim later joined Umno.
According to news reports, Dr Kassim’s controversial views include the following: some Muslims put the Prophet of Islam on too high a pedestal; Islam doesn’t require Muslim women to cover their hair; some religious officials assume or are granted too much authority; the Koran may be interpreted independently of the Hadith (‘traditions’).
Dr Kassim’s views are opposed by numerous claimants to right interpretation: his opponents include the Islam-based Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS); the race-based Malay party (Umno) and royally-empowered religious departments (e.g. JAKIM).
Dr Kassim’s views are supported by Dr Mahathir, architect of modern Malaysia and patron of government-funded Malay-superiority group Perkasa.
Should I care about what happens to Dr Kassim?
Should I care about what PAS, Umno, JAKIM or others who claim to speak for Islam say about Dr Kassim?
Should I care that a frail old man is picked up by the authorities in a Northern state, transported hastily to the Capital city and charged with contravening Islamic enactments in a court in which I have no standing?
Should I care about caning of Muslims who consume alcohol, stoning of Muslims accused of adultery, cutting off the hands of Muslim thieves, denying education to Muslim girls?
Should I care that the Taliban don’t think I have any right to comment on what they do to Muslims?
I have no doubt many will wish to throw stones at me for broaching this subject. They will say I am not a Muslim, so I should keep out of the business of Muslims — though some of them may approve of judges in civil courts making decisions on whether calling God ‘Allah’ is central to the practice of the Christian faith by Malay-speaking Christians.
Where should I go to for guidance about whether I should have any feelings about the treatment being meted out to Dr Kassim?
Many Christian churches use a lectionary, a table which lists passages of scripture to be read on each day. On Sundays, preachers usually speak from one of the listed passages.
One of the passages for today is called John 9:1-42. Today my pastor read and spoke from this passage. I am sure the same was done in thousands of churches worldwide.
The passage describes a miracle performed by the virgin-born Jesus, the Carpenter whom Christians recognize as the Messiah.
A man born blind was healed by the Carpenter on a Saturday, a day on which Jews were not permitted to do any work. The healed man and his family were investigated by the Jewish religious authorities.
The “problem” wasn’t just the fact of healing — an activity which established, learned and esteemed religious leaders couldn’t do. The problem was also the manner of healing.
The inspired author records that the Carpenter ordered the man-born-blind to go to the river, wash in it, and be healed. He went; he washed; he was healed.
Every Biblically educated reader knows the author intends for us to recall that in that culture walking and washing on a Saturday was not permitted: it was work on a rest day.
The neighbours and others who recognised the man didn’t celebrate the miracle. In their culture you gained social points by pointing out the ‘wrongs’ done by others. They brought the now-seeing-man before the Jewish religious leaders for grilling.
Some of the grillers believed a man who was a sinner (one who works on a Saturday) cannot work miracles, therefore the Carpenter couldn’t be the healer.
Some of the grillers said since the Carpenter performed the ‘impossible’ healing of the man-born-blind,therefore the Carpenter wasn’t a sinner.
The grillers wished for a simple solution: just ‘prove’ the now-seeing-man wasn’t the man-born-blind, and the whole case goes away.
So the grillers called the parents of the man-born-blind to testify.
The parents said the man-born-blind was indeed their son; now he could see; they didn’t know how the change came about. They answered as they did because if they had called their leaders silly, they would have been cut off from their own community.
The grillers re-called the now-seeing-man. They told him they knew the Carpenter was a sinner. They told the now-seeing-man to tell the truth: Did the sinner perform a miracle?
Do you see? The religious leaders had already decided the Carpenter was a ‘sinner’ because he did not obey the law: he did not refrain from ‘working’ or telling others to ‘work’ on a Saturday, even ‘good work.’ Since he was a sinner, he couldn’t perform miracles. Anyone who said otherwise had to be punished for defying authority.
The grillers kicked out the now-seeing-man from the community. This man was no longer blind. He could now see. Therefore, he was happy to be kicked out of the community.
My response to Dr Kassim is to salute him. He knows the price he must pay for his views. He believes his views cure blindness, restore sight and health. He wants to peacefully share what he’s discovered, to benefit others.
I’ll support Dr Kassim, a fellow human being and a Malaysian neighbour, anyway I can. I’ll do so because I live under a law: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” I don’t want to be like the neighbours of the man-born-blind. I’ll exercise my freedom to practice my faith.
* Rama Ramanathan blogs at write2rest.blogspot.com
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malay Mail Online.