By Helmy Haja Mydin

Respecting each other's different beliefs

I refer to your report, ‘Surau at resort in Sedili Besar faces demolition’.

One of the advantages (and disadvantages) of living in a foreign country is that you have to work hard to maintain a degree of cultural and religious continuity. As a Muslim living in Scotland, the challenges are many - from driving long distances to purchase halal meat to fasting up to 19 hours a day during the recently concluded Ramadan.

When living in these circumstances, there is an opportunity to act as ambassadors. We wear various hats and to the curious, we are never just an individual - consciously or not, we are viewed as representatives of our country, culture and even religion. More often than not, we are warmly welcomed, and many go out of their way to help others feel more at home.

One such example has occurred around the corner from where I live. A few months ago, the local mosque in Aberdeen begun to overflow with worshippers, forcing many to pray outdoors.

Looking upon the congregation praying in the cold Scottish winter, Reverend Isaac Poobalan decided to open the doors of the nearby St John’s Church to provide them with shelter during their prayers. It is now not uncommon to see more than a hundred Muslim attending the church to fulfill their religious obligations on Fridays.

Leaders from both the Christian and Muslim communities have organised small but significant events in order to promote a better understanding amongst its members. Both the church and the mosque held prayers on Christmas Eve in 2010 whilst providing food for the needy. At the ten-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States, the  religious leaders held a joint service which featured readings from both the Quran and the Bible.

The Episcopal Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney said, “What we are doing here is something local that has global significance. We have demonstrated that Christians and Muslims do not have to agree with one another. But they can learn to respect each other’s different beliefs and come to get along and like one another.” This mirrors Pope Francis reaching out to Muslims during Eid and urging for mutual respect.

Acts like these help restore one’s faith in humanity’s future. For every act borne out of hatred and ignorance, there are others who are willing to act with compassion and empathy. Similarly, there must be scope for greater religious cooperation and understanding in the melting pot that is Malaysia. The Prophet Muhammad SAW (pbuh) had demonstrated not just civility but respect and kindness to those who had differing opinions and beliefs - who are we to act any different?


DR HELMY HAJA MYDIN is a Fellow at the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs. His views are his own.