Apostasy and political power

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This Muslim conversion and apostasy issue is getting more and more interesting by the day. Many views have been expressed, some interesting, some a bit naive, some very frank.

By reading them all, it seems that more or less everybody agrees that Islam does not forcibly impose itself on anybody and thus freedom of religious choice is guaranteed.

In practical terms, though, when a conversion case hits the Muslim community, it is treated like a great tragedy. So much so that Malaysian laws are purposely designed to make the life of the potential apostate miserable, in a not-so-subtle effort to discourage him or her from continuing to pursue the matter further.

Why is this so, since in theory this should not be the case? Rather bluntly but clearly the reason is politic and therefore pathetic.

Religion, and therefore one's spirituality, comes from within and it expresses itself in many ways. Religion is everywhere, in the sun that rises every morning, in the flowers that bloom, in the unconditional, selfless love we feel for another human being - not in a bloody political party!

Spirituality comes from the heart, not from the brain. Religious sentiments are mysterious and inexplicable because they are not logical or rational. They are not mathematical formulas, otherwise everything could be explained and we wouldn't be in this mess, would we?

To try and understand religious sentiments with the brain is just like trying to smell a flower with your ears, you just can't appreciate the beauty of the scent. Our brain is not equipped to 'understand' the way of the heart.

Can you rationalise this? You can't, and in the same way you can't rationalise the reasons behind somebody's decision to change his or her faith. Of course, when this happens the community you live in is not happy - parents are probably going to be sad, friends will question.

But other than this understandable reactions and initial sadness, what else would change within the original human relationships? If a Malay neighbour - who happens today to be an angel of a person whom you love and respect very much - tomorrow decides to become, say, a Christian or a Buddhist, would this turn him into a child-eating monster?

If no, then tell me, where lies the danger, where is the issue? Are you going to hate him? Are you going to tell your children to avoid talking to him?

I am Italian, I will die as one and I am proud to the bottom of my heart to be an Italian. Historically, we are mostly Christians, but this question is never asked, at least very rarely and never in any official document.

We can decide whether to get married in a church or at the city hall, and we never force our spouses to embrace 'our' religion in order to get married to us, unlike here where 'sentimental blackmail' is applied when non-Muslims want to marry Muslims.

We Italians can freely decide whether to convert to any religion, like some friends of mine did. Some of them are now Muslim, while people like Roberto Baggio, whom I am sure that a football crazy country like Malaysia should know, is a Buddhist.

But we are all Italians, we love our country, our food, our cultural traditions and we love and hate at the same time our messy and at times colourful politicians. We all cheer for our national football team even if we regularly get kicked out of all major competitions and soon we will all be behind our athletes at the Olympic Games, without asking them whether they are still Christians or whether they have migrated to some foreign and therefore are on enemy territory.

Is Malaysia such a culture-less community that it must be bonded only by a common faith? One supposes so for the reason behind the steadfast position of Malaysian law with regards to apostasy is not religious.

The issue of the Syariah Court losing its jurisdiction is just one of the many smokescreens. Muslims in Malaysia are here slightly more than half of the population, unlike in Indonesia where they are the overwhelming majority.

Apostasy or conversions among Malays are therefore seen as a threat to the political power that Islam now has over the Malay community. More 'free thinkers' or more followers of other faiths will make Umno/PAS seem totally detached from the issues of the day.

Religion is power. Religion is the easiest way to control the masses who are unable to discern for themselves what is right and what is wrong, what is real spirituality and what is just a political gimmick.

This is the true, sad situation in this country. But I am happy to follow the teachings of Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa just to name a few - all wonderful human beings that have dedicated their lives to promote peace, love and harmony among all living beings.

Does it really matter where they are from, what colour is their skin, what prayer hall they frequent? 'Why don't we focus on what we have in common, instead of what makes us different?'

Those were not my words but the Dalai Lama's. This was what made him feel at home everywhere he goes.

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