Ripples from “People Like Us” Part 3

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The ripples continue. It’s wonderful to read more reflections on the “People Like Us” Forum.

One clarification for some who might be wondering whether this particular event is promoting Religious Pluralism, i.e. that All religions are actually talking about the same thing and there is essentially no difference in our beliefs. The answer from me is a clear NO because no one was asked to compromise any of their own uniqueness or difference or even truth claims.  Of course, as the facilitator I am first to admit this was not the focus of the event which was clearly stated in the promotional flyer.

I believe there is a place and time for us to  plunge deeper into those kind of theological conversations, which often is the subject matter of some of the interfaith forums I’ve attended.  In this particular forum, we decided to try something different and is to me more modest goal.

But do we really need to be the same in order to live harmoniously together and work towards the common good? Waleed reminded us that night if we are all the same and think alike it’s boring. I would second that.

For me, a key issue I felt shouldn’t be missed is to confront our arrogant postures towards people “unlike” us, and work on developing a humble posture in relationship with people whom we would discover is very much “like” us in many ways, and “unlike” us in other ways. That’s not the problem, the problem is when we start to keep “looking for the speck in the other persons eyes, and forget the log in our own!”

So NO to arrogance, and YES to humility especially through self-examination and introspection. Without that humble posture, any deeper theological discussion becomes more about winning debates rather than the pursuit of truth.

I’ve commented enough for this post.Let’s return back to those who actually there and offered their feedback and take it from there. Starting with a blog post from a Christian.

My Interfaith Dialogue Experience

Once upon a time, as i was facebooking (who doesn’t), I came across this invite from a friend to attend this event called “People Like Us: How Arrogance Divides People”. What made this event even more interesting was i was invited by a Malay friend to Church. I was surprised. This made me even more curious to attend the event.

I must confess i was suspicious as to what to expect as this was my first time attending such an event. I have heard of such events failing miserably. Over the years, many people have come back either furious or disappointed because of the sense of nothingness achieved. To make things worse, many friends advised me not to go. Some said i was wasting my time. Some said that these talks were politically motivated. Others said that I should concentrate on other things, etc. (Somehow people seem to be an expert when it comes to advising others) Nevertheless, I chose to attend simply because my conscience asked me to go.

When I reached there, I was so relieved to know that I was welcomed my a familiar face. Someone from my church actually attended the event. The members were friendly towards me. We sat down and waited as many were stuck in the jam. Pr. Sivin advised us to start on our own mini dialogue while waiting… So far so good.

2 major religions, 3 minorities, 1 majority, 2 countries, 1 doctor, 1 reverend, 1 lawyer, 1 research assistant to Selangor’s MB, 3 men and 1 woman. How many people am I talking about? The answer is 4. Such diverse backgrounds together discussing on one title towards one noble perspective. The format was informal and friendly. We were not at a church neither a mosque. We felt we were at home having a family discussion. The whole atmosphere was very cosy.

I realize that deep inside I was selfish. I tend to judge others based on my background. Most of the time, we get this perception of others even before we get to know them. We are insensitive when it comes to others. We don’t bother about the background another. I feel that just because just because I believe that my way the true way to God, I tend to unconsciously treat people differently. I forget to love my neighbour and obey the golden rule.

What happened after the event was even more interesting. For the second time in my life, I’ve actually seen people having fun together regardless race, colour or religion. Everyone was equal. For once, we viewed each other the way God views us, equal. We were chatting with each other (offline) about stuff. The speakers also actually took the extra mile to stay back and interact with the others who came. Many stayed until 11.30pm, one hour after the talk actually ended. It was indeed one of the most memorable moments in my life.

Have you ever wondered how would life be like if everyone treated each other equally? Come to the next Interfaith dialogue.

I’m looking forward for a Christian to call me to a mosque, a Muslin inviting me to a Sikh temple, a Hindu inviting me to church,…the possibilities are endless. I also look to a time where youths and people of different race, colour and religion come together and organise activities together.

A big thank you to the organisers and the host for organising such a wonderful programme.

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I recall Khalisah and Nour coming up to me after the event and we had a good bonus conversation on what both of them felt.  They did promise to write something and they did. Read on . . . I’m grateful the forum added to their ongoing adventures in Malaysia!

The Mamak Chronicles: Following Dominos Through Malaysia By Khalisah Stevens, Nour Merza

The clichéd Zimbabwean butterfly sets off a hurricane in Des Moines, Iowa. Queen Victoria’s genetic make-up threatens the health of Russia’s last potential tsar. The ghosts of men America trains to fight communism in Afghanistan resurfaced twenty years later in New York. A series of seemingly isolated incidents setting each other off: the domino effect. This first week in Malaysia witnessed a chain of dominos clicking into each other, one by one, from Nour and Khalisah to as far as Khatemi and Ahmedinejad.

But let’s start from the beginning. Months ago, we were looking up internships in Dubai. Khalisah’s uncle told us about an organization he’d volunteered with, called Mercy Malaysia. We applied, and were accepted a few weeks later. We began looking for housing, and then Khalisah’s cousin, Winnie, called. Her roommate had moved out and she had a place for us to stay. This was the beginning of two different chains of events that led us to two equally different experiences in the same weekend.

The first branch of the domino chain led us to a young office mate at MERCY Malaysia, Ashaari. He in turn led us to a talk, entitled People Like Us: How Arrogance Divides People, that was taking place at a Lutheran church. The speakers would be a Tricia Yeoh, a Chinese Christian woman who started her own think tank and has moved on to working for the Chief Minister of Selangor, Farouk Musa, a Malaysian man who is an expert on philology, and Waleed Aly, the author of the book that the title of the talk was based on.

Hardly knowing what to expect, we drove to the house with a sign on the gate that read “The Father’s House” and a group of people with flashlights waved us in. The small house-turned-church was crowded with Malaysians buzzing with excitement. Reverend Sivin Kit took the stage and through his energy and humor he introduced the speakers, who took turns discussing what separates people, whether it being religion, history or culture.

It was refreshing to see Indians, Chinese and Malays nodding along in agreement to some key points of the talk. The speakers pointed to the fear that keeps people from crossing religious and ethnic borders and the stereotypes that bolster these fears, such as women in hijab being closed minded. They also discussed how people of different cultures can live in such close proximity without learning about each other until well into adulthood, if at all. Tricia, for example, grew up near a mosque, and when she was ten she thought that the imam was calling the adhan to the tune of the Christian song, “Gloria,” – so she would sing along to the call to prayer every time she’d hear it. Only much later in her adult life did she come to understand what that call meant. Finally, the speakers stressed the central tenant that was common to all faiths: the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have done unto you,” they concluded, was the only foundation on which any sort of interfaith harmony could be built.

The people in the church who were our age are the first generation of Malaysians to be unfettered by the uncomfortable history of cultural tensions and clashes that have personified the 1960’s and 1970’s, and were keen on bridging the gaps with each other. It was heartening to see that these would be the people who would cross the sensitive barriers and topics that their parents couldn’t and take Malaysia closer to a more equal and just society.

Check the links below to read earlier posts 🙂

Ripples from “People Like Us” Part 1

Ripples from “People Like Us” Part 2

Ripples from “People Life Us” – Interlude for Comments

About Sivin Kit

man of one wife, father of four kids
This entry was posted in Bangsar Lutheran Church, Friends in Conversation, Malaysia, Religion, Spirituality, Theology, World. Bookmark the permalink.

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