In the context of all the war and bloodshed and violence since the end of the Second World War, it is heartening that the United Nations undertook to adopt the 2010 proposal of King Abdullah II of Jordan to commemorate a World Interfaith Harmony Week for every first week of February.
The 'harmony' desired is for " Muslim and Christian leaders to engage in a dialogue based on two common fundamental religious Commandments : Love of God, and Love of the Neighbour." These two commandments they say, are also part of another monotheistic religion - Judaism.
TWIHW added two more commandments " Love of the Good and Love of the Neighbour", so as to include "those of other faiths and those with no faith".
Of course Malaysia is a participant in TWIHW and it was officially launched on 5 February by Tan Sri Joseph Kurup, the Minister in charge of unity in the Prime Minister's Department.
However the celebration has been clouded by the photograph of an apparently Muslim woman ; a representative of YIPCI (Young Interfaith Peacemaker Community of Indonesia) carrying a placard " I'm Muslim, I love Hindus" at Batu Caves during Thaipusam on 3 February.
ISMA (Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia) "took issue", questioning the source and the motives of YIPCI's 'campaign' at Batu Caves during Thaipusam.
The Minister however put a positive mark on this foreign-based YIPCI's 'campaign' in Malaysian territory. He regarded it as "proof of positive interfaith ties and how people of different religions can respect each other".
Call me stupid. But I'm perplexed. What made this Muslim (?) from Indonesia decide to come to Malaysia, to make a special trip to Batu Caves during Thaipusam to demonstrate and publicise her message - which on the surface seems positive and moderate - but which carries the imputation that Muslims in Malaysia are 'neglectful' about 'loving' Hindus and so a Muslim(?) representing an interfaith NGO from overseas has to make amends on behalf of the 'uncaring' Muslims in Malaysia? Was she called upon to push and enforce this unnecessary and unsolicited (?) plea?
I understand that YIPCI was set up by two students, a Christian and a Muslim. This being an Interfaith Peacemaker Community, was there also a Christian there with a placard " I'm Christian. I love Hindus." Maybe not, because we all know that when Christians "love" you, they carry other connotations.
And if it is really "interfaith" was there a "I'm Hindu. I love Muslims." placard anywhere?
Somehow for a cynical person like me, the use or rather the over-use of the word "love" sounds phony, misplaced and worse of all, smacks of condescension. I remember seeing this logo as from the 1980s ( at least from my wandering experience) on T-shirts and baseball caps.
The copycats came along with "I love pink", "I love Cappucino" etc. etc. When this logo which began as an advertising campaign to promote tourism in New York was used for " I love Islam", "I love Allah" , "I love the Prophet", - sometimes substituting the word "love" with the heart symbol, my heart sank. Over 1400 years of Islam ! Why should ANY Muslim - from over 1.6 billion of them - resort to this kind of pseudo-Christian pop culture icon to parade their devotion to their religion?
Let's get back to basics - away from the language of advertisement and pop social media.
From the Concise Oxford Dictionary: love means ....
- warm affection, attachment, fondness
- sexual affection, passion
- beloved one, sweetheart
- no score - as in games.
If someone comes up to me and and says "I'm a Christian (or Hindu, or atheist or sun worshipper). I love Muslims." I have to ask if they could please not 'love' Muslims. Could they 'respect' us Muslims instead?
From the Concise Oxford Dictionary : respect means .....
- pay heed to
- relate to, be concerned with
- regard with deference, avoid degrading or insulting or injuring - to treat with consideration and honour
Love without respect is dangerous.
In response to Isma's opinion about YIPCI, the Minister for Unity, Tan Sri Joseph Kurup asserted that "moderation, toleration and unity is the key for the country to progress further." Where's the place for "respect"?
I found this interesting quote by George Sheehan :
If there is a solution to racism, religious persecution, and the evils of nationalism, I think we can be assured that it is not love. I recall some decades back when the churches were breaking the color barrier, a Southern priest wrote of the waves of nausea he felt when he gave communion to a black person. Incredible, you might say. But our antipathies towards others have deep and stubborn roots. To ask that we love may well be an impossibility. To ask that we show respect is not only attainable, it helps us attain our own happiness as well.
When (Edward) de Bono speaks of respect as the basis of happiness, he is not breaking new ground. Respect is no less than justice.
I like de Bono's ideas. Respect myself, respect others, respect society. This is a manifesto I can live with.
But above and beyond our theory and practice of Love and Respect - the ultimate yardstick is our NIAT. And only Allah Knows.
Abah taught us this song "It'a a sin to tell a lie" in the 50s and we used to belt it out with our Abah in the kampung house, much to my mother's amusement.