MARCH 16 —Pasir Mas MP Ibrahim Ali recently said:
“I think that a Akta Murtad (Apostasy Act) must be passed to handle the apostasy issue. [...] Presently, there are already Muslims who are turning to the church to find peace. [...] Less fortunate Muslims are not being helped, thus the Christians are using charity as a means to get close to (poor) Muslims.”
There are two problems in Ibrahim’s proposal.
First, if the law is passed, it will surely be difficult for non-confessing people to leave Islam. However, such legislation will risk turning the word “Muslim” into nothing but a meaningless and irrelevant label to the non-submitting person.
Every Muslim understands that the word “Muslim” itself means the person who submits to Allah (swt), the God revealed in the Quran. Hence, by definition the meaning of the word “Muslim” is dependent on whether the person submits or not. It is meaningless to call someone a “Muslim” if he or she does not submit. Hence, the word is only meaningful when applied on those who submit. Without submission, “Muslim” is simply meaningless when applied to the non-submitting person.
For instance, “Muslim” is meaningful when applied to Ibrahim Ali because he submits according to the religion. And the title “Christian” does not have a meaning when applied to Ibrahim Ali because he does not submit to it. So even if the whole world calls Ibrahim a “Christian”, that label simply does not mean anything on him. And to force the label “Christian” on him despite his non-submission to the religion is to risk turning the word “Christian” into obscurity.
(If you still do not get what I am saying here, you can start calling Ibrahim Ali a “Christian”, and his reaction will make it clearer.)
That is probably the reason why the idea of proposing an Apostasy Act to prevent people from leaving Christianity has not come across the mind of any thinking Christian in Malaysia. They do not want to risk turning the word “Christian” into an obscure label. Ibrahim Ali, on the other hand, seems to be very enthusiastic in doing so for his own religion.
Second, Ibrahim remarked that Christians are “using” charitable deeds “as a means” to approach Muslims, presumably, to convert them. It is obvious that this misrepresentative statement is the result of Ibrahim’s ignorance of Christians’ belief and practices.
Christianity has been teaching the imperative to carry out compassion deeds to people regardless of religion, ethnicity or proselytising opportunity. This is seen in the commitment statement produced from the 2010 Cape Town conference, which comprised “4,000 Christian leaders from over 190 nations” (emphasis added):
The Bible tells us that the Lord is loving toward all he has made, upholds the cause of the oppressed, loves the foreigner, feeds the hungry, sustains the fatherless and widow. […] Such love for the poor demands that we not only love mercy and deeds of compassion, but also that we do justice through exposing and opposing all that oppresses and exploits the poor.
I am not saying that proselytisation is not part of Christian teaching. Proselytisation is as much part of Christianity as it is part of Islam. All I am saying that it is a mistake to confuse compassion deeds done from the sense of divine calling (like the one stated in the Cape Town statement) and deeds done in order to proselytise.
Ibrahim did not seem to show any knowledge of Christianity’s nuance teaching on compassion deeds. In spite of that, he took the liberty to comment on it and, in so doing, misrepresented it. Or, perhaps he was too blinded by his own sense of righteousness that he simply unable to see that other religions are actually capable of genuine care for the less fortunate without attempting to proselytise them?
(By the way, this is not the first time his ignorance of non-Muslims’ belief and practices came to light. Just less than two months ago, he gave out white packets, which signified funeral gift, to the Chinese during Chinese New Year.)
Besides, does Islam teach that it is wrong for non-Muslims to carry out compassion deeds to Muslims? And, does Islam teach that it is wrong for Muslims to receive compassion from non-Muslims? I may be wrong but I do not think Islam teaches either.
It is therefore very unfortunate for this multi-cultural country to have a member of Parliament who pushes for legislation that turns the word “Muslim” into obscurity on one hand, and disrespectfully misrepresents and continuously displays ignorance of non-Muslim beliefs and practices on another.
* Joshua Woo Sze Zeng is currently reading theology at Trinity Theological College, Singapore. He is the co-editor (with Tan Soo Inn) of “The Bible and the Ballot: Reflections on Christian Political Engagement in Malaysia today” (Singapore: Graceworks, 2011).
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.