...not to me .....!!!!
This article is from my book 'The Quran and I' - chapter 3
Of some apostles We have already told thee the story;
of others We have not …Quran 4:164
I grew up accustomed to Chinese drums and Hindu temple bells and the experience made me a Muslim who loves the Quran more than any other book in the world.
Let me tell you why …
I grew up on Evergreen Road, Fettes Park Penang. From Fettes Road turning into Evergreen Road, you will need to battle a short slope uphill where we kids needed to paddle standing up while riding our bicycles and ladies got off to push theirs till the road flattens 10 meters ahead – about 100 meters later you will pass my house, house number 14.
There is an empty space almost triangular in shape where the two roads meet. At the centre of that empty land stood a large tall leafy bee infested tree with red colored nuts sprouting from the branches. On one side of the empty land was a row of shop-houses. On its corner lot wall the words NEW BOB AGENCY in red bold capital letters greeted the Fettes Park community. So we call that little corner piece of land - Bob Agency. Across the road from Bob Agency stood two temples; one Chinese and the other Hindu.
Bob Agency for the better part of the year was left empty but the piece of land comes alive twice a year when the Chinese temple organizes Chinese Operas (Teng Lang Kho Tai) especially during the Hungry Ghost Festivals. Usually the first two days it would be the Chinese Opera (we use to call it The Tong Tong Tong Cheng! Show) followed by two days of modern bands belting the latest Chinese numbers and some popular western songs. I especially love it when the emcee announced something like “Andy Gibb chang terk, Shallow Lancing!” .
Each year the temple committee, both Hindu and Chinese will go house to house to request donation either for the upkeep, repair and temple improvement or for projects like the Hungry Ghost festivals or Thaipusam. Each time my Mom will ask me to tell them politely that as Muslims we cannot donate to a ‘Tokong’. Besides, we actually did not have any extra cash anyway! Ha!ha!
They too were polite and understanding and just moved away wishing me thank you regardless. I did not question my mom’s reasoning as I took it as true; not until 1977 when the Penang State Government was building the Penang State Mosque when I was 13.
It was announced that Loh Boon Siew the big Towkay of Penang donated RM 1 Million to the building of the state mosque. But wait a minute. We cannot give but we can take? That does not sound right, in fact it is unfair. My mom had no answers so I brought it up during agama class in school. After all, it will not be the first time I was asked to leave the class anyway- so what’s another period of wondering around the school (my eldest sister was not allowed to be in agama class at all during certain years in her school life; also for asking many questions!).
Honestly, I was not a bad boy. In fact I have won the agama prize for being top in school. But I had questions that needed real solid answers. And, I do not give up easily!
Poor Ustazah. I asked her if I could donate to temples and her answer was a firm ‘No’. We can’t give but we can accept? I told her that my religion sounds unfair and I cannot accept her answer as my Jid told me Islam is the most just religion in the world.
I refused to accept the answer and kept on harping on the RM 1 million from Loh Boon Siew. Finally she relented and said that if we were to give any donations to the ‘Tokong’, we must ‘niat’ that it is money we ‘ buang ke dalam sungai’. I told her ‘Ustazah dah merepet’.
She was by then in tears and it did not help that my classmates were cheering with drum beats – thumping the table top. She rushed out of the class and the rank cheered, the class went into the usual rumpus of school boys without supervision… but it did not last for long.
She returned with Ustaz Mahyudin, whom we were all scared shit of! And he was not alone; he brought his friend a handsome one meter rotan. He banged the rotan on the teacher’s table a few times, we were dead silent. He uttered a few words of warning, and left.
Actually Ustaz Mahyudin was a kind and nice man, in fact I have never seen him use the rotan on anyone. I had good conversations with him, and he allowed differing opinions although he was worried of my constant questioning of the status quo. He treated Non-Muslims kindly too, and with respect.
I did not get my answer until I was in university when I took to reading the Quran and Muslim history for myself. I discovered a verse that said:
'WOE UNTO THOSE who give short measure: those who, when they are to receive their due from [other] people, demand that it be given in full, but when they have to measure or weigh whatever they owe to others, give less than what is due! Do they not know that they are bound to be raised from the dead? [and called to account] on an awesome Day (Quran 83: 1-5)
I also discovered that early Muslim leaders created a peaceful environment so that people from various faiths can practice their way of life. In fact state money was used to build, repair and support the building of not just the mosque but also Non- Muslim places of worship. The Muslim army has a duty to defend all places of worship as commanded by the Quran:
(They are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right,- (for no cause) except that they say, "our Lord is God.. Did not God check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of God is commemorated in abundant measure. God will certainly aid those who aid his (cause);- for verily God is full of Strength, Exalted in Might, (able to enforce His Will). Quran 22:40
In the mid 90s I bought a condo unit in Sunway. Beside the wonderful square swimming pool, the other attractions were a Hindu and Chinese temple right in front of the guard house and a mosque just behind the corner. In the morning you can hear the azan, the temple bells and every now and then I get to smell Chinese incense bringing me back memories of growing up in Fettes Park near Bob Agency. The only missing link was a church. Each morning, each evening, each nite – each day that condo where I stayed for a good many years reminds me of another Quranic announcement. It is as though the Quran spoke to me directly,
“To thee We sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety: so judge between them by what God hath revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging from the Truth that hath come to thee. To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way? If God had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to God. it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute (Quran 5:48)
Thank You Bob Agency, Thank You Evergreen Road, Thank You Fettes Park, Thank You Penang, Thank You Malaysia! Thank you for helping me see the world the way God wanted me to see it.
Thank You God!