Once again, Christians are in the spotlight following allegations that they are trying to confuse Muslims, undermine their faith and subvert the nation. For good measure, tiresome old canards about a global plot by Christian and Zionist groups to destabilise Malaysia are being recycled.
Never mind that our own leaders are doing a pretty good job of destabilizing the country all on their own.
The confusion of the confused
The latest furore is over Hannah Yeoh’s book, ‘Becoming Hannah,’ in which the Selangor State Assembly Speaker chronicles how her faith inspired her to seek political office to help secure, by God’s grace and much prayer, a better future for all Malaysians.
It is an amazing narrative that speaks not just of Hannah’s courage and character but about a beautiful side to our nation where a young Malaysian Chinese-Christian could become speaker of Malaysia’s most populous state.
While many would celebrate such success stories, it was apparently too much for one university lecturer who, according to his own words, as reported by the press, found himself admiring the greatness of the God of Hannah and being impressed by her faith in the person of Jesus Christ.
That in itself is an intriguing statement but in this environment, the less said the better, I suppose.
Apparently shocked to discover that a Christian autobiography would “contain parables and excerpts from the Bible,” he lodged a police report alleging that it was an attempt to “coax, influence and instigate” non-Christians [including himself] to convert or deepen their interest in Christian teachings. He was also apparently disturbed to find references to Jesus as the Son of God in the book.
What was he expecting anyway when he picked up a book written by a Christian?
It’s hard to make sense of such convoluted and confused reasoning. That it should come from a university lecturer speaks volumes about the calibre of those now occupying positions of influence in our universities today.
How long must our nation suffer the narrow-mindedness and bigotry of insecure people who still find it hard to accept that Malaysia is a secular, multiracial nation? When will they start taking responsibility for their own choices including the books they choose to read?
Standing with Hannah
Thankfully, there are still political and civic leaders around who are committed enough to the vision of a united, multiracial and multi-religious nation to ensure that Hannah did not have to stand alone against this latest outbreak of bigotry and prejudice.
Muslim leaders and activists like former law minister Zaid Ibrahim, lawyer Art Harun, PKR’s Nik Nazmi, Amanah’s Salahuddin Ayub, DAP’s Syerleena Abdul Rashid and Bebas’ Azrul Khalib defended her integrity and praised her for the respect she has always shown to other faith and ethnic groups. Many also expressed open admiration for the way her faith inspires her to serve with integrity and commitment and called her an outstanding politician and role model.
Their courageous and timely intervention helped to quickly put things in perspective and prevent the whole issue from getting out of hand. Though the voices of tolerance and moderation are all too few these days, they help push back the darkness of prejudice and bigotry that now hover over our nation.
The silence of the BN crowd, however, was noticeable. Some of them were quick to criticise Hannah when she respectfully covered her head at a mosque gathering but couldn’t find the courage to speak out when an important national principle was at stake.
At times like this, all those who value freedom and cherish our constitutional rights and privileges must take a stand irrespective of party, ethnic or religious affiliation. When we stay silent we cede the public square, that space that rightly belongs to all Malaysians, to bigotry and prejudice.
As Edmund Burke famously noted, the surest way for evil to prevail is for the rest of us to do nothing.
Faith in the public square
The furore over Hannah’s book is also a timely reminder that faith that inspires integrity in public service, that leads men and women to serve their fellow citizens with honour, respect and dignity, is more needed than ever before.
God help that nation that has a deficit of such men and women of faith in public office.
By her actions, Hannah has come to exemplify the Christian perspective that faith in Jesus Christ compels them to work with their fellow citizens to build a nation defined by love, compassion, justice and righteousness. It lays upon them, as well, a burden to reach out to the poor, the hurting, the marginalized people all around us and, when asked, to give the reason for the hope they carry in their hearts.
Let somebody tell me that all that is wrong, that it is against the national interest, that it undermines national security, that it has no place in our society.
I admire Hannah. I admire her integrity, her courage, her transparency, her service to the people who elected her, and her fealty to the constitution of our nation. And I am thankful that such a person has felt called to give herself to public service. In an age of corrupt, cynical and conniving politicians, Hannah is a breath of fresh air. She inspires me and gives me hope.
How I wish more of our politicians would become like Hannah.
[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 19th May 2017]