Friday, December 5, 2008

Interfaith Understanding Against Prejudice

If you were a ______ (fill in the blank, with Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist etc.), would you be angry if others of different belief system than you utter the following to you?

  • Muslims? Bah, I've had enough of them causing troubles with their endless jihads of suicide bombings.
  • Look at their girls, why are they in the veil thingy? Poor people, oppressed by their lustful males.
  • They are violent people, I tell you. They chop hands, they stone people without mercy!
  • I wonder if they have any values left at all? Other than attending Church on Sunday, or having "Angelina" as one's name, what defines a "Christian"?
  • Those warmongers from big (Christian?) nations are Whites. Many Whites are Christians. So, it must be Christianity that teaches them to bomb other nations, right?
  • I hate it when those do nothing but trying to "save" me by knocking at my door, and then quoting verses from the Bible that I could not even comprehend. Oh, they forgot to say hi, too.
  • All Buddhists are Chinese, right?
  • You guys are cool Kung Fu masters. With bald head and orange robe living over the mountain, "civilization" must be the last thing you know.
  • Who is Buddha anyway? I think he's a God or something. Umm... what is Buddhism anyway? I only know that big fat statue standing, sitting, or leaning in a temple when you say the word, "Buddha".
  • You don't eat beef? Come on! Beef is tasty, beef is good! (Eat a Quarter Pounder in front of a Hindu Brahmin)
  • Hindus = Indians. Indians = Hindus. (period)
  • What's up with the cows? They're VIPs!
  • I could not care less. Not my concern.
Those are just few examples of pure prejudice. Although in daily life, we may not commit prejudice to such extreme degree, in some way or another, we may be ignorant to what others may think or belief, and thus live life they way they are.

Throughout the course of history, many battles have been fought in the name of religion and in the name of God. Most often, the outcome had been a terrible bloodshed that leave a relentless legacy of revenge and indignation. Some departed away from religion with the belief that religion has indeed imbued its believers with feelings of self-supremacy that ultimately leads to fanaticism and endless conflict.

But others maintain that it is not religion that sparked the violence. Rather, a complex strand of politics, economics, social and nationalistic interests did so. Also, the base feeling of men - his self-centeredness to survive and to be glorified ARE the main causes of prejudice and violence.

But it is true however, all religions and teachings in any matter and any way, intend to educate their believers towards the higher values and moralities, away from animalistic and base feelings of human lust and desire. But contenders of this point may argue that certain verses in the Holy Book(s) of the religion such as the story of Rama in the Battlefield in Bhagavad Gitta, and the verses calling for Jihad in the Qur'an do indeed propagate violence among the believers. However, the people from this quarter failed to realized the entire spirit of the religion. More often than not, misquotations and partial-quotations are not uncommon in their speeches and literatures; for whatever motives have in mind.

But, among the believers themselves, not many know at least to a functional degree, about the belief system of fellow believers. Usually, the only time they get to know other religions are through biased and mediated speeches and/or articles spoken/written by the people of "authority", be it from the government or from religious institutions. Little personal effort had been made to understand why other belief so-and-so and do so-and-so. It is unfortunate only when a crisis come, when somebody bombed a building, then will only these naive believers flow onto the streets, chanting for justice.

Let us see what the Qur'an has to say about this:

"Unto every one of you have We appointed a [different] law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you ..." [Qur'an 5:48]

"Have, then, they who have attained to faith not yet come to know that, had God so willed, He would indeed have guided all mankind aright?" [Qur'an 13:31]

"And [because He is your Creator], it rests with God alone to show you the right path: yet there is [many a one] who swerves from it. However, had He so willed, He would have guided you all aright." [Qur'an 16:9]

"For had God so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community; however, He lets go astray that wills [to go astray], and guides aright him that wills [to be guided]; and you will surely be called to account for all that you ever did!" [Qur'an 16:93]

For what seemed to me here that in every community, there are always the good and evil doers. One has the right, in his right-minded conscience, to submit to whatever belief system he/she wishes to belief. But one has not the right to smear others' religious belief in the name of God.

What the Qur'an prescribes mankind to follow is this:

"O people! Behold, we have created you from a male and a female and have made you into nations and tribes to that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware." [Qur'an 49:13]

Thus, let us listen to the voice of reason, not the voice of ego. No, this is not a call for a compromise in fundamentals of religious belief. Rather, a mere call for the voice of tolerance to prevail over the voice of hatred and discrimination.

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet." [Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)]

"But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God." (Leviticus 19:34)

By the way, I happen to encounter an inter-faith love-prayer song that I think is interesting to share. For we who are unfamiliar with how people from other belief systems praise the God (some say, the One), this song gives a good introduction of prayers and praisewords:

Interfaith Yoga Kirtan Chant by Jaima James


Of late, there have been altercations back in Malaysia regarding a fatwa on banning Yoga for Muslims. Intrigued by the issue, I decided to embark on to research a bit about Yoga, its origin, meaning, types, and practices.

Yoga: the Definitions

Yoga, according to Wikipedia, is "traditional physical and mental disciplines originating in India; to the goal achieved by those disciplines; and to one of the six orthodox (āstika) schools of Hindu philosophy."

According to Gethin, Yoga "...approximately means 'effort' or 'work' and relatively early in the history of Indian religion came to refer to specifically spiritual work and techniques." (The Foundations of Buddhism, 174)

Yoga according to Rabinovitch:

Yoga according to QuarkTech Inc:

Thus, we can conclude from above definitions, that Yoga must be a certain form of practices combining the elements of physical, mental, and spiritual with the aim of unionizing the three with the purpose of self-realization.

Types of Yoga (all quotes in this section are from Wikipedia)

1. Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

"Patanjali is widely regarded as the founder of the formal Yoga philosophy.[21] Patanjali's yoga is known as Raja yoga, which is a system for control of the mind.[22] Patanjali defines the word "yoga" in his second sutra,[23] which is the definitional sutra for his entire work:

This terse definition hinges on the meaning of three Sanskrit terms. I. K. Taimni translates it as "Yoga is the inhibition (nirodhaḥ) of the modifications (vṛtti) of the mind (citta)".[24] Swami Vivekananda translates the sutra as "Yoga is restraining the mind-stuff (Citta) from taking various forms (Vrittis)."[25]

Patanjali's writing also became the basis for a system referred to as "Ashtanga Yoga" ("Eight-Limbed Yoga"). This eight-limbed concept derived from the 29th Sutra of the 2nd book, and is a core characteristic of practically every Raja yoga variation taught today. The Eight Limbs are:

(1) Yama (The five "abstentions"): non-violence, non-lying, non-covetousness, non-sensuality, and non-possessiveness.
(2) Niyama (The five "observances"): purity, contentment, austerity, study, and surrender to god.
(3) Asana: Literally means "seat", and in Patanjali's Sutras refers to the seated position used for meditation.
(4) Pranayama ("Lengthening Prāna"): Prāna, life force, or vital energy, particularly, the breath, "āyāma", to lengthen or extend. Also interpreted as control of the life force.
(5) Pratyahara ("Abstraction"): Withdrawal of the sense organs from external objects.
(6) Dharana ("Concentration"): Fixing the attention on a single object.
(7) Dhyana ("Meditation"): Intense contemplation of the nature of the object of meditation.
(8) Samādhi ("Liberation"): merging consciousness with the object of meditation.
2. Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita ('Song of the Lord'), uses the term yoga extensively in a variety of ways. In addition to an entire chapter (ch. 6) dedicated to traditional yoga practice, including meditation,[26] it introduces three prominent types of yoga:[27]

Madhusudana Sarasvati (b. circa 1490) divided the Gita into three sections, with the first six chapters dealing with Karma yoga, the middle six with Bhakti yoga, and the last six with Jnana (knowledge).[28] Other commentators ascribe a different 'yoga' to each chapter, delineating eighteen different yogas.[29]

3. Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga is a particular system of Yoga described by Yogi Swatmarama, compiler of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika in 15th century India. Hatha Yoga differs substantially from the Raja Yoga of Patanjali in that it focuses on shatkarma, the purification of the physical body as leading to the purification of the mind (ha), and prana, or vital energy (tha).[30][31] Compared to the seated asana, or sitting meditation posture, of Patanjali's Raja yoga,[32] it marks the development of asanas (plural) into the full body 'postures' now in popular usage.[33] Hatha Yoga in its many modern variations is the style that many people associate with the word "Yoga" today.[34]

Yoga and Islam

The development of Sufism was considerably influenced by Indian yogic practises, where they adapted both physical postures (asanas) and breath control (pranayama).[45] The ancient Indian yogic text, Amritakunda, ("Pool of Nectar)" was translated into Arabic and Persian as early as the 11th century.[46]

Malaysia's top Islamic body in 2008 passed a fatwa, which is legally non-binding, against Muslims practicing yoga, saying it had elements of "Hindu spiritual teachings" and could lead to blasphemy and is therefore haraam. Muslim yoga teachers in Malaysia criticized the decision as "insulting".[47] Sisters in Islam, a women's rights group in Malaysia, also expressed disappointment and said they would continue with their yoga classes.[48] The fatwa states that yoga practiced only as physical exercise is permissible, but that yoga teachings such as uniting of a human with God is not consistent with Islamic philosophy.[49] (ibid.)

Barat dan Aku

Kenangan bersama teman lamaku yang kini berada di Mesir. Aku menjejakkan kaki menuntut di dunianya. Dia pula pergi ke dunia lain kerana maksud yang sama. Semoga ketemu nur yang dia cari-cari itu.

Ada kala apabila aku berseorangan sambil memerhati orang lalu lalang di stesen bas mahupun di kaki lima, terkadang terusik benak fikiranku melihat jenis dan gelagat mereka yang beraneka macam. Pandang kanan, aku nampak sepasang kekasih yang sedang asyik bercinta penuh romantis. Pandang kiri pula, aku nampak seorang lelaki berkulit gelap bertubuh sasa yang hampir dua kaki lebih tinggi daripada ku. Gerun aku apabila terfikir kalau-kalau penumbuknya melayang ke arah muka ku; ada harapan aku kehilangan tiga atau empat batang gigi kekalku! Walaubagaimanapun, itu cuma pemikiran liarku sahaja. Di sebalik aneka ragam orang Barat dan segala macam karenahnya, aku sebenarnya kagum dengan tamadun yang mereka bina dan prinsip yang mereka pegang walaupun ada di antaranya tidak selari dengan pegangan hidupku.

Yang paling aku kagumi ialah sifat keterbukaan dan penerimaan yang mereka ada. Penerimaan bermaksud mereka boleh menerima ku seadanya walaupun pandangan hidupku, alur lidahku, dan wujud fizikalku ternyata berbeda daripada mereka. Keterbukaan pula bermaksud mereka sedia mendengar apa yang aku ingin sampaikan - tidak pernah aku rasa dikongkong daripada meluahkan idea atau isi hatiku sepanjang berbicara dengan mereka baik semasa kuliah bersama Professor mahupun bersama teman-temanku. Malah, ada yang berminat sehingga mereka mengajukan soalan-soalan dan meminta aku bercakap tentang diriku, negaraku, bangsaku, dan agamaku. Hmm... mungkin inilah prinsip kebebasan expresi dan bersuara yang dicanang oleh mereka yang telah lama termaktub di dalam perlembagaan negara mereka.

Kedua, kadangkala aku malu sendiri apabila aku melihat ada di kalangan mereka yang begitu komited dan percaya di dalam apa yang mereka perjuangkan. Seorang temanku ini begitu gemar menjugel. Boleh dikatakan hari-hari aku nampak dia menjugel di padang legar universiti jika hari cerah. Lambat laun, ramai yang tertarik dengan kepandaiannya menjugel. Mungkin sekarang dia telah menjadi Pengasas dan Presiden Kelab Jugel Illini. Seorang lagi adalah teman seasrama ku ketika kami berada di tahun pertama. Apabila bertemu sahaja, leka aku dan dia berbicara tentang Bahasa Arab, Islam, dan Al-Quran. Dalam minatnya mendalami ilmu-ilmu itu telah membuatkannya menjejakkan kaki ke Mesir! Hatta pada bulan Ramadhan di Mesir, sanggup dia berpuasa, walaupun belum lagi bergelar seorang Muslimah; mahu merasa bagaimana "budaya" menjadi seorang Muslimah, katanya. Tergelak kecil aku - pada satu sudut, lucu kata-katanya itu. Tetapi lubuk hatiku sangat mengagumi keberaniannya untuk mencuba memahami sesuatu perkara yang sangat asing buatnya!

Ketiga, tentang buku. Belek-belek sikit di sana sini, terpacul nama Frederick Denny, John Esposito, dan Karen Armstrong yang banyak menulis dan melontarkan idea-idea segar tentang agamaku, Islam. Di mana penulis-penulis kita terutamanya yang berasal daripada Nusantara? Bukan itu sahaja, hujah-hujah yang mereka lemparkan sangat kemas, aku sangat menghormati hujah-hujah itu walaupun ada kalanya aku tidak bersetuju dengan apa yang mereka sampaikan. Pendek kata, mereka ada kolam ilmu yang luas lagi dalam, terpulanglah kepada kita untuk memancing dengan kail sepanjang mana dengan umpan jenis apa.

Mungkin banyak lagi yang aku perlu pelajari daripada mereka... Dalam pada masa yang sama, mungkin aku boleh menjadi duta kecil kepada apa-apa yang aku wakili!