A Catholic’s Perspective On The Al Islam Issue — Gregory Chan

For too long, the sensitivities of Catholics have been brushed aside by misinformed Muslims acting on the excuse of ferreting out "murtad" cases.

In 2007, the Holy Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Silibin, Ipoh, was disrupted when a group of Muslims received a controversial SMS that we were "converting" Muslims en masse. This was proved to be unequivocally false.

The ceremony which was disrupted was one for first Holy Communicants, young children who are receiving the sacred host, something which the Catholics hold as sacred and sacrosanct, for the first time. At that time, the Muslims stayed outside and staged a protest, and caused a great deal of fear, tension, and anxiety among Catholics.

In 2009, Muslim journalists have come into our church, unannounced and disguised as Catholics. This time, they participated in the Holy Eucharist and even receive Holy Communion, which is reserved for Catholics alone, and have the audacity to spit out and then photograph the expelled communion for all and sundry to see. And they even published it in their magazine. What was their reason for acting in this manner? Again, to ferret out "murtad" cases.

Can we not see a progression in this? They have now entered our churches and participated in our ceremonies. The sensitivities of Catholics have been completely ignored. Indeed, the latest episode is but a blatant act of contempt towards our religion. What does this white communion wafer mean to us?

Joachim Francis Xavier and Sudhagaran Stanley, the two people who have lodged a police report on this matter, subsequently had this to say:

"The 'communion' is held with great reverence and cannot in any way be mishandled or [treated] with a lack of respect. Even Catholics are not allowed to take home the 'communion' but are instructed to consume it immediately during the service. Catholics go through an elaborate process of preparing themselves to receive this 'communion' worthily and those who have not done so are advised to refrain from receiving it."

Xavier and Stanley, in a press statement, said they were "outraged that these Muslim men consumed it [the communion] only to spit it out later, have it photographed, and have its image published".The two Catholics said it was "total disrespect" for what Catholics regard as sacred.

This time it has gone beyond total disrespect. Section 298A of the Penal Code makes it a criminal offence to cause disharmony, or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will, or prejudicing, etc the maintenance of harmony or unity on grounds of religion. The fact that the journalists of Al Islam believed that they were ferreting out cases of conversions/apostasy/murtad does not afford them a defence.

Section 298A (7) provides that it shall NOT be a defence to any charge under this section to assert that what the offender is charged with doing was done in any honest belief in, or in any honest interpretation of, any precept, tenet or teaching of any religion.

Such conduct and behaviour is intolerable, inexcusable, unjustifiable, outrageous and, above all, criminal. In such circumstances, justice has to be allowed to take its course, and due process of the law must take place. I want these journalists to know and understand that there are consequences to their actions.

I want these people who think they are at liberty to desecrate our rituals, our sacred liturgy, and our most Holy Eucharist on the pretext of ferreting out "murtad cases" to understand that such misguided and unfounded belief does not afford them a defence. Such belief does not give them the licence to commit what Catholics regard as sacrilege, to desecrate what we hold as holy, sacred, reverent and sacrosanct.

Over and above the journalists, I question the judgment of the editor of Al Islam who had allowed this article to be published, completely brushing aside the sensitivities of Catholics. I call on the minister to exercise his powers under section 7(1) of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 to prohibit the publication of Al Islam as being likely to be contrary to any law, i.e. section 298A of the Penal Code, or is otherwise prejudicial to or is likely to be prejudicial to public interest or national interest.

The same must also be said for the printer of the magazine who may have committed an offence under section 4(1)(b) of the same Act by printing a document which is likely to promote feelings of ill-will, hostility, enmity, hatred, disharmony and disunity.

Gregory Chan is a Roman Catholic seminarian.

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