Viewpoint: The Real Lesson From Jais-Damansara Utama Methodist Church Controversy

Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad is the state assemblyman for Seri Setia and Parti Keadilan Rakyat's Communications Director. This is his viewpoint with respect to the recent controversy over the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) raid on the Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC).

The controversy reminded me of a visit I made to a shelter for Muslim HIV patients in Subang Jaya a few years back.

One of the members of my PKR division was active in a mosque in that area. She introduced me to the shelter, which was being run by the local Muslim community.

Such institutions are important for, as we all know, the stigma against people living with HIV and AIDS is still rampant in our society and hence many of them have a tough time re-integrating with their families and communities upon leaving hospital.

The fact is some Muslim HIV and AIDS patients who are so ostracised are given a lifeline by the charitable works run by the Christian churches. This of course doesn’t reflect well on Malaysia’s Islamic religious authorities who are supposed to be looking out for the welfare of all Muslims with their hundreds of millions of ringgit of resources.

In Islam, it’s considered a very sad, pitiful thing for a Muslim to die cut off or isolated from his or her fellow believers. I’m sure this is the case with any other faith. So whenever churches engage in charitable work that involves Muslims, their kindness is viewed with suspicion.

Interestingly enough, the church involved in this episode was conscious of this fact, and so worked with the Muslims to repatriate any Muslim HIV patient they had back to the care of their community. Unfortunately, some of their friends and family refused to have anything to do with them, and so there was no other option but for them to remain under the care of the church.

From an Islamic perspective, the blame for a Muslim dying outside the faith community should rest not only on the individual but on his or her community who did not come to their aid during their hour of need as well. Muslims have duties that are obligatory for them individually (fardu ain) and duties that are obligatory for them collectively (fardu kifayyah). This is clearly the latter, where if no one in society takes up this duty the entire society is to be blamed.

Yes, these people may have intentionally cut themselves off from their kith and kin. Yes, some of them might have been involved in drugs or illicit sex (although it’s a conveniently ignored fact that many HIV infections in Malaysia are from partners, parents or through blood transfusions). But that does not mean that they deserve to not be treated with dignity, as human beings or to die outside Islam.

Islam’s emphasis is always on the mercy of God. Whatever someone’s past may be, his or her salvation ultimately lies in repentance and through God’s mercy and forgiveness.

By starting their own shelter, the group of Muslims from Subang Jaya fulfilled their fardu kifayyah and deserves credit for this.

When I visited the shelter to present a small donation to them, I was amazed at the good work they had done. They had converted a terrace house into a discreet shelter that can accommodate about 12-15 patients at one time. They were probably flouting planning laws as the shelter was in a residential area. Furthermore, running such a place isn’t cheap and they had to sustain their efforts through massive, constant fundraising efforts. But at least they were doing something.

During my visit, I realised that the shelter was teeming with other visitors. There were not only officers from the Prison Department and hospital (many of the shelter’s inmates are handed over from prisons and hospitals) but also the church leader mentioned above, who was transferring his Muslims charges to the shelter.

Compared to those who write sensational articles about conspiracies against Islam or complain about why Christians are engaged in charitable works among Muslims, these were exemplary Muslims who chose the path of action instead of just empty talk. 

I asked them if they had approached the religious authorities to get funding. They told me they had, but were informed that the religious authorities had their own plans instead and so did not receive a single sen. One wonders why this noble project was not given support from the get-go, especially since the “official” HIV shelter was still in the “planning stage”?

I therefore share the view that we should be questioning how the zakat money is being spent in Malaysia. In spite of the hundreds of millions of ringgit collected for zakat and similar levels of state government grants for Islam, many deserving Muslims are unable to get assistance due to outdated policies and bureaucratic inertia. With the huge resources at our disposal, this is simply wrong.

The zakat money can certainly be better managed. For instance, I was privately shocked at being given a souvenir after attending an event to present zakat to the poor! Although one must assume in good faith that the money for the gift wasn’t taken out of the zakat, it was still sending the wrong message. VIPs are given too many “souvenirs” that we don’t really need — it’s a nice gesture but at the end of the day the money could have been put to better use.

This reminds me of a story involving my great-grandfather, Haji Wan Musa Abdul Samad, who was the mufti of Kelantan from 1908 to 1916. When the Sultan and the authorities wanted to build a concrete version of Masjid Muhammadi (Kelantan’s state mosque) to replace the previous wooden structure, he resigned in protest as he believed that the zakat fitrah (which is paid by Muslims at the end of Ramadan) — which they wanted to use to fund the new mosque — must be only given to the poor and not used for development.

My point is that the Umno-owned newspapers are missing the point by trying to pin the blame on the Christians (for engaging in charitable works among Muslims) and poor Muslims (for being recipients of the charity). Malaysian Muslims should rather be asking why some of our fellow ummah are falling through the cracks despite the many resources at our disposal to help them.

Recently, a constituent of mine told me the story of the blind Jewish beggar. At the market, the beggar would curse Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. as a lunatic or a sorcerer. When the Prophet learned about this, he decided not to get angry but instead would visit the beggar every day to feed him without saying a word. The beggar would eat contentedly without realising that it was the same person he was cursing every day who was feeding him.

When the Prophet passed away, Caliph Abu Bakar as-Siddiq took over the responsibility. But when Abu Bakar first fed the beggar, the beggar became angry and shouted that this was not the same man who used to feed him all this while.

Abu Bakar immediately cried and revealed to the beggar that the person who has been feeding him all this while was the Prophet himself. The beggar could not believe it, remembering how cruel he was to the man who showed him only kindness.

Is our response reflective of the Prophet’s exemplary personality?

We should be concentrating on helping poor Muslims (and non-Muslims), rather than intimidating religious or ethnic minorities.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Catholic Lawyers Society Kuala Lumpur. CLS makes no representation concerning, and does not guarantee the source, originality, accuracy, completeness or reliability of any statement, information, data, finding, interpretation, advice, opinion, or view presented.

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