From The Malaysian Insider
Partai Islam SeMalaysia or PAS often conveys a fundamentalist, hard-line image to non-Muslims. Getting behind the rhetoric, Insider's DEBRA CHONG shows there's a more engaging, even openly embracing, side to some PAS politicians.
"BETTER the devil you know than the angel you don't". Those familiar with this phrase by Ethiopian satirist Hama Tutu usually hear it advocated in the face of change, when those in power anticipate a revolt.
In Shah Alam, however, some 2,000 Christians have learnt that it's better to embrace the unknown entity than to put up with and suffer a known demon.
On March 27, Khalid Abdul Samad became the first elected Muslim Member of Parliament to step into the Roman Catholic Church of the Divine Mercy since it was completed in 2005. The congregation gave him a standing ovation.
Perhaps more stunning is that Khalid is from Parti Islam SeMalaysia and was the one to initiate contact. And he reassured the Christians in attendance that they could continue to use the word "Allah" in their worship without fear of persecution.
Previously, the federal government had banned Christians from using the word "Allah" in referring to God in their worship for fear that it would confuse the Muslim Malays and lead them astray from Islam. Bibles printed in the national language were also seized. This was reversed sometime last year, but the damage was already done.
Khalid said that in all Arabic speaking communities, "Allah" just means "God", therefore it is not "unique to Islam."
He had once attended church in the Middle East and heard a Christian priest preach in Arabic with no trouble .
"For us, the problem is we're not an Arabic-speaking country. Therefore some people question why non-Muslims have used this wordwhen it is not really necessary. People then make all sorts of speculations about ideology. But there's no reason for the word to bebanned from Christian worship. We're quite happy if people use it.
"It's not just my personal opinion but is consistent with the party's view. Basically it shouldnt be any problem. And I made it quiet clear to the people in church that nigh,"Khalid explained over the phone yesterday.
The parishioners were especially impressed that Khalid was the one who approached them. "It was his own initiative . He contacted our parish priest, Father Paulino Miranda, and he said he wanted to come and talk to us." Joseph Victor, Chairmasn of the church's parish pastoral council told The Malaysian Insider on behalf of Father Paulino who is away on sabattical till April 18.
"Thats a good sign. Everybody was very happy. This is the first time a PAS MP is coming to a catholic Church. It shows they are not against Catholic churches," he added.
It was the first time an MP for Shah Alam had unasked and unaided, actively engaged the non-Muslim community in public discourse in their own backyard, at least on this side of the peninsula. It spurred a parishioner, Tony Yew, to blog about the experience on his website (www.muststopthis.blogspot.com).
"What was evident from the points raised by those who could get their voices heard was crystal clear, abundance of local council issues and the fear of 'subtle religious'persecution.
"With no one to turn to, YB Khalid took all the questions one by one and stressed that the newly-formed coalition government of PKR-Pas-DAP (in no order) was one of consensus by nature," he wrote.
But Khalid was quick to disclaim credit for the unprecedented move. He said the discourse was made possible because of the mixed effort on both sides.
"Our people working in the (Shah Alam) area heard that the parish priest was campaigning for change in the elections and advocated the congregation to use their votes to bring about change," said Khalid.
He recounted that he wanted to speak to them, to thank them for giving the Oposition their mandate for change. "I tried my best to answer most of the questions. We talked about government policies, about discrimination – there shouldn't be any! – enforcement and implementation, which would require more detailed explanations, but I just talked about it in short."