Like the rest of the Malaysian public, I am aware of your lack of regard for authority, social propriety and moral sobriety. I will therefore not be surprised if this open letter is retorted with blatant rudeness; perhaps the best thing you can do is to simply ignore it all together. But given the context in which we Malaysians are presently living, what you’ve done cannot be dismissed without a voice of dissent from a fellow Malaysian.
You may wonder why I, of all people, would choose to take the time to write this tedious response to the video you’ve posted of yourself chanting the Muslim Azan bare-bodied with the accompaniment of a keyboard. It may not have been your intention to disdain the idea of religious practice as a whole, but it is utterly offensive all the same because despite your mockery depicting a particular religion, the spirit of your practice constitutes a brutal assault against religion itself. Such mockery attacks, in a very personal way, not just our Muslim friends but also peoples of all religions in the world who have their unique ways of expressing their desire to reach for the Divine. Your mockery might as well be a depiction of the Catholic Latin chants or the Hindu chanting of the vedas, and either way, the fundamental principle of respect for the religious conscience of our fellow neighbours would have been severely violated. For this, your act makes me angry.
Further to that, if it was merely the Muslims in Malaysia you have sought to offend or despise, you are grossly mistaken in your reading of the Malaysian situation. I wish you had taken more time to analyse and understand what is going on in our country and sought to engage constructively rather than doing it in such an undignifed manner.
From a very young age, I’ve had deep respect for the vast majority of Muslims I’ve known. I’ve respected their love for God, their devotion to their families, and particularly, I’ve often admired the way Muslim children are taught to relate with their parents. In my personal life and faith today, I make it a point to practise what I have come to understand from my Muslim friends about the importance of reverence towards God and our elders, and also the vitality of community living. I believe that living among Muslims all these years has made me a much better Christian than I would otherwise have been.
I don’t think you meant to mock the kind of well-meaning Muslims I’ve just described. Perhaps you were reacting towards the politicisation of religion in Malaysia and meant to spite the select few who have misused religion for certain political agendas. In the first place, the way you have done it brings no good to the cause of many of us who have staked our lives in choosing to stay on in this country to participate in the rebuilding of the nation in a constructive and positive way. In the second place, your act has attacked not just the perpetrators of political religion but also the vast majority of Malaysians who are peacefully simply loving God or practising their religions in the best ways they know how.
Despite the many alleged prospects of a better life for us and for our next generation had we moved out of the country, many of us have chosen to stay because this is where we were born and this is where we want our children to grow up. We choose this, not because there are no perils confronting us in the country, but because we want to be committed to a hope for a better Malaysia. Because of this, we have chosen to engage in the most constructive possible ways and not cause further social and political damage to our fellow Malaysians only to seek asylum elsewhere while leaving everyone else back home to face the mess we’ve created. You have mocked everything that we stand for with our lives.
Freedom of expression is necessary indeed for a society to progress, as it allows for society to be imbued with a mechanism of self-critique and self-reflection. But there can also be such a thing as an irresponsible and immature freedom of expression that exploits this virtuous principle by bringing damage to truth, beauty and goodness that can be found in a civilisation. I respectfully but truthfully submit that you are guilty of the latter moral crime. For this, I feel sorry that you have chosen to showcase such a grossly disrespectful act against our Muslim friends.
In a personal capacity and as a Malaysian, I strongly renounce every such act that you have committed and may continue to commit. And I affirm my deep reverence for all well-meaning Malaysians who hold on fast to teachings that are true and holy in their religious beliefs and practices. And I pray that one day, you too will come to this awareness in your conscience that the last thing Malaysia needs right now is another source of division, and a very unnecessary one at that. Your video recording, which is more narcissistic than it is funny or entertaining, is a spite on all our efforts to build a better society for our children of all religions.
All this notwithstanding, I wish you a good life in America where your expression can be truly free. But ultimately, it is not the exercise of such privileges and rights that determines the quality of a man. The kind of people we are, or become, is determined by little choices we make every day to seek peace, love, and friendship with our neighbours even when there is no advantage to be gained for ourselves.
The Rev. Deacon Dr Sherman Kuek OFS
A Deacon of the Catholic Church in Malaysia
Note: This letter is written on my own accord and represents neither the Catholic Church nor any other institution affiliated with me.