There are times when being Malaysian, Chinese, and Christian really sucks. This is one of those times. This past week, a Malay rights advocacy group made a public statement that the Chinese were brought into Malaysia by the British colonial rulers to rob Malays of their rightful place in the country, and that this was a mistake that must be rectified.
Islamist group Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) has claimed that Chinese migrants brought in by the British to Tanah Melayu were “trespassers” and this wrong had to be corrected.
Its president, Ustaz Abdullah Zaik Abd Rahman, said the Chinese who came to Malaya were “trespassers” and questioned the citizenship and wealth given to them but did not specify how it proposed to correct this purported wrong.
“Who gave them citizenship and wealth until the results of their trespassing are protected until this day?
“This was all the doing of the British, who were in cohorts [sic] with the Chinese to oppress and bully the Malays,” he said in a statement today, as reported on the group’s website. (Looi Sue-Chern, “Chinese brought to Tanah Melayu are ‘trespassers’, says Muslim group,” The Malaysian Insider, 9, May 2014)
Every country has its fringe groups. But it was the inaction of the government authorities against these seditious comments that was more alarming. In the meantime an opposition lawmaker, a Chinese, has been charged with sedition because she produced a video that was an attempt at political satire. At best, she was guilty of bad taste. The contrast is glaring.
And then there was a forum held in a public university that was an exercise in attacking the Christian faith. Religious groups have a right to their own convictions but this was a public institution, funded by taxpayer’s money. It would have been quite different if the event had been a genuine dialogue, with representatives from various religions allowed to present their positions. This has been done before and done well at other Malaysian educational institutions. But this latest so-called forum was no exercise in academic reflection. It was an out-and-out attack by some Muslim groups against the Christian faith.
Copies of a book published by the Selangor Islamic Council (Mais) on the threat of Christianisation and alleged evangelism among Muslims in Malaysia were distributed to more than 1,000 students who attended a seminar on the use of the word Allah and Christology at Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) yesterday.
The book “Pendedahan Agenda Kristian” (Exposing the Christian agenda) was handed out to the students along with another book, “Obligation to preserve the sanctity of the name Allah”, which is also published by Mais.
“Pendedahan Agenda Kristian”, a 120-page book, has five chapters which talk about what the Quran says about Christians, the laws about proselytisation among Muslims as well as Christian evangelism. It warns Muslims to watch out for “tricks” by Christians to sway Muslims from their faith. (Elizabeth Zachariah, “Books warning Muslims about ‘Christian agenda’ distributed at Allah forum in university,” The Malaysian Insider, 9th May, 2014)
My response to these attacks on my race and faith? Mixed. Initially, as you would expect, anger and frustration. Then came a sense of profound sadness. Malaysia has been independent for more than 50 years and this is where we are as a country? Surely those in power all this time must take some blame for their failure to integrate the various races that make up Malaysia. But my primary feeling was same old, same old. Race and religion as weapons for political gain have been around for a long long time. We shouldn’t be surprised.
I heard a sermon on Daniel 6 recently. I was reminded that Daniel was an unwilling immigrant to Babylon, member of a conquered race forced to serve the civil service of the Babylonian empire. Daniel Chapters 1–5 chronicle both Daniel’s faithfulness to God and his faithful contribution to his new country. Then there was a change in administration. In those days regime change was effected by conquest. The Medo-Persian Empire conquered the Babylonians. Daniel continued to serve the country faithfully under this new regime. His contribution to the nation was noted and he was promoted. And this, of course, made people jealous, and his enemies looked for ways to destroy him.
It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, with three chief ministers over them, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss. Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the chief ministers and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. At this, the chief ministers and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, ‘We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.’ (Daniel 6:1–5 NIV)
Darius was not a bad ruler, but insecure and unwise enough to be tricked into laying down a bad law, a law that would be used to take down Daniel. (Know any other well-meaning leaders who are insecure and unwise?)
So these chief ministers and satraps went as a group to the king and said: ‘May King Darius live forever! The royal ministers, prefects, satraps, advisors and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. Now, Your Majesty, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered — in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.’ So King Darius put the decree in writing. (Daniel 6:6–9 NIV)
Although Daniel knew the plot against him, nothing would stop him from communing with His God. When push came to shove, he obeyed God rather than men. He continued to pray three times a day (Psalm 55:17). And his enemies sprang their trap. They came to the king and:
Then they said to the king, ‘Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, Your Majesty, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.’ (Daniel 6:13 NIV)
Daniel, who had spent his entire adult life faithfully serving the nation, indeed blessing the nation, is now called “an exile from Judah,” a pendatang.
“Pendatang asing” or “orang pendatang” is a common Malay phrase used to refer to foreigners or immigrants; “pendatang asing” literally means “foreign comer” or “foreign immigrant”. Although most frequently used to refer to foreign immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, pendatang asing has been used by some politicians in Malaysia as pejorative way of addressing non-Bumiputera Malaysians. (Wikipedia)
And of course Daniel was of the wrong religion. Same old, same old. If you cannot defeat your political opponents by honourable ways, use race and religion. Usually works.
How are followers of Jesus to respond to attacks using race and religion? Some thoughts from the book of Daniel come to mind.
1. Know that evil will fall in the end. No matter how powerful evil forces may appear to be, they all have clay feet and will fall in the end. Remember Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a large statue in Daniel Ch. 2? It must have been imposing, but it fell in the end. The challenge of course is to await God’s timing.
2. Remember that, ultimately, we are citizens of another kingdom, an eternal kingdom, a perfect kingdom, with a King who will never fail us. (Daniel 2:44) Whatever our frustrations with the “kings” of the day, we know our ultimate home lies elsewhere. Indeed each day we live brings us one day closer to that kingdom.
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20–21 NIV)
3. In the meantime, like Daniel, we continue to be a blessing to the country where God has put us. The certainty of our ultimate citizenship should inspire us to be a blessing to our nation where we can. Jeremiah was given a similar mandate:
‘. . . seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’ (Jeremiah 29:7 NIV)
This will include speaking up for those who can’t speak up for themselves, working for the implementation of the Kingdom values of compassion and justice in all spheres of society, caring for the least in the nation, and being good stewards of creation. As New Testament Christians we are also called to bless our enemies. And we must share the good news of Jesus Christ to all who are willing to listen, witnessing to the coming kingdom through word and deed.
Will we succeed in our desire to bless our nation? God knows. But like Daniel, we do the right thing because it is the right thing, not as a result of some pragmatic ROI (return on investment) analysis.
4. And we must pray. Like Daniel, nothing must deflect us from prayer, including the seduction of activism. Although there are times when prayers don’t seem to change anything, we, like Daniel must know that God hears our prayer but will respond in His time and in His way.
Then he continued, ‘Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. (Daniel 10:12 NIV)
We live in difficult times, not just for Malaysian followers of Jesus but also for all Malaysians. The Lord has a word for us:
‘Do not be afraid, you who are highly esteemed,’ he said. ‘Peace! Be strong now; be strong.’ (Daniel 10:19 NIV)