Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Selangor’s shocking disrespect for freedom of worship and religion


 Selangor’s shocking disrespect for freedom of worship and religion

It is most shocking that the Pakatan Harapan Selangor government has implemented extremely restrictive guidelines for non-Muslim places of worship.

Has Pakatan not been screaming for and championing religious freedom of worship and practice since the 12th General Election (GE12) in 2008?

“The state executive councillor responsible for the implementation, Teng Chang Khim, has immediately taken responsibility for the unacceptable guidelines and also offered to resign if his mistake was that serious,” Gerakan Deputy Speaker Syed Abdul Razak Alsagoff said.

“It is politically very brave of Teng to own up to his mistake. Let’s wait and see if he has the support of the state executive council to make amends to the guidelines.

“If he fails to do so, then there is immediate doubt that it was a genuine mistake. It could have been engineered by Little Napoleans or top state government officials,” he added.


Syed Razak, who is Gerakan’s nominee to contest N.37 Bukit Lanjan in the coming GE14, said: “This so called ‘gaffe’ should be a grave lesson not only to Teng but to all politicians, especially those holding high office.

“In this case, Teng is a trained lawyer. How could he not have double checked a document before inking it?

“Yes, to err is human. But it is no excuse for sloppiness and irresponsibility. I do wish Teng well to make amends for his genuine mistake,” he added.

Here’s what a Free Malaysia Today (FMT) news portal reader has written on the issue and Teng’s explanation for the gaffe:

"Restrictive guidelines for non-Muslim places of worship ridiculous

April 11, 2017

I wonder why the authorities continue to treat Muslims like fragile dandelions whose faith will crumble with one puff of breath, when the majority of Muslims are intelligent.

COMMENT

By Carol Ng

I’ve travelled to various parts of the world and wherever there are impressive places of worship, I try to make it a point to visit them.

For example, in November 2014, I visited the stunningly magnificent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the largest mosque in the UAE.

More recently I got the chance to visit the Chengho mosque located in Palembang, Indonesia, which is much smaller but interesting because it is a mosque designed to look like a Chinese temple.

In August 2012, I visited Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world, as well as various massive temples in Cambodia, while in September 2016, I got the chance to explore the Buddhist temple, Borobudur, as well as the Hindu temple compound of Prambanan in Indonesia.

In January 2016, I took a trip to Cebu and Bohol Island in the predominantly Catholic Philippines. I visited as many historical Catholic churches as I had time for, including the Basilica del Sanyo Nino, Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, and my personal favorite, Santo Niño de Anda Parish Church.

I took many photos and marvelled at the intricate architecture of all the sites I visited as I tried to imagine the amount of time and effort put into creating these sites and monuments of worship.

My travels to various countries and worship sites has increased my appreciation for different cultures. However, I myself do not follow any religion.

I have a Christian background, having grown up Catholic, diverting then to a Baptist church, eventually deciding (for personal reasons) that religion was not for me, although I still am open to the existence of God. Hence I have been happily agnostic for at least 5 years now.

Recently, some interesting recommendations in the third Selangor Manual Guideline and Selangor State Planning Standard came to light. The recommendations include the following:
New non-Muslim places of worship must not be built within 50 metres of a home owned by a Muslim;
Planned non-Muslim places of worship in areas with a multi-racial community require the consent of residents within a 200-metre radius before it is built;
New non-Muslim places of worship cannot be built in commercial areas; and
New non-Muslim places of worship must be lower than the mosque nearest to it.

These restrictive guidelines on non-Muslim places of worship apparently managed to get into the approved manual (meant to be applied from Jan 1, 2017 onwards) due to an oversight by the Selangor State Executive Councillor Teng Chang Khim. He has since apologised for the oversight and pledged to review the manual.

I appreciate Teng’s admittance to the error and pledge to review the document, hence I do not see the need for him to voluntarily resign or even be pressured to do so.

There are far worse offences committed by politicians in this country, including corruption, for which the offenders should have resigned but have not done so.

Nevertheless, my contention is with whoever is the unknown person who came up with such recommendations in the first place. What is the justification for having such recommendations?

Since there is no ‘official’ justification, and probably never will be, allow me to break down the implied intentions of these recommendations and why such intentions are ridiculous and abhorrent.

1) New non-Muslim places of worship must not be built within 50 metres of a home owned by a Muslim.

Given past incidences such as outcries at a church putting up a cross on their building at a Muslim area, I suppose this is an effort to ‘protect’ Muslims from either the slightest twinge of desire for apostasy due to regular exposure to non-Muslim activities or the sight of non-Muslim religious symbols.

No doubt the few individuals who have participated in such outcries must have so weak a level of spirituality that the slightest form of exposure to other religions would sway their faith. This continued attempt to ‘protect’ Muslims from exposure to non-Muslim activities implies that the authorities have absolutely no trust in the level of Islamic education in Malaysia, that even after years of daily study, fellow Muslims can still be so easily swayed.

I believe the majority of Muslim Malays are more intelligent than that and I wonder why the authorities continue to treat them like fragile dandelions whose faith will crumble with one puff of breath.

If indeed the mere sight or sound of other religions is enough to make one want to convert, pray tell why is it the daily sounds of mosques all over the country have failed to sway me and other non-Muslims from converting to Islam?

Is the faith of non-Muslims, or even lack of spirituality of agnostics such as myself, stronger than the faith of Muslims?

2) Planned non-Muslim places of worship in areas with a multi-racial community requires the consent of residents within a 200-metre radius before it is built; and 3) New non-Muslim places of worship cannot be built in commercial areas.

If the intent is to reduce disruption to the lives of residents due to “noise” from the activities of such places of worship, as well as the traffic caused by worshippers in residential as well as commercial areas, then this would be a fair reason to impose this guideline… if they were being fairly implemented for all places of worship.

Which isn’t the case, as these rules do not apply to Muslim places of worship.

There is no logical reason why they shouldn’t, as it can’t be denied that congested parking on roads near mosques on Friday afternoons is common, while sounds, which some may interpret as noise, are a regular feature of all mosques and surau, every day, even in the wee hours of the morning.

Please do not misconstrue this. I am not complaining about the sounds. I fully respect the practice. I live in the heart of Shah Alam, where I regularly listen to the call to prayers from at least three different surrounding mosques without issue.

I am merely stating the fact that the Muslim call to prayer is much louder and more frequent that whatever sounds are produced from churches or temples.

Hence there is no reason why residents must give consent only for non-Muslim places of worship, which will in any case be fewer than Muslim places of worship, given that the Malays are in the majority.

What if a particular community is dominantly non-Muslim and yet their houses of worship are not approved because there is no consent from a few Muslims? How is this fair?

Allocation for houses of worship should instead be done fairly based on actual population demographics rather than flimsy human opinions.

3) New non-Muslim places of worship must be lower than the mosque nearest to it.

This one really amazes me. How does the height of a place of worship in comparison with another have any effect whatsoever on anyone’s ability to worship or their level of spirituality?

I have no issue with the construction of huge mosques. As I mentioned at the start, I greatly admire the architecture and work that goes into huge mosques such as Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

But while it is fine that such grandeur comes from the desire to honour the God you worship, this does not give anyone the right to simultaneously belittle or undermine the Gods or spiritual beliefs of others. This is exactly the implied message behind this ridiculous and insulting recommendation.

After almost 60 years of independence as a multicultural country, it is a big shame that there are people who are not only unable to encourage or appreciate the rich architecture of other cultures or religions, but can even resort to creating rules that undermine them.

As a non-religious person, the size and number of places of worship is of no benefit to me.

So why do I speak out?

I speak out because such rules are not only discriminatory, but they infringe on a basic human right, which is freedom of religion and the right to have adequate access to places of worship.

I speak out because I empathise with fellow Malaysians who are subjected to such rules although, if Malaysia aims for developed status, minority religions should be offered more protection, not less.

Such understanding of basic human rights and empathy should supposedly come naturally to followers of religions, as it is commonly purported that all religions teach their followers to be good.

Hence to the person or people who came up with these recommendations, please be ashamed of yourselves that it takes a supposedly less moral non-religious person to explain human rights and empathy to you.

Carol Ng is an FMT reader.

Selangor exco: Changes will be made to house of worship guidelines

FMT Reporters

| April 10, 2017

He says the changes were supposed to be made by his officer but were not done, leading to some confusion.


PETALING JAYA: Selangor exco member Teng Chang Khim says certain sections of the Selangor Manual Guidelines and Selangor Planning Standard regarding the building of non-Muslim houses of worship need to be changed or deleted.

He told Sin Chew Daily today that his officer was supposed to make the changes but had failed to do so.

The third edition of the guidelines was issued on Jan 1 and was supposed to make the instructions in the earlier second edition clearer.

Teng said he would be meeting groups representing non-Muslim houses of worship every month and all problems arising from these new guidelines would be sorted out.

Teng said among the “controversial” guidelines include the requirement for these houses of worship not to be present in commercial areas or be at least 50 metres from the nearest Muslim home.

Those situated in residential areas occupied by all races must obtain the permission of residents within 200 metres of the house of worship. The structure must also not be taller than the mosques nearby.

Selangor DAP: No need for Exco member Teng to quit

FMT Reporters

| April 10, 2017

Selangor DAP chief Tony Pua says nobody suffered or has been penalised by the new guidelines for new non-Muslim places of worship.


PETALING JAYA: Selangor DAP commended state exco member Teng Chang Khim for taking full responsibility for a gaffe revolving around non-Muslim places of worship and said there was no reason for him to step down.

Selangor DAP chief Tony Pua said the question of Teng resigning from the PKR-led government did not arise as the Sungai Pinang assemblyman “committed no crime”.

“He has neither stolen money from the state government coffers nor abused his powers to benefit vested interest parties like developers,” Pua said in a statement in a veiled jab at the Barisan Nasional.

Earlier today, Malaysiakini reported that Teng offered to resign as a state Exco member following the uproar against the state’s guidelines and planning standards restricting non-Muslim places of worship.

At a press conference, Teng revealed that he had detected the error and had instructed that amendments be made.

But he admitted he did not double check as he believed the changes had already been made.

“I admit the mistake and take full responsibility. If you think I made a mistake that warrants my resignation, I will resign, if it is so serious,” Teng was quoted by the portal as saying.

Pua went on to praise Teng for taking full responsibility for the “unintended error and omission”, despite the fact that the guidelines were approved by the Selangor State Planning Committee.

“To err is certainly human, but what is most important is the fact that immediate steps are being taken to ensure that these errors are corrected upon discovery.

“No one has yet suffered or been penalised by the guidelines for new non-Muslim places of worship.”

He said the Selangor DAP state committee met in an emergency meeting this afternoon to discuss the public concerns over the guidelines and planning restrictions over non-Muslim places of worship.

The state committee heard the explanation provided by Teng, who is Selangor DAP vice-chairman, that despite having requested state government officials to make the necessary changes, the changes were not incorporated into the final version of the guidelines.

The DAP committee unanimously agreed that the recommendation that non-Muslim places of worship should not be built within 50m of a home owned by Muslims, as well as several other guidelines are not appropriate for a multiracial, multi-religious society which encourages mutual respect and tolerance.

Such guidelines, Pua noted, were the status quo for other BN-led states like Johor and Negeri Sembilan.

The Petaling Jaya Utara MP also said that Selangor DAP supported Teng’s decision to seek the Exco’s approval on Wednesday for immediate suspension of implementation of the guidelines pending revision.

The Selangor DAP, he added, in the light of the gravity and sensitivity of the matter, would set up a special sub-committee to assist Teng and ensure that “no stones are left unturned” in the revision process.

The sub-committee will be led by Selangor DAP vice-chairperson Hannah Yeoh and four other members, Bukit Gasing assemblyman Rajiv Rishyakaran, Selangor DAP committee member Dr Abdul Aziz Bari, Damansara Utama MP Yeo Bee Yin and Kinrara assemblyman Ng Sze Han.

“Selangor DAP would like to reiterate that the constitutional provisions providing for Islam as the religion of the federation and guaranteeing the freedom of religion would be defended at all cost.

“We firmly believe that such provisions can only be achieved with tolerance, respect and acceptance of such freedoms by all Malaysians."

N.37 LET BUKIT LANJAN SOAR WITH SYED ABDUL RAZAK ALSAGOFF

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