August 22, 2013
Latest Update: August 23, 2013 04:25 am
I had a one-day stopover in Istanbul recently and took the opportunity to visit the famous Hagia Sophia at the Old City, a designated Unesco Heritage Site.
Although I have heard much about the basilica, which used to be a church and a cathedral for 900 years, then converted to a mosque for 500 years, and finally made a museum in 1934, nothing could have prepared me for the visual "shock".
On the inside of the impressive dome, are the words "Allah" and "Mohammad" in Arabic, and in between is an image of the Virgin Mary carrying baby Jesus.
My immediate reaction as a Malaysian Muslim was, isn't this Haram, with a big H? But here it was, the layers of its different religious history coexisting, revealed in all its glory.
At one wall, the mihrab or a niche on the wall showing the qiblat is off the building axis, as the church was originally built on an East-West axis before it was converted into a mosque by Sulan Mehmet II in 1453.
The direction of Mecca is more towards the South East and not straight East. And yet this magnificent cathedral/mosque was the house of worship for millions of Muslims of the Ottoman Empire for 500 years, praying towards the Kaabah in the off-qiblat mosque.
It made me think of the recent fracas over the surau in Johor. A few Buddhists meditating and praying in the surau for a few hours, demands the demolition of the place of worship because the surau has been "defiled." The Johor Islamic Religious Council (MAINJ) advisor Datuk Nooh Gadut had also said the surau should be demolished because it was not built exactly to kiblat.
If it follows that any surau or mosque must be demolished if someone from another religion meditated or prayed in it, or that it is off-kiblat, then the Hagia Sofia should be demolished. Wait, the Holy Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, the Baitul Muqadis, Muslims' holy site, where Jews, Christians and Muslims have worshipped in it for generations should also be demolished.
But that's not all, we all know our history, that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) invited the Christians of Najran to pray in his mosque in Medina before having a dialogue with them. Did he destroy his own mosque after the "defilement"? The Prophet (pbuh) was a Messenger of God and yet, the most humblest and compassionate of people.
Then, why are some Malaysian Muslims so arrogant and ignorant? It made me embarrassed for my ummah.
More recently, a church in Aberdeen, UK, the St John's Episcopal Church welcomed its Muslim neighbours to pray five times a day to Allah in the church as the mosque next door is too small. Its priest, Reverand Isaac Poobalan were moved to welcome Muslims to his church as he felt distressed by his neighbours praying out in the cold.
"Their hands and feet were bare and you could see their breath in the freezing cold.
"Jesus taught his disciples to love your neighbour as yourself and this is something I cannot just preach to my congregation, I had to put it into practice," he was quoted by the BBC. This is an example of someone who practise his religion well.
When the surau matter made headlines, the Malaysian Buddhist High Priest immediately made his apology on behalf of the Buddhists who had meditated in the surau.
As a Muslim, I would like to humbly apologise to all Buddhists for our ignorance and arrogance. It is terribly hurtful to say that the surau has to be demolished – for it implies that Buddhist prayers and meditation are so dirty and beyond contempt that the place of worship had to be destroyed.
Obviously, the Buddhists did not do it on purpose to insult Islam. They needed a place, and it was offered to them by the resort owner. They hurt no one. They meditated for peace of mind and their chanting, as told to me by a Buddhist friend, was spreading of compassion and mercy.
How do we get pass this travesty, this violence on harmonious relations as our 56th Merdeka Day dawns on us? It is like a stake in my heart.
I prayed for peace and calm in my heart, and I remember this Hadith. It soothes my heart reflecting on its deeper meaning.
Let the earth be your mosque. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: "The (whole) earth has been made a mosque (or a place of prayer) and a means of purification for me, so wherever a man of my ummah may be when the time for prayer comes, let him pray." (Sahih Bukhari, 335)
A Muslim can pray and has prayed in an off-kiblat mosque that was used by people of other faiths, he can pray under a tree, by the beach, in the house of her friend who is a Hindu, in a plane flying in the vast sky and on a sail boat, in a war zone, and even in a prison. For, praise Allah, the earth has been made a mosque.
This hadith also carries a deep ecological and humanistic meaning, that as you take loving care of your (place of prayer) your mosque, so must you take care of the earth.
Taking care of the earth means taking care of God's creation – the environment, all the creatures and humans in it. For me, it also includes taking care of the people of different faiths you live with, taking care not to hurt in the name of your religion, and taking care with compassion, mercy and reconciliation. - August 22, 2013.* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.