No prayer

The Taman Budaya in Ipoh disallowed Bharatanatyam (Indian cultural dance) performers from conducting their pre-performance prayers on stage. The Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage department’s official line is that they wanted to respect the sensitivities of the non-Hindu audience.

I think it’s brilliant.

But it must be applied universally. All prayers must be disallowed at multicultural and public events. Which is only fair.

My mom, who makes temples her second home is welcome to have her poojas ( prayer sessions) at her private residence or the temple as much as she wants. Those who show up know what they are in for. However my mother has to mindful that the event does not become disruptive to her other neighbours who are unlikely to share her religiosity.

All this sounds sensible, however is it likely in Malaysia?

There will be blokes reverting to Article 3 as a basis of defending lengthy muslim prayer sessions in public schools. The students in the hall who are not-Muslim are likely to be increasingly uncomfortable as the prayer duration increases. What of it?

My mate’s wedding was a disaster. His wife’s preacher went on indefinitely on the grace his lord offers. Look, I don’t want to get into the polemics of faiths, that is a personal thing. I attended Catholic schools for long spells in primary and tertiary education. However abusing guests with dogma is just not on.

I suppose the answer must be in tolerance from all sides. But since common sense is not all too common, then some level of adjudication is necessary.

The debate in Malaysia is always going to be more complex since a substantial number of people are going to argue that Islam alone has access to public space.

Which is where the fear of PAS is accentuated in Malaysia, for non-Muslims.

This has eroded somewhat in the lead up to the Elections and since there is harmony between surprise, surprise PAS and DAP.

Is this related to PAS’ willingness to focus on Islamic principled governance rather than an Islamic state? Or was it just a common enemy, Umno that brought strange bedfellows together?

Which brings up back to a dance floor in Ipoh. The dancers are making their prayer in the backstage, and once ready leap into a stage with fire and zeal, and great entertainment.

I’m not sure if anyone told the department of Unity, Arts, Culture and Heritage that the whole bharatanatyam performance is the worship of their lord. Are we then saying prayer that is entertaining is okay?

There is a debate in semantics. And that is why there is always going to be some basis for your ardent Islamist, pious Christian, silent Buddhist and everyone else.

But what do you do when other people are involved? The permanent question for all multicultural societies, and since all countries are becoming multicultural for certain, it is a permanent question for all.

Perhaps the answer lies in choice. Not that prayers are conducted, but that people are given the choice to be present when prayers are done or not.

I did not have a choice when I was sitting in my school hall and a prayer was read and I had no choice when the preacher was praying at the reception. But most of us would be so ok with going to a foreign nation, visit their places of worship and even attend a service. Probably because we don’t compare them with our faith. Is that what it is about? Competition.

Anyway, while we wait for a resolution (unlikely) let’s create more choices.

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