One day, an Arab and his camel were crossing the desert. Night came and the temperature became colder. The Arab put up his tent and tied the camel to it, then went to sleep. The temperature became slightly colder and the camel asked the Arab if he could just put his nose in the tent to warm up. The Arab agreed, but just his nose, because the tent was small and there was no room for two.
Christianity or rather Roman Catholicism came to the Malay Peninsula with the invasion of the Muslim Sultanate of Malacca by Catholic Portugal in 1511. In the late 1400s the Christian kingdoms of Spain, Portugal, Britain, France, the Netherlands were stretching their sea-legs across the Atlantic to the Americas, Africa, India, China and Japan and Southeast Asia sniffing around and searching for spice and trade and souls to convert. Portugal became the foremost maritime power especially after Vasco da Gama’s success in crossing the Cape of Good Hope with … shhhh … the help of Muslim navigators who were familiar with the Indian Ocean and the east coast of Africa.
The Catholics, unlike the Protestants of later times made no bones about their agenda of ‘saving’ the souls of the pagans by converting them to Catholicism. In fact St Francis Xavier – a co-founder of the powerful and influential Jesuits, heard of the Malay Archipelago …
… after the conquest of 1511 and decided to evangelize and harvest more souls from among the Malays in this region.
If not for the imperial ambition of the Protestant Dutch, who, with the aid of Johor defeated the Portuguese in 1641, the Peninsula could have been another Catholic success story like Goa and the Philippines. Who knows? We could have been re-named Albuquerqia or San Francisca or DaGamaland???
So, the camel’s nose became warm and after a while the temperature went down even further. The camel asked the Arab again if he could just put his forelegs in the tent because they were very cold. The Arab reluctantly agreed – that the camel could only put his forelegs in and no more.
And so it came to pass: the entry of the camel’s forelegs was not unlike the Western-Christian foot at the Muslim-Malays’ door. The Malay Archipelago became a huge prosperous playground for the Imperialists, both Catholics and Protestants. “He who dares, wins” so to speak.(This is the motto of the British SAS as well as Del Boy’s – the cockney wideboy in my favourite comedy “Fools and Horses”).
So the camel moved in his forelegs. They soon became warm. After some time, the camel told the Arab that he had to put in his hind-legs or else he wouldn’t be able to make the journey the next morning because his legs would be frozen.
So, the encroachment of the the ‘hind-legs’ of the Christian West followed soon after. And the imperial scenario expanded far, far beyond the agenda of the Catholic Spanish and Portuguese.
The Arab agreed. But once the camel moved his hind-legs in, there was no more room in the tent for the Arab and the Arab was kicked out.
The moral of the story? With the permitting of what seems like reasonable, innocuous acts, the door is flung wide open for larger, undesirable demands.
The intrusion of the camel’s hind-legs into the Arab’s tent is not much different from the insistence of Christians in Malaysia to requisition the word Allah. This could only lead to dissension and fractures in the fragile political structure. Malaysia is not a homogeneous society. It is made up of too many divisive elements created by the politics and machinations of the Imperial Christian West. The tent is too small. The “Arab” made the mistake of succumbing to the camel’s threats of being “unable to make tomorrow’s journey.” Malaysia must not and cannot comply like the Arab in the fable.
As it stands, since 1786, the camel from the West has got its nose, forelegs and hind-legs firmly entrenched in the Malay Peninsula’s tent.
It was not enough that Christians thrived and prospered in a Malay-Muslim domain. Under the umbrella of the Christian Imperial Rulers, they had their way mapped out for them. They could spread their gospel, build their churches and Cathedrals and graveyards where they wanted. Their Christian schools were generously endowed by the Colonial authorities. Although they were in the minority, their festivals like Easter and Christmas were given equal billing with those of the majority Muslims. Even Sunday, their Sabbath day, was gazetted as a the day off for each week so that they could attend Mass and Services at their Church. As for the Muslims – especially in the Federated Malay States and Penang – well, they just had to sort out and make their own space and time for their ‘Sabbath Day’, for Friday Prayers! That, of course, is also the routine here for Muslims in Britain. But then they are not the Bumis of Britain. Britain has a Christian culture and Muslims do not make the majority of the population. So Muslims in Britain had to go with the flow of British ways and purpose. They do not, they cannot, challenge and claim the same privileges that the non-Muslims enjoy in Malaysia.
The adamant campaign for the appropriation of the Arab word for God is a very clever and subversive device to turn Christianity and Christians in Malaysia into victims. This is but a part of the grand design to spread the gospel ever more widely – and paint the Malay-Muslims into a corner at the same time.
During the era of Western Imperialism, Christian missionaries in Asia and Southeast Asia were almost always white men and women. In those early days the white man carried an aura of semi-divinity, power and respect in the eyes of the natives – the Tuan and Mem. Today, the tactics and strategy are changing. Take this innocent little report from our Leicester Mercury in 1989 (right).
Non-white recruits are now the “blue-eyed” messengers of the Gospel. They have the ability to merge easily into the catchment area of the evangelists and unlike White missionaries they do not stand out like sore thumbs and their presence, whether overt or covert, don’t set the alarm bells ringing.
In 1986 we came across this little gem in a Christian paper “Challenge Weekly” in Wellington, New Zealand.
Mr Steve Oh, an evangelist and director of Asia World Mission was keen to encourage New Zealanders to spread the Christian message because “it is possible under Malaysian law to evangelise, but it must be done sensitively”. Somehow I reckon their interpretation of ‘sensitive’ is more akin to surreptitious.
The ‘sensitivity’ referred to by Mr Steve Oh is not about respecting the Muslims and Islam. It’s about selecting the right tactic – “I would strongly caution against cold turkey, cold contact street evangelism in Malaysia”.
I find it quite amusing that non-Malays in Malaysia who are not too keen on using Bahasa Malaysia in education and day-to-day communication are not averse to utilising it for their Christian tracts, pamphlets and the Bible itself. One can see why. There is Indonesia, a huge Malay-speaking world that is ready for the picking.
When the Catholics in Malaysia spearheaded the crusade for commandeering the Arab word Allah for their own, I cannot help but reflect how Mr Steve Oh’s 1986 statement about evangelising in Malaysia was in fact quite prophetic. He cautioned evangelical groups to ‘pay more attention to contextualising their evangelism’.
Indeed, in an arena such as Southeast Asia, you can’t find a better context than to appropriate the word “Allah” – which is at the very heart of the terminology of Islam and the Koran – with which to dress up Christian evangelizing. And the evangelists know this very well.
Christian missionaries in the past have been very imaginative and creative in persuading and ‘saving’ pagans and non-believers for their cause. Here’s a fascinating example of how they turn the language of their target community to fit into their crusade (above).
note: The text of the fable was taken from the video by itsaperfectstory. Thank you.
Finally a little proverb. A SOW MAY WHISTLE, THOUGH IT HAS AN ILL MOUTH FOR IT.
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