Last updated Monday, November 24, 2014 10:40pm

AUG 11 — As an ordinary Malaysian Christian, specifically a Catholic, I want to place on record that I am deeply INSULTED.

I just watched the programme “Pope from the end of the world” on the Astro History channel. It is a biography (and nothing else) of Pope Francis. Perhaps it was featured before, but it was the first time I watched it.

Before the programme was aired, the following appeared on the screen: “THIS PROGRAM PORTRAYS DEPICTION OF RELIGIOUS FIGURES AND REPRESENTS VIEWS OTHER THAN MUSLIMS’. VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.”

The disclaimer — if it can be called that — was shown FOUR TIMES throughout the programme.

I feel insulted because the statement shows a deep insensitivity, as if a programme about the life of the head of my Church is something on par with pornography or material of dubious ethical and moral value. 

There is no such cautionary statement before the repeated showing of programmes such as the Victoria’s Secret Lingerie collection, or for that matter Miss Universe or Miss World (and there is a fatwa against beauty pageants in Malaysia!), to advise Muslims that “views” other than their own are being aired, and “discretion” is advised. 

The statement advising Muslims about exposing them to views other than their own and that viewer discretion is advised intimates therefore that aspects of the programme COULD BE OFFENSIVE to Muslims’ point of view. 

Since when is Pope Francis, who on August 7, 2013 offered Eid greetings to Muslims, offensive to Muslims? 

I would like to point out that it was the first time a Pope himself was greeting Muslims for Eid or Hari Raya Aidulfitr, because in the past, the greetings from the Vatican came from the Pontifical Institute for Inter-religious Dialogue. 

Pope Francis’ statement  included: “I wish to emphasise the importance of dialogue and co-operation”; “I reiterate my hope that Christians and Muslims may be true promoters of mutual respect and friendship in particular through education” and concluded with, “I send you prayerful good wishes that your lives may glorify the Almighty and give joy to those around you. Happy feast to all.”

Just how threatening or offensive to Muslims’ views could a BIOGRAPHY of such a Pope’s short tenure be? 

Apart from what I have quoted above, early into his papacy before Easter this year, Pope Francis performed the ritual of washing the feet of human beings — a replication of what Jesus Christ did, and which is a symbolic ritual of profound humility by the clerics in the Catholic Church. This Pope chose to go and wash and kiss the feet of men and women in a juvenile detention centre, INCLUDING WASHING AND KISSING THE FEET OF AT LEAST ONE MUSLIM.

Frankly, there is much an ordinary person — Muslim or otherwise — could learn from such a human being, just as I am willing to learn from the Dalai Lama, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and others. 

Pope Francis espouses and LIVES humility. The programme showed many examples of it from the early hours of his papacy when he appeared without the expensive accoutrements of his office. The programme showed Pope Francis BEFORE the traditional blessing of the ecstatic crowd below his balcony, bowing before them and ASKING FIRST FOR THEIR BLESSING INSTEAD. This was one of his first actions as the new head of millions of Catholics around the world.

Do know also that the programme voice-over pointed out that “as a Jesuit, the Cardinals chose the best person for the terrible crises the Catholic Church is experiencing”. So no, the programme wasn’t promoting conversion to Christianity, it was an objective evaluation of the “status quo.” 

He has lived up to this prediction. Pope Francis, with courage, has commissioned the equivalent of the IPCMC: experts from all over the world who are not clerics, to advise him about reforming the Vatican administration (the Curia) and the Vatican bank. So I reiterate: there is much in the biography of such a leader from which we in Malaysia could learn!

When I started writing this, I was very angry and insulted. But I am concluding in tears. 

As I have for many years, this Ramadan, I fasted for some days in empathy with my Muslim brothers and sisters (not just the worthy one-day Fast for Malaysia). I greeted my Muslim “family” in Malaysia and around the world (we are, after all, from the lineage of Abraham and almost all scholars agree that Muslims, Jews and Christians are from the Abrahamic line...) for Hari Raya, for Eid.

Do I blame Astro for insulting me? Not really. They were most INSENSITIVE to me as a non-Muslim. But a deeper analysis would lay the blame squarely on those with power and authority over our lives in Malaysia, especially over religiosity. 

What Astro did was reflective of the way we Malaysians are forced to live in this country: accusations — founded and unfounded — of “insulting Islam” (and no other religion, despite threats and ensuing justification about burning my sacred text, the Bible, for example), of being rendered with lesser rights by Islamic law enactments because we are non-Muslims and, most of all, by the way Islam is appropriated and wielded in the most negative way for political expedience or quick, cheap self-glorification for political gain.  

It is certainly not what a great world religion like Islam is about, it is certainly not how Pope Francis spoke about Islam in that programme that Muslims’ had to be advised about “viewing with discretion.” 

As an ordinary Malaysian, I am not just insulted about the insensitivity with which a programme close to my religion was aired. It made me think about everything else I experience as a non-Muslim Malaysian. It even made me think about the insults and hurts that some of my Muslim brothers and sisters ALSO experience from fellow Muslims, not just from non-Muslims. 

This Malaysian is not only insulted but also deeply hurt. For so many of US ORDINARY MALAYSIANS.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malay Mail Online.

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