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‘Gusti ora sare’

Published in Malay Mail Online

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was the front-runner and set to be re-elected as Jakarta governor this year, before a blasphemy scandal cut his campaign, and ultimately his career, short.

The no-nonsense Chinese-Christian politician popularly called Ahok was charged with inciting religious and ethnic hatred in November last year, merely months before the gubernatorial election. Two mega rallies against him were mobilised by hardline Muslims.

By April, Ahok was trounced in the second round of the election by Muslim challenger Anies Baswedan. Just a day after his loss, prosecutors recommended only probation as punishment but he was still sentenced to a two-year jail term earlier this month.

With his life in shambles as the result of a blasphemy accusation, it must have been agonising for Ahok to finally withdraw his appeal this week. His wife, Veronica Tan, was in tears as she publicly read a letter hand written by Ahok from behind bars.

For his supporters, near and far, it was baffling for Ahok to throw in the towel so quick. But the letter betrays Ahok’s thoughts, to show he never took the decision lightly.

“Jakartans would otherwise suffer great losses, in the form of traffic congestion and economic losses resulting from the rallies,” said Ahok.

“It is inappropriate to rally and demonstrate during what I go through. I worry that there will be many parties that will manipulate the rallygoers, what more clashing with those who are against us.”

Remember the three men from Turkey

Published in Malay Mail Online

It was nearly 10pm in windy Queenstown, and my wife and I were looking for some late-night nosh.

Being New Zealand, most shops were long closed by then except for some pubs… and one kebab shop along Mall Street.

The moment we went in, I straight away gave thanks to the owner for being the saviour of my tummy. As he grilled a fat roll of doner kebab, I noticed his TV was showing a Turkish news channel.

I immediately blurted: “What do you think of the Turkish referendum?”

Sensing my wife’s embarrassment at such a heavy question at such a time to a stranger I just met, I added for good measure: “I’m a journalist.” As if that made the question less awkward.

“I voted ‘yes’,” the kebab man answered.

Why? I asked. “Because ‘no’ is for other people. The outsiders, the West, the Americans. We’re Turkish and we fully support Erdogan,” he said confidently.

He grinned at me, and I felt slightly sheepish that I was that outsider who would disagree with him.

Not wishing to debate Islamist politics with this pleasant man who delivered me my scrumptious salvation, we chatted instead about Malaysia before I left the shop giddily with two rolls of kebab. His name was Mustafa.

When tolerance is not the solution

Published in Malay Mail Online

Last weekend was the groundbreaking ceremony of the Dhammaduta Malaysia Buddhist Centre in Putrajaya, the federal territory’s first Buddhist house of worship.

It will serve the roughly 2,000 Buddhists who live here.

The complex is only the second non-Muslim house of worship in Putrajaya, after the Devi Sri Lalithaambigai Alayam—a Hindu temple complex that is still under construction after almost a decade of consultation.

But if you live in Putrajaya, you will hardly notice the existence of these two sites.

In fact, some of the Malay-Muslim majority here believe that the federal territory is an exclusively “Muslim” area.

Notes from Aotearoa

Published in Malay Mail Online

Just last week, glamour model Jaylene Cook posed naked while only wearing a hat, gloves and boots after climbing the 2,308-metre Mount Taranaki in New Zealand’s north island.

View this post on Instagram

WE DID IT!! This was BY FAR the hardest thing I have ever done! Both mentally and physically. 2 minutes out of the car park I was already hurting, sweating and ready to turn back 😂 But it's amazing what you can accomplish with the encouragement and support of your partner! I could not have done this without you babe @thejoshshaw! • 🏔 Mount Taranaki Summit 🔭 9000ft ❄️ -11'C/35km winds 🏃🏻‍♀️ 12.6km (1.6km elevation) ⏰ 2am – 6.30pm (12hr hike time) • This climb has forever changed me. I proved just how far I could push myself and I am truely proud of my accomplishment. This mountain was steep, rugged, ever changing and just pure brutal! Safe to say, I will never do it again 😅

A post shared by @ jaylenecook_ on

She reportedly told Daily Mail Australia that she did it on impulse, to “feel the cold air and embrace it a bit.” Considering the photo was hardly candid and subsequently was liked by over 24,000 people on Instagram (where else?), one could not help but think the act was nothing but a publicity stunt.

But here is the problem. Some among the locals, especially the native Maori, regard Mount Taranaki as sacred. While the summit is open to the public, some Maori would not even dare climb the mountain.

According to Maori mythology, Taranaki was once in the middle of the island, before he was petrified in the West after being wounded, following a fight for the affection of another coveted mountain.

In Malaysia, Islamic spiritual healing seeks scientific recognition

Published in Malay Mail Online

By Zurairi AR

KUALA LUMPUR, April 21 — In 2006, the Health Ministry started offering traditional and complementary medicine (T&CM) in public hospitals, ranging from traditional Malay massage, acupuncture, herbal therapy for cancer, to Ayurveda therapy.

While recognised in the National T&CM Policy, Islamic spiritual healing that mostly consists of reciting Islamic scriptures and supplications to heal illnesses, has yet to find mainstream acceptance.

Packaging the treatment as “Islamic psychospiritual therapy”, several psychiatrists and religious experts are now lobbying for its inclusion along modern medicine. But a big barrier remains ahead of them: empirical scientific evidence.

“Islamic psychospiritual therapy must prove itself capable to help in rehabilitating emotional disturbance, anxiety and depression,” said Datuk Prof Dr Azizan Baruddin, the director-general of the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (Ikim) yesterday.

“It must also prove itself capable in helping solve psychosis disorder, personality disorder, and problems involving the LGBT,” she added, referring to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

Mahershala Ali’s win shines a light on Ahmadis’ plight

Published in Malay Mail Online

Earlier this week, American actor Mahershala Ali bagged the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his critically-acclaimed role in 2016’s Moonlight.

Immediately he was celebrated across the world as “the first Muslim to win an Oscar.”

But not everybody saw it that way. As covered by several news outlets, there were scores of Muslims online who denounced the honour.

Their reason? Ali is a member of the Ahmadiyya community, a much maligned religious movement that mainstream Muslims count as infidels and apostates. Ali, to them, is not a real Muslim.

The most public of this response was by the Pakistani envoy to the United Nations, Maleeha Lodhi, who deleted her tweet moments after she wrote “That’s a first” celebrating Ali’s win.

Lodhi was perhaps only protecting her reputation. After all, despite having the largest population of Ahmadis in the world, Pakistan is perhaps their worst hell. In 1984, Pakistan implemented Ordinance XX, effectively barring Ahmadis from practising their faith.

The ordinance kicked off decades of persecution against Ahmadis, and forced the community to move its headquarters to London in exile.