Sacralizing Time and Space

Sacralizing time is to punctuate the linear historicity of Malaysia with claims of legitimacy for differences that matter to ethnic, cultural and religious minorities. It is a refusal to “[maintain] the fiction of unity,”37 as a gloss over of all that is not well in the state of Malaysia. It holds the state accountable that the work—in redressing inequalities and inequities—is not done but only made invisible by the “fiction” of “^Malaysia.” In making the claim for differences, these minorities de-stabilize the construction of a fictitious subject; “1Malaysia” where sameness or homogeneity is privileged over heterogeneity. It challenges the tyranny of homogeneity that essentializes the Malaysian subject as desiring peace (i.e., “racial” harmony) at all costs. The insistence on difference is the threat of heterogeneity or diversity that makes visible the constructedness of this fictitious subject. This linear historicity of doing peace and harmony for the sake of the nation’s progress is sustained not only by periodic calls for unity but also the threat of fragmentation. Within the virtual time-space of DiscipleSFX, this is “Catholic (universal)” praxis that envisions a heaven on earth for ethnic, cultural and religious minorities where the state is challenged to accord legitimacy to diversities to engender pluralisms.

Online postings on DiscipleSFX comprise discussion boards and alternative news reports (i.e., more critical and independent news groups that are not owned by mainstream political parties) such as Malaysiakini, Malaysian Insider, Nutgraph, etc. These exhaustive postings by the moderator Pat Lu redefines the adage I am “informa- tioned”38 therefore I am—that our net worth is directly proportionate to us being wellsprings of critical information. “Information, that is knowledge, will set us free”39—is in itself, a counterpoint to the repressive state classification of knowledge that matters as highly confidential and therefore inaccessible to the citizenry.40 The democratization of knowledge renders these postings insightful from the overwhelming mainstream media responses. Firstly, it eschews a blind allegiance to the “fiction of unity” that finds hollow expression in the sloganeering of “1Malaysia.” In “Protest demos: 1 Malaysia, 2 Standards,”41 a dramatization of the crisis is excerpted as follows:

What are you trying to say—“1Malaysia, 2Standards”? The answer to that is politics. Religion is, unfortunately, something as mixed up with politics as race. Political parties unabashedly use religion as a tool to win debates with UMNO (the dominant political party whose members exclusively comprise Malay-Muslims) often accused of trying to “out-Islam PAS” (Islamic Party of Malaysia of the Opposition Front that is deemed a Muslim fundamentalist political party in its insistence on an Islamic State and the implementation of Syariah Laws for all).

In a letter to the Prime Minister (whose brainchild is “1Malaysia”), Stephanie Sta Maria says,

1Malaysia [is] the joke at which everyone laughed... When it came to delivering on your “People First” promise (the first ethos of 1Malaysia), you chose who those people would be (upholding the special privileges of the ethnic and religious majority). When it came to “Performance Now,” you failed to see the sense of urgency (in stemming the Malay-Muslim agitation over the “Allah” controversy).

In another Malaysiakini news report posted on DiscipleSFX by A Rahman,

We talk so much about this “1Malaysia” and “People First” ... Looks like this is just more empty talk.

From the quotes above, it is apparent that there is a deep scepticism of the PM’s “1Malaysia” concept. These discerning voices, from various ethnic, cultural and religious affiliations, avoid conflating the signi- fier with the signified—unity and 1Malaysia, respectively. 1Malaysia is not paradigmatic of unity among a divided people. The citizenry is in fact, largely divided because of the exclusionary practices of the state in politicizing “race” with religion and the gutter politics between UMNO and PAS in their bid to “out-Islam” the other (for political mileage particularly at the onset of elections). “lMalaysia” is no more than a “joke” but an insidious one as it espouses that the prerequisite to peace that advances the nation’s progress and prosperity, is allegiance to the Social Contract that accords special privileges to the Bumiputera (the majority of whom are Malay-Muslims and a minority, indigenous peoples of Malaysia).42 The hollow rhetoric or “empty talk” of “IMalaysia” that is made visible potentially disrupts the linearity of time in the historicity of the nation that is manifest in the flattening out of differences that matter and the marginalizing of ethnic, cultural and religious minorities. These discerning and dissenting voices resonate with Agnes Brazal’s application of Fiorenza’s “ ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ that uncovers the asymmetrical relations and dynamics of power between the dominant and minority


groups. 43

Secondly, DiscipleSFX postings disavow the essentializing of “unified subjects” as “peace-loving” defined as blind acquiescence to the Social Contract.44 Hence, in one of the many related topics on the discussion board of DiscipleSFX, “Should Herald subdue or not?” there is at the outset, support for the Herald to not subdue or back down in its insistence of its right to use “Allah” in reference to God. “Allah” is used not only in its newsletter but also by East Malaysians who generally conduct masses in Bahasa Malaysia, the national language.45 According to Terence, one of the member discussants,

I don’t see the connection that Herald should subdue just like how Christ had subdued to the authorities that led to his death on the cross. Christ had a mission to fulfill... to be Saviour of the world. But here we are subduing to something ridiculous and not logical at all. By bowing down, it may also give an impression that the Catholic church is weak in its faith and not able to defend its own faith when oppressed... So I don’t agree [to] the issue of subduing... If not Christ himself wouldn’t have gone preaching around... if he had subdued and gave in to the “dissatisfaction” and “unhappiness” of the authority at that time.

Terence’s standpoint to not “[subdue] to something ridiculous and not logical at all” coheres with the Catholic Church’s refusal to “drop the use of the word ‘Allah’ ” in the national language section of the Herald. It does so as the Herald is intended for the instruction and education of Christians in Malaysia and not as a proselytizing tool with regard to Muslims (in adherence to state provisions governing faith). In essence, it is a refusal ofvictimhood and in Terence’s words, “By bowing down, it may also give an impression that the Catholic Church is weak in its faith and not able to defend its own faith when oppressed.”46 Such a statement is revelatory because: (a) it identifies and names oppression for what it is—the differential and biased treatment and position of ethnic, cultural and religious minorities in post-colonial Malaysia; (b) it acknowledges that the price of peace is too high to pay if it means continued “subduing”; (c) it refuses to “[subdue and give in] to the ‘dissatisfaction’ and ‘unhappiness’ of the authority [of this time and space]”; and d) in doing so, it aligns this stance with that of Christ who submitted to God in fulfilling his “mission... as Saviour of the world” but not to appease “the ‘dissatisfaction’ and ‘unhappiness’ of the authority at that time.”

The time-space compression of acts of resisting/subduing then and there, here and now is evident. The Church’s stance and that of Terence’s faith as “human time,” are in the first instance, “[u]ni-directional, purposeful and limited.”47 Yet they also embody “[n]ondirectional and limitless sacred time” as believers in the temporality of life on earth and the promise of eternity in doing as Christ did—to not subdue for the sake of faith and justice, not for peace (narrowly defined as the absence of conflict). The “vast difference between peacemaking and peacekeeping” as maintained by Judette Gallares in her feminist interpretative re-reading of the Sermon on the Mount, is instructional here.48 The state employs the violence of keeping peace through the victimization of ethnic and religious minorities. Where the latter are exhorted to keep the peace, to subdue and tolerate differential treatment in a postcolonial time-space, they now reject such “peace.” To disrupt the “fiction” of peace is paradoxically to reclaim peace.

Thirdly, DiscipleSFX embodies diverse standpoints on the “Allah” controversy as a body of believers that is inclusive. This ethos of inclu- sivity “is significant if meaningful social interaction is to take place.”49 As a counter-narrative to the media attention that represents Christians as essentially forgiving regardless of the violation received, the following responses show not only diversity but also inclusivity of ethnic, cultural and religious pluralisms within the virtual time-space of DiscipleSFX.

Dr. Chris’ sole posting on the topic of “Get over the Allah issue” reads (posted “a year ago”),

Let’s get over this “Allah” issue ... Come on don’t divert the real issues (such as declining Christian education and morality among our youth, etc.) by being obsessed with how to address God. He is God by whatever name we call him. Civility is not a sign of weakness.

The topic, “From the heart of a Muslim—Tawfik Hamid” (posted by Terence in response to Dr Chris):

We Muslims need to admit our problems and face them. Only then we can treat them and start a new era to live in harmony with [humankind]... Then, and only then, do we have the right to ask others to respect our religion. The time has come to stop our hypocrisy and say it openly: “We Muslims have to change.”

Timothy’s response (posted “over a year ago” in response to the above):

Wow... thanks terence for that snippet from Tawfik Hamid... this goes to show that when a Muslim becomes mature ... he sees everyone as his Saudara (literally, brother)... and if i understand it properly... i think he becomes (sic) terharu (amazed) with the Christians, who prays for them daily... I’m enlightened to understand the true confessions of a truly learned and mature Muslim.

On the topic, “Please stop using Allah” (posted “over a year ago”) are the following postings:

Nicholas writes “without prejudice” that, “The Herald should concentrate on religion and not politics. We are not going to lose our faith by using the word TUHAN (literally, God)!... ICorinthians 14:33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God’s holy people.”

Andrew, in response, says,

I think the Herald should stay their ground in this matter. Secular authority should not be allowed to dictate the liturgical language of the Church.

And Sebestiano says,

The issue isn’t about the term itself ...we are talking about Christian right.

Mark responds, [1]

Jerry writes,

Like Fr Lawrence (editor of the Herald) said, it isn’t a victory, but its justice ... Herald was just defending its right to stand in its own land. Then, the accusers were not happy because they “lose the battle they created,” so they seek revenge by appealing through the Court of Appeal... But why wage a war against those who only want to protect their rights? Isn’t this occupation in our own country?

From the quotations above, pluralisms within the virtual time-space of DiscipleSFX are evident. The proliferation of standpoints, some oppositional, on what constitutes a Christian praxis of peace, engender such plurality. There is firstly, the call to non-violent resistance where “[c]ivility is not a sign of weakness.” Secondly, there is the division between “[s]ecular authority” and the Church’s autonomy, religion and politics in the struggle to make sense of how to be an ethnic and religious minority in a Muslim-dominant country. Thirdly, the reflexivity articulated by the Malay-Muslim, a member of the ethnic and religious majority, begins to heal the wounds inflicted on ethnic and religious minorities, as he proclaims that: “The time has come to stop our hypocrisy and say it openly: ‘We Muslims have to change.’ ” Fourthly, a faith-based praxis—that “God is not a God of disorder but of peace”—is integrated with a right-based praxis (“we are talking about Christian right”). This leads to the refusal to “in our true catholic spirits turn the other cheek and move on” and “[defend our] right to stand in [our] own land.” The “hermeneutics of appreciation of the minority groups’ culture and religious traditions... which can help them in their struggle for full humanization,” as envisioned by Brazal in her theologizing of an “intercultural hermeneutics,”50 that is nurtured on mutuality, equality in diversity and creativity, is highly resonant in the revisioning of a peace praxis by DiscipleSFX.

Apparent also in the quotations above is that “[c]yberspace is sacred time” according to Brasher, as it “imaginatively endows those who encounter it with alternative time experiences.”51 The intersection of time, human connectivity, and religion in the context of DiscipleSFX, proliferates in the experience of Dr Chris, Terence, Tawfik, Timothy, Nicholas, Andrew, Sebestiano, Mark and Jerry. Time becomes regulated through the 24x7 social interaction that intensified in early 2010 when frenzied postings on the “Allah” controversy and church arsons abound. Timelessness becomes an effect of such regulation for those deeply invested in the issues and indwelt in this virtual time-space. Time is also frozen as these conversations were posted

“over a year ago” and kept intact,52 enabling me to access them as a member of DiscipleSFX over a year later. Time is also compressed as strangers—those who agree to “play by the rules (in observing the ethos of inclusivity of DiscipleSFX),”—become quick allies against a hegemonic state that so divests minorities of integrity that they “have to fight just so that [they] can practice [their] religions” and where home sadly affords one not a sense of belonging but “occupation in [one’s] own country.” The “human time” of “defending [one’s] right to stand in [one’s] own land” as “[u]ni-directional, purposeful and limited”53 is apparent in negotiating the tension between religion and politics and more importantly, the competing discourses of rights (freedom of practice of one’s religion) and religion in embodying the peace praxis.

The abundant topics devoted to the “Allah” controversy and church arsons alone on the discussion board of DiscipleSFX include but are not limited to: “Should Herald subdue or not?” (topic 6720), “Get over with the Allah issue” (topic 7013), “From the heart of a Muslim” (topic 7045), “Church wins right to challenge ‘Allah’ ban” (topic 8032), “Why is your Allah not my Allah?” (topic 11440), “Please stop using Allah” (topic 11444), “KL church torched” (topic 11479), “Protests over ‘Allah’ ruling embarrassing” (topic 11480), “‘Allah’ protests to go ahead” (topic 11482), “‘Only infidels bomb churches’ ” (topic 11495), “More Malaysian churches attacked in Allah dispute” (topic 11533), “Inside story—Religious violence in Malaysia” (topic 11568), “Four reasons for controversial ‘Allah’ ruling” (topic 11630), “Teach the arsonists critical thinking” (topic 12051), “Bigger issues lurk behind Allah debate” (topic 12369). The inclusivity of perspectives that is evident in the above topics advocates “tolerance and plurality in practice [that enables] the list [to] become a place for developing a collective religious identity that gives legitimacy to the right of every member to follow his or her own heart.”54 The individual investment of time and commitment, particularly that of its moderator Pat Lu, facilitates a “sacred space”55 where members can speak freely where they are bereft of such freedom of speech in the “real” world. Rule no. 3 of DiscipleSFX states that the agenda of meeting is “free flow. Absolutely no censorship at all.” This “sacred space” though marked by the “partiality, temporality, and contingency of social relations” that characterizes computer-mediated communication, nevertheless opens up possibilities of enabling members to “uphold, transform or challenge the essential common setting.”56 As rule no. 10 of DiscipleSFX states, “If any of the above prevents you from being connected to, sharing and experiencing the love of God, change the rule!” That “there is something religious about internetting itself ” is evidenced in the democratization of information and space within this “hyper-space.”57

DiscipleSFX thus sacralizes space. As an embodied reality, it negotiates the tension between “internet as tool (religion on cyberspace),” i.e., religious material available online/offline morphs with “internet as environment (religion in cyberspace)” where religious expressions exist exclusively in cyberspace.58 The “religious expressions” are nurtured by open and meaningful dialogue where each member is another’s “Angel” (rule no. 5) within the faith community that is Dis- cipleSFX. In so doing, it envisions a Malaysia that is not divided by the dichotomy of West/East Malaysians. As Erna Mahyuni’s “Why is your Allah not my Allah?” questions,

Be Malaysia, not IMalaysia.. .We don’t have to give “muhibbah” (social integration and harmony) a name because we live it. Since 1963 (when East Malaysia became part of the historical new entity Malaysia), we have lived as Malaysians, believing in true tolerance and that race or religion matters little. We truly do believe that West Malaysians can and should get over us using “Allah” to worship God. Isn’t Allah the God of all [humankind]? Isn’t your Malaysia our Malaysia too?

Erna seeks to bridge disparities between Christian communities in West and East Malaysia that is marked by the “Allah” controversy: the former (and more affluent citizenry) politicizes “race” and religion whilst the latter (populated by indigenous peoples), are somewhat impervious to that, as “race or religion matters little” (i.e., not politicized). The public relations gimmick that is “IMalaysia” rings even hollow when contrasted with the lived “muhibbah” (mutuality) of East Malaysians where ethnic, cultural and religious pluralisms are embraced. Such articulations privilege embodiment, the everyday lived realities of being Malaysian “because [East Malaysians like Erna] live it.” The “theology of daily reality” posited by Gemma Tulud Cruz,59 that is premised on the peace praxis of mutuality and respect (“we live it”) beyond empty rhetoric (“We don’t have to give ‘muhibbah’ a name”), is manifest here.

So DiscipleSFX becomes a “spiritual space” as “signing on to the Internet [for Erna and those who are listening to her] is a transformative act... a vast cathedral of the mind, a place where ideas and religion can resonate, where faith can be shaped and defined by a collective spirit.”60 DiscipleSFX becomes “new sacred geographies of the information age” in embracing temporal, spatial and ideological differences not just between Christians and Muslims but also the West and East Malaysian Christians.61 Historicizing the narrative of becoming of a nation since its birthing in 1963 as “believing in true tolerance” within, DiscipleSFX potentially reimagines the offline reality for Malaysians. Where the online and offline time-space realities are recognized as mutually constitutive, cyberspace becomes a feminized “sacred space”62 as an extension of cyberspace as a feminized “sacred time.”63 In doing so, DiscipleSFX, through its peace praxis, engenders an “intercultural hermeneutics,” as theologized by Brazal, that “involves a hermeneutics of reconstruction that is geared toward a new culture, a fruit of a mutual fecundation of the majority and minority cultures, an in-beyond culture.”64 A feminized “sacred space” and “sacred time” constitute this liminal time-space that in its fecundity, opens up ways of doing peace and becoming Christian in Malaysia.

  • [1] agree with sebastiano mike ... yes today they’ll just tell us not to use a wordand we in our true catholic spirits turn the other cheek n move on. My question would be what would be next? God forbid the day would come where wewould have to fight just so that we can practice our religions. It’s not aboutwinning, it’s about being heard.
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