Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Message for the Pope: try new ways to deliver your message

Your Holiness, I was disappointed by remarks you made as a Cardinal in 2002 about Turkey's ineligibility to join the European Union (EU). You suggested Turkey, as a Muslim country, has a history which stands "in permanent contrast to Europe."
I reconciled myself to the notion that (Christian) Eastern European nations like Romania and Bulgaria, with economic indicators resembling Turkey's, can waltz into the EU a few years after their initial application. However, predominantly Muslim Turkey remains a European outcaste after several decades.

In line with the Christmas spirit, I discarded the grudge and entered one of your homes on Christmas Eve. I note you did something similar in November 2006 by visiting Turkey and making a 'vague' statement about the nation's EU ambitions.
I thought long and hard about whether to write about my experience in your place of worship. I did not wish to be misunderstood or seen to be interfering.
As always, my emotions got the better of my reason. If I can be critical of the torch bearers of my own faith then why pause at the Cross's doorstep? Both faiths preach the unity of God. 
The Christmas Eve mass was interesting but long. Way too long.
In today's internet age normal people are afflicted with attention deficit disorder. Any presenter knows that twenty minutes is about the maximum one can push an audience.
Throw in fancy costumes, incense, candlelight and deeply ritualistic behaviour and maybe, just maybe, one can stretch the delivery out to 45 minutes. But not two hours!
Two hours is an invitation to nap. Throughout the service many faithful were dozing intermittently. When your audience sleeps they don't hear the message.
The modern world is all about sound bites, buzz and viral marketing. What I witnessed on Christmas Eve was a confusing cocktail of pageantry, noise and unfocused preaching.
I left with only one clear message. The Church recommends 15-16 year old pregnant Singaporean schoolgirls keep the baby at all costs. Single motherhood is preferred to abortion.
Having no fundamental disagreements with an individual's right to abortion, I disagree with the content of the message. Nevertheless, unlike the rest of the sermon this message was delivered (and received) loud and clear.

Another message concerning material goods was buried deep within the sermon. Consequently, it got lost among the verbiage of the Gospel and the drowsiness of the flock.
It seems that the Church and Islam have something to learn from each other.
Today's Church is unable to maintain interest in its religious philosophy among existing and new Catholics. Christianity has lost much of its significance since the advent of the Scientific Revolution.
On the contrary, Islam has recently seen a resurgence of interest. Not all aspects of Islam's revival have been positive. Narrow and obscure views of Islam hog the limelight. Violence in Islam's name is endemic.
Islam's true message is lost amidst the noise of suicide bombings.
Herein lays the paradox. Send a Muslim to a mosque each Friday for a year and, at worst, he is ready to commit suicide for the cause. At best, he will become a fine outstanding member of his community and faith.
Send a Catholic to Church for a year and I suspect he will stop attending on day 366; the weekly sermons typically infuse little enthusiasm to practice the faith.
Church rituals have great potential. A drama created by candles, costumes and burning sweet smelling incense is enough to capture anyone's senses. Yet, what I saw was an underwhelming performance.
Some may object to my treating religion as a 'saleable commodity.'
Religion is a saleable commodity. In the marketplace for ideas, a religion is a set of beliefs for individuals to comprehend, process and finally accept or discard.
For any religion to thrive its philosophy must be packaged well. It must capture the energies of the spirit and the imagination.

The Christmas Eve mass is the Church's Grand Finale performance for the calendar year. It's a sold out show with a receptive audience. Somehow, I don't think anyone left the venue speaking excitedly about the virtues of Catholicism. They were too busy checking the time.
Then again, I am neither a Catholic nor a Turk so what do I know.
They [People of the Book: Christians and Jews] believe in Allah [God] and the Last Day; They [People of the Book] enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong; And they [People of the Book] hasten (in emulation) in (all) good works: They [People of the Book] are in the ranks of the righteous.
Surah Al-Imran (3:114)
PS – I really should attend (and write about) a Hari Raya sermon, but I am afraid that it will be in Malay (or Tamil possibly) so I may not understand much of it!


  1. Don't you think the EU is only being cautious of Turkey. after many unpleasant incidents concerning Muslims.
    Looking at the happenings in Saudi Arabia, whereby no Churches and other Faiths are allowed to exist in The Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia.
    When I was in Saudi Arabia, I remember attending Catholic Masses secretly, with several of us keeping a watchful eye for the fiery Mullahs. Who are well known for making sudden raids and arresting people, keeping them in prisons indefinitely, with no lawyers to fight one's case, except a Muslim Lawyer, in a Muslim Court with a Muslim Judge.Any individual of any other faith and without a Muslim name, is disallowed entry into Mecca at any time. You reckon such rules enforced on Non-Muslims being reasonable? Does it not make people of other faiths suspicious and cautious of the Muslims?
    In all the whole of EU Islam and Mosques are allowed to exist with open arms and even in Rome they have mosques with no fuss. You should petition the King and the Mullahs of Saudi Arabia of their unfair practices.

  2. Hi Jes,

    Thank you for visiting and taking the time to comment.

    I believe it is extremely unfair to compare Turkey with Saudi Arabia. Turkey, and the preceeding Ottoman Empire, have a history which is intertwined with Europe. Infact, the Ottoman Empire had many more non-Muslim subjects than Muslims for most of its 600 year life.

    Saudi Arabia and its conservative interpretation of Islam is an embarrasment to the entire Muslim world. I will not even try to justify the Saudi treatment of other faiths. It is not surprising that almost all of the 9/11 attackers, and their spiritual leaders, were Saudis.

    In most Muslim countries in the Middle East, where Christianity has had a historical presence (including Syria, the Palestine region) Christians have lived amicably with Muslims for centuries.

    The Islamic world is not a monolithic bloc. Compare the society in Singapore's Muslim neighbours, Malaysia and Indonesia, with the society you experienced in Saudi Arabia. The comparison should be enough to demonstrate that each Muslim country has distinct characteristics. Similiarly, it is unfair to place Mexico and Ireland in the same category merely because they share the same religion. They don't even speak the same language.

    Turkey and Saudi Arabia are as different as night and day.

    Kind regards,


  3. Salam Alikom,Imran,
    Let me enlighten you please as you choose to be naive conveniently. If at all Turky being an offical candidate member gains entry. One can forsee an increase in terrorism, being exported from Middle East and Pakistan. It is safer for EU and the world for Turkey to remain as a candidate and Nato member. So terrorism can be wiped out in Eu with Turkey's genuinity. It is for the same reason why Pakistan can never be reunited with Mother India, although being part of India before and still share their common cultural heritage.
    However Pakistan chooses to emphasise on it's religion more than the God given birth as an Indian, at one time. The consequenses is devastating,showing now in all choas. The same could happen to EU with the dormant cancerous growth, spreading throught Europe, with no peace in sight. Chukaran habibe

  4. Hi Jes,

    It's great to see your response again. Obviously, I am disappointed to note that you believe my last comment was 'conveniently naive.'

    You have touched on many complex issues to which a simple response cannot do justice - and I will not even attempt.

    However, I do believe in the overarching principle of 'inclusiveness' wherever and whenever possible. 'Inclusiveness' to me means having the 'buy-in' of as many entities as possible as it negates problems in the future. The principle is equally applicable to interaction between nation states as it is to the workplace.

    Still, all nations have their own perceptions of national interests and will pursue them using whatever tools are available.

    As a blogger, I understand that the marketplace of ideas is a free market. History will define the fate of the EU, Turkey and Pakistan. History has more powerful forces at work than a few lines I may pen on the internet today.

    Regarding your ideas of Pakistan and the two nation theory, I would suggest the recent best-selling biography, "Jinnah" by Jaswant Singh (a former Indian Foreign Minister from the right wing Hindu party, the BJP). This biography, along with several other scholarly works, suggests that the move to a 'two-nation' theory was forced upon Jinnah and the All-India Muslim League when Nehru showed no flexibility after the (1935 if I get my dates correct) parliamentary elections.

    Until that date, Jinnah was a commited Indian nationalist. In fact, he was an active member of Gandhi's Indian Congress party for most of his early political career.

    (You may note that Singh was expelled from the party for his scholarly work.)

    I do appreciate your visiting my blog and hope you will continue to comment on my posts.

    Kind regards,