A heavy cross to bear

A heavy cross to bear
Malaysian Landscape: Christianity has always been a part of the Malaysian landscape as the Stadhuys and the Christ Church in central Malacca town show.

There is a scene in an early episode of the popular vampire series True Blood, when the leading character Sookie gets a lesson from her bloodsucking love interest Bill about the things that can destroy the undead.

"What about Holy water?" she asks. "It's just water," he says.

"Crucifixes?"

"Geometry."

Some of this logic would have come useful last week when a group of around 50 residents of Taman Medan in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, mobbed a new church in the neighbourhood, demanding for the cross outside the house of worship be taken down.

As they had argued, in a Muslim-majority area, the sight of the cross challenges Islam and can influence younger minds.

The reaction of many, including a number of religious leaders and the Prime Minister, towards the extreme behaviour of the group of Muslims has injected some needed common sense into the public consciousness on the divisive matter.

As PM Datuk Seri Najib Razak had said, "The protesters should have discussed with the church, instead of taking actions that have created worry and restlessness in this multiracial country."

"The people must abide by the country's laws and practise respect of other religions, as enshrined in the Constitution. We also need to have an attitude of tolerance and mutual respect among communities of different religions," he added.

The moderate G25 called for firm action against those they described as "the ignorant, intolerant Muslims."

The group of prominent Malays felt that the protesters have tarnished the image of Islam.

"The Taman Medan protesters, by their crude, disrespectful and unreasonable behaviour, have tarnished the image of Islam, the very religion they claim to 'protect'.

"Islam is a religion of peace, mercy and compassion and there is no place in Islam for intolerance towards other faiths and their places of worship," G25 said in a statement sent by its coordinator Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin.

The Muslim Professionals Forum had also denounced the protest, saying that this "mindless act of hatred and incitement against another religion's place of worship has no place in Islam and deserves unreserved condemnation".

Sisters In Islam refuted the mob's comment that the cross would influence young Muslims in the neighbourhood.

"Their worry that young Muslims' faith in the religion would be threatened is unfounded.

"The cross does not have magical powers that can compromise a person's belief. As Muslims, the protesters should have faith in Allah, and should not be threatened by the symbols of other religions," the Islamic NGO stated.

Actress Wardina Safiyyah also staked at the heart of the matter: "Dear Muslims, act like Muslims. Only vampires fear the cross. Let the Christians worship freely. The Prophet says 'Kindness makes things beautiful, while violence renders them defective.'"

One has to agree that the fear of the cross among many Malaysian Muslims is curious, given that even the modern-day vampires, if the recent pop vampire-lore is of any indication, seem to be able to see through the symbolism.

As bloodsucker Louis in Anne Rice's contemporary horror classic Interview With the Vampire, corrects his interviewer on the mythical power of the cross over the undead: "That is, how would you say today ... b-------?"

And as any Twihard will vouch, the cross symbol has no effect on Twilight's Cullen vampire clan either - when Bella is taken aback to see a large cross hanging in the Cullens' mansion, her fanged paramour Edward only smiles and says, "You can laugh, it is ironic."

The situation in Malaysia, of course, is no laughing matter as it reflects a deeper and growing rift in the fabric of the nation.

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