The title might surprise you. Why on earth would I want to visit a church and temple? Am I converting to another religion? Is that why. No is the answer. It is all part of trying to understand another religion, so that I can truly understand my own religion. I went there under the Friendly Comparative Religion (FCR) program held by the Islamic Information & Services (IIS).
During our school days the non-muslims were introduced to the Islamic world during our history classes. There they learned about us, but we never really learned about them. So this is kinda like returning the favor, but not just because of that. I wanted to learn more about other religions, why is it that they do what they do and why they believe in it.
We went to visit the church of St. Thomas in Sentul, where they practice the Orthodox doctrine of Mar Thoma. Amin picked me up at Monash University and we arrived quite early so we decided to have a light breakfast. We came back at around 9.15 am in time for the Bible Studies. I can't remember which verse in the Bible the father was talking about but from just one verse, he was able to elaborate it until it took almost 45 minutes. By that time the church was filled with people and the mass was about to begin.
One thing I have to note is before entering the church, I was filled with hatred and contempt and I wanted to question the christians everything about their faith. But the moment I sat at the church, I saw the father prieching to his disciples, I saw the christians so devoted to their religion, my mind suddenly changed. I stopped looking at it Islam or Christianity. I started looking at it as devotion to God.
So the mass was filled with all kinds of ritual, the weirdest I've seen is the use of incense and the candles, looks like a Jewish ritual. This is an Orthodox church, where they're rituals follows similarly to the Catholic church ( Though I was misinformed it's going to be an Anglican Protestant church). It lasted quite long, almost 2 hours. Even Bro Shah Kirit said that it is very long, he expected it to be only an hour. Having said that, it disrupted the plan and we had to make some arrangements. The Q&A sessions was cut very short so we couldn't ask much. So we left for the temple at around 12.
The temple we went to is a Sri Lankan temple of the Theravada Buddhist sect. They're beliefs is quite different from the chinese beliefs. They don't believe in all the gods and praying to ancestors. It's Buddhism to the purest. We were greeted by Mr. Tan and a couple of Sinhalese Monks. Then we were given lunch inside their main hall, it was supposed to be very simple vegetarian lunch until the KFC shows up. Yeah they probably know we malays are suckers for KFC. But even the veggie food was delicious, they have dishes originating from Sri Lanka. So after lunch we we're brought around to visit the temple. We were shown the Buddha statue, the Boddhi shrine, and among many other things. It was very interesting, until the questions start to come out, which destroys the time planning. But Mr. Tan was very patient, he doesn't get angry when we ask all our questions, even ones which was designed to test his faith.
After the tour is finished we went back to the hall for a Q&A sessions. Mr. Tan was probably the most impressive non-believer I've ever seen. He knows about other religion and he really have faith in his own. Even when the questions was getting very offensive, he kept a smile on his face and he explains it in a way that everyone could understand. Bro Shah said that if he were to revert to Islam, he would become a huge asset to Islam. I mean, everyone was amazed by him, for his knowledge and for his his patience. He is doing what Islam is telling him to do, 'berpesan dengan kebenaran, dan berpesan dengan kesabaran'.
The trip to other religious sites was an invaluable experience. Without this FCR I don't think I would have ever thought of going there. But now I want to expand my horizon, to free my mind and become closer to Allah because of it.