Open Letter to Dato Siti Nor Bahyah (2009)

Dear Dato’ Siti,

I view with concern the video of your talk regarding Valentine’s Day presently circulating on YouTube.

As a Christian, I respect and seek to learn from the perspectives of other religions. As such, I appreciate your reminder that as responsible communities we shouldn’t follow a particular practice uncritically and that we ought to examine its historical roots. I side with you on the need to educate the younger generation on the historical and cultural connotations and ‘baggage’ associated with events like Valentine’s Day.

I also respect your views about the status of Valentine’s Day within Islam and I don’t wish to intrude on your doctrinal deliberations on what is or is not ‘haram’ under Islam or what the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) taught.

Nevertheless, I have to gently but firmly voice an objection to your statement that vices, clubbing and secret/illegitimate sexual rendezvous by couples are a tradition for Christian societies, specifically your statement that, “Maksiat, disco, couple bersunyi-sunyian ialah tradisi bagi masyarakat beragama Kristian.”

I may agree cautiously that such practices are a cultural overflow from countries which have undergone heavy secularization and liberalization (which include, but needn’t be limited to, Western ones) but to equate these with the traditions of the Christian faith is to do injustice to your own advice to be cognizant of the historical and global factors of any particular event, in this case, the Christian faith itself.

The teachings of Jesus Christ was never about committing vices, indulging in time-wasting practices, committing secret sins of the flesh and even less about the irresponsible raising of rose prices! In fact, the stories you brought up illustrate at least one positive connection between Valentine’s Day and the true traditions of the Christian Church: the endearing power of love and sacrifice.

Even in today’s churches, Christian leaders continually exhort our younger generation to be careful and discerning about how and where they spend their time and money, to be chaste and modest, to remain godly in speech and conduct, to be generous in giving and, most of all, to be kind, forgiving and to love others in a self-forsaking manner, the very same way that our Lord Jesus Christ has loved us.

Ultimately, please understand that I am fully with you in your intention to protect the dignity and personhood of our young people from illegitimate and pre-marital sexual activities. Likewise, I salute your reminder to all unmarried couples that romantic love — exhilarating and wonderful as it is — comes with great responsibility and maturity which may hardly appear or feel ‘romantic’ but is in fact the source of true love.

May we continue to learn from each other’s traditions and teachings.

Sincerely,

Alwyn Lau

Edu-trainer, Žižek studies, amateur theologian, columnist.

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