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Religion 101: Playing Ignorance Of Law Is Not A Defence

Al Islam Religion Law Ignorance

(The magazine’s cocked up story was done after 2 Muslim reporters went undercover as Catholics and make a mockery of themselves, the notion of tolerance to other religions and fellow Malaysians and then claimed ignorance of the law. Image source: Nut Graph)

In law, there is a maxim that states “ignorance of the law is not a defence”

As we are all aware, there is this story of two Al Islam magazine Malay Muslim reporters who had infiltrated the Catholic Church to investigate the authenticity of news that there are many young Malays who have apostatized from Islam and attending church services at a church near the Puduraya Terminal, here in Kuala Lumpur.

Of course, the news, in the end, turned out to be nothing but false news.

Many protested against this kind of infiltration into the church by the two Muslim reporters and feels grossly insulted by their actions where the two Muslims had taken part in the Christian prayer rituals.

Worse, the same reporters had even taken mass communion by swallowing the wafer offered by the priests which they then had spat out and taken photos which are published along with their so-called exposure in the Al Islam Magazine’s May 2009 edition. Was these was done in ignorance too?

Understandably police reports were swiftly made and the duo was then investigated under Section 298A (1) of the Penal Code for causing disharmony, disunity or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill will, or prejudicing the maintenance of harmony or unity, on grounds of religion

Now, what is the other law that forbids someone from doing things that may cause unnecessary apprehension to another community or group of people? It is something that politicians have often called on when religiously sensitive issues are discussed and has warned others with.

It is called the Sedition Act of which Section 3(1) defines among others, to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the subjects of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or of the Ruler of any State or amongst the inhabitants of Malaysia or of any State or to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Malaysia.

Ignorance of the law is not a good defence, so the legal world says. So it was a surprise when I read this:-

Abdul Gani said the actions of the two reporters might have hurt the feelings of the people but he was satisfied that they did not intend to offend anyone and it was an act of sheer ignorance

(Source: TheStar)

The AG must count his blessing that things did not much uglier.

What would have been his response if the Church has decided to have a nationwide protest of the uncalled act by these 2 reporters who spat on things considered as sacred by the Catholics on purpose and then claim ignorance? What would have happened if the other group misinterpreted the situation and decided to retaliate in far more extreme ways?

Still, remember the rally allowed to demonstrate on the court’s decision to allow the use of the word “Allah”? We got religious places burned down in the end.

It is easy to say now that it was due to sheer ignorance and since nothing had happened, it can be swept under the carpet but did the AG made a mistake? Did the AG by saying that there is no case due to “sheer ignorance” have sent the wrong signal to potential wrongdoers who in future, who out of “sheer ignorance” may intentionally offend and caused unimaginable damages?

The Attorney-General should “appreciate the severity” of the conduct of two reporters of a Malay-language periodical who had allegedly desecrated the holy eucharist of the Catholic church and not dismiss their actions off-hand, said Catholic Lawyers Society, Kuala Lumpur, president Mabel Sabastian.

“Ignorance of the law is no defence in the commission of a crime. The A-G as the guardian of our laws must foremost appreciate the severity of the acts and conducts of the offender, particularly bearing in mind the severity of the issues involved in a multiracial society like ours,” she said.

Sabastian’s statement was in response to the one released yesterday by AG Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail, who said he did not give the order to prosecute the two journalists as they had committed the act of out of “sheer ignorance”.

(Source: Catholic Lawyer Society)

Even if we stand by the AG, what the 2 reporters did if is not considered as unlawful, certainly it cannot be considered as ethical as Khairy Jamaluddin duly noted:-

Writing in his blog today, Khairy condemned the article as “unethical journalism, grounded in both disrespect and ignorance”.

“Everyone involved in the researching, writing and publishing [of] this article should have considered the fact that Muslims already find it offensive when non-Muslims do not observe basic courtesies expected when in a mosque, like taking off shoes and covering heads.

“They should further imagine their own reactions if someone went undercover in their local mosques pretend to worship as a Muslim and made a mockery of congregation prayer,” Khairy wrote.

(Source: The Nut Graph)

It did not take long for some to try to tone things down by saying that from the Islam point of view, what the 2 reported did was justifiable – that they were trying to find out the truth. Probably but then everyone knows that is bullshit.

If you really want to find out the truth, there are better ways to do it.

Why need to participate in the ceremony and taint things that are considered sacred to others?

Imagine if the same thing has happened in other religion places and people found out?

How would they feel when they find that what is very sacred to them has been tainted by some reporters working on sheer rumours and for some sensational news?

The Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam, having a cooler head than the usual religion extremists said although the church would not press for further action against the reporters for now, a public apology would suffice to ease the feelings of the Catholic community. However, he said, that has not been forthcoming.

Will someone grown up and say sorry? If they have the respect for fellow Malaysians and respect for other religions, they should not take too long to say that they are sorry and bring the matter to a permanent closure.

Update 1

TheStar on 07.03.2010 reported “Al-Islam magazine has apologised over a special report last year for “unintentionally hurting the feelings of Christians, particularly Catholics”.  Reverend Murphy said he was pleased with the quick response by the publishers, editors and authors.

“We accept their apology and extend our hand in peace. The Catholic community is now at peace following the apology. May God bless our country,” he said”

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