FEBRUARY began with a celebration of World Interfaith Harmony Week, mooted 10 years ago by King Abdullah II and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan to foster world peace. Although Malaysia is a multifaith nation, how many places of worship highlighted the occasion? We’re a topnotch country in religious demographics, with almost every citizen professing a religion. On the Friday to Sunday stretch, all places of worship are full house.
But we live in thickly-walled silos of faith – for Islam, for each of the big five (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Taoism), and for another half dozen small ones – with no common goal uniting us. Few adherents seem aware that the 12 religions share a common vision in that all believe in an omnipresence which the English call God. Omnipresence means that God is in Nature and Nature is in God. In essence, God is the deepest underlying substratum of Nature or the natural environment.
Before science discovered the hollowness of physical matter, it had been a puzzle how God could be within a solid chunk of rock. But now we know that God is within every facet of the natural environment. Nature can be likened to the face of God. How do you care for your face? You wash it clean daily. Do we care for the face of God? Do we keep the environment clean? Daily we pray and daily we smear the face of God with litter.
If you observe Nature, you will see that there is a remarkably ingenious self-cleansing process: all natural waste is converted into nutriment. In the wild-lands, vultures await terminally sick animals to breathe their last and then swoop down to clean up the garbage in minutes. Maggots devour rotting flesh, and are themselves later consumed by other life forms. Plants decompose and return to the earth as rich organic fertilisers. This is the face of God – clean, until humans began littering the earth with manufactured waste.
Travel all over Malaysia, starting with Kuala Lumpur and then on to Selangor. It’s no Japan, as rubbish is everywhere beyond the city centres frequented by overseas tourists. If your eyes are not looking at the sky, you will see garbage on road dividers, sidewalks, backlanes, planter boxes and green patches. Go north to Ipoh where the sign “Ipoh Bersih, Hijau Dan Maju” is prominently displayed. But residents interpret the sign as an invitation to keep their own houses clear of garbage by discarding them at public spaces.
Don’t leave out the resorts – Pantai Cahaya Negeri in Port Dickson, Plastic Beach on Penang Island (the nickname speaks for itself), Pantai Senok in Kelantan. There, picnickers leave everything behind except their money. If you have spare cash, fly to Sarawak and climb Mount Santubong where you may feel an urge to join the anti-litter squad. Visit dirty Semporna in Sabah and look out for litterbugs wearing “monkey” vests.
Of course, smeared on the face of God is the ubiquitous plastic in many forms – and cigarette butts smelling of nicotine. Both cause death if consumed by animals or birds. Plastic waste ends up in the ocean where it gets inside tiny marine creatures and passes up the food chain, finally landing on our dinner plate. A spoonful of cancer. In more direct ways, litter endangers public health by causing respiratory sicknesses and breeding mosquitoes.
To set a common goal for all religions, the UN made “Sustainable development through interfaith harmony” the theme this year. Yes, Malaysia can become a zero-litter society if we make it our fundamental religious duty to guard the natural environment. Is there any sight more inspiring than a million faith adherents drawn from a dozen religions donning the same anti-litter uniform radiating out from mosques, churches, and temples to patrol our dirty neighbourhoods every week accompanied by city council cleaners?
It can happen if the National Unity Consultative Council organises a mass interfaith brigade to combat the environmentally destructive littering habit. All religions bear fundamental similarities and should collaborate to achieve the universal goal of cleansing the environment.
The writer, a former journalist, champions inter-faith harmony. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org