by Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib
It’s too soon.
Just last week I was asking a friend how Rev Yap was and that I should visit him at his home soon. But God loves him more.
Rev Yap has been an inspiring figure. To me personally, he embodies what it means to be a man of deep faith – a person who works for peace and justice; one who is on the side of the marginalised and oppressed; a moral conscience for society that is often neglectful, wayward and excessive in its pursuit of prosperity and progress.
I first encountered Rev Yap personally, sometime in 2006. It was a discussion of his book, Doing Theology in a Pluralistic World, at the Malay Village (which has since been demolished). I was curious. I had heard of him, but I had not met him in person. Here, was a man who was a bishop and a deeply committed Christian, yet mixing with and discussing theology with fellow Muslims in a way that I was barely familiar with. For those of you who knew my personal history, I was in a transition; in my own outlook as a Muslim and searching for meaning in a pluralist context of different religions.
My encounter with Rev Yap pointed a way to being religious, interreligiously; and to be rooted in the progressive aspects of faith. If there is a term to describe Rev Yap, it is this: a progressive Christian who transcends the confines of his faith to join in solidarity as pilgrims of this world committed to the pursuit of the divine through love, peace and justice. And given the deeply conservative nature of religions in Singapore, Rev Yap is somewhat different, yet at the same time, a beacon of hope. My own commitment to a progressive faith is partly indebted to what Rev Yap had inspired.
I have not known any other Christian leader in Singapore who is as deeply committed to interfaith solidarity as Rev Yap.He was indeed a pioneering figure. Few actually knew that he was the first non-Muslim – and to date, the only non-Muslim – to be a member of the Centre for Contemporary Islamic Studies (CCIS).
During his active days as a member of CCIS, he co-chaired a major conference on Inter-Civilisational Dialogue in 2001. It was then, and I was only 24 years old at that time, that I heard of this amazing person in the field of Christian-Muslim relations.
Before this, I only knew of Christians wanting to convert Muslims - or to ‘save their souls’. But Rev Yap came with a deep concern for the Muslims’ progress and development. So much so that when the Yap Kim Hao Professorship in Comparative Religious Studies at Yale-NUS was initiated in 2014, he personally asked for recommendations of a Muslim professor who can help shape a progressive discourse on Islam in Singapore.
His last words to me still ring in my ears. After a lecture by Dr Adis Duderija hosted by the Movement Affirming Pluralism (MAP) last month, Rev Yap said: “Imran, I worry for you. I worry for the future of the Muslim community.” (Rev Yap – if you are hearing this right now, I would like to say, “We will continue paving the way. We will struggle for interreligious peace and solidarity that you had envisioned. It is our turn now. Rest well in the divine presence, Rev Yap.”)
For friends in the MAP, we shall continue building a movement for genuine pluralism in this country. MAP is only and barely 2 years old. (And, Rev Yap - it would not have been possible without your encouragement – and your sponsor of pizza for dinner – we will miss that.) The MAP shall be your latest legacy, God willing.
Friends, I want to quote from a public address that Rev Yap gave in 1987 on the observance of World Religion Day: “We have to remove our prejudices, cast out stereotypes, respect the differences, and seek the common ground that we have ignored far too long. Only then can we hope to maintain religious harmony so crucial for the well-being of our society. While acknowledging that religious communities have a long history of caring for the less fortunate in society, we must move to a higher level of caring.”
What is this higher level of caring? It is to walk the talk, as Rev Yap did. It is to go beyond our own silos as faith communities, as Rev Yap did. It is to be a voice of conscience to society, as Rev Yap did. His, is a faith rooted in works.His, is a true commitment to the progressive foundations of faith for peace, justice and human dignity. Regardless of race, language or religion; regardless of faith or non-faith, gender, nationality, and yes, sexual orientation. Before the divine mystery, we are His/Her children. Therefore, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be known as God’s children.” (Mat 5:9) And “By their fruits, you shall know them.” (Mat. 7:20)
Mdm Hee Choo, thank you for sharing your wonderful husband with us. And to Susan, Shirley, Raymond and Richie – we are forever indebted to your father. He will continue to be loved and cherished in our memories.
Dearest Rev Yap, Salamun qawlam mirrabir-rahim / “Peace!” a word from a Merciful Lord. (Q. 36:58)
May you be at peace in the embrace of the Divine lord and creator. Amen.
Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib is an interfaith activist and founding member of Leftwrite Center. He is a part of a new initiative, Movement Affirming Pluralism (MAP) that the late Rev Yap Kim Hao co-founded.