Vol. VIII No. 34 - Tuesday
August 25 - August 31, 2009

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Art, Music & Culture • Entertainment • Lifestyles
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:


Imam Yahya Hendi PhD - religious integration, knowledge and humility



The 1st Asian Traditional Music Forum 2009

CMM reporters.
On Sunday evening, August 16, Payap University celebrated 35 years of existence, with a spectacular concert at the fine E.C. Court auditorium. Apart from Thailand six other ‘countries’ – in order of appearance – were on stage: Japan, Indonesia, Karen, the Philippines, Korea and Malaysia.

Pictured are the two Karen singers whose performance was the highlight of the Asian Music Forum held to celebrate Payap University’s 35th anniversary.

It was just three and a half decades ago in 1974 that Payap was ‘created’ as a union between two organisations, the Thailand Theological Seminary and the McCormick School of Nursing. Since then some 23,000 students have graduated and from 1984 the university has been recognized by the Royal Thai Government and goes from strength to strength.
The many performers at this event made Chiang Mai the culmination of a
countrywide tour through Thailand. After some traditional Thai music performed during the registration period the evening began formally and untypically with music that was not traditional, but resolutely modern. The brilliant pianist, Atsulo Seta, played a work from 1989 by Motohiko Adachi. Called Jonkhara, it was a one movement work, which sought to expand the instrument as a percussive instrument (including use of both fore-arms in the latter sections) and did so with verve. Although there were lyrical moments and a distinctive Japanese traditional feel to some of the piece it made a rousing opener.
Inevitably the sweet sounding Indonesian quartet from the Panda Music School (Jakarta) seemed somewhat docile in comparison but in their later pieces as the dance rhythms came to prominence, the music was both attractive and exotic.
They were followed by the highlight of the evening, two musicians from Karen. Accompanied by two players from Payap, one on cello the other on wind instruments, the two singers from Sangkhla Buri, Kanchanaburi in north Thailand delighted the large audience with songs of great delicacy and warmth. According to the programme notes Wong Char-phue Char-au is music to accompany dance and is Karen but influenced from Burma, blending the two nations as one through culture (there must be a political message there!). The exquisite singing from the man and woman was haunting and heartfelt, almost ethereal. They left the audience wanting to hear more.
The same might not be said of the large contingent from the Philippines, who seemed intent of guiding us through an all-too comprehensive range of music and dance from various regions of the country. Although much of it was very charming and some of the courtship dances delicate it was left to one solo player on a string instrument (difficult to describe but much more sitar than guitar) playing traditional, resolutely indigenous music to steal the show. Certainly his unaffected brilliance was the instrumental highlight of the entire evening. Interestingly he was the least ingratiating of all the musicians during the concert, barely acknowledging the audience or the applause, intent only on his brilliant playing.
After a belated interval, Thailand was again on show with some fine playing from a vast barrage of classical instruments. Their bright sounds gave way to the Sonagi Group from Korea, who were a feast both to the eyes with their charming costumes and the ears with their dramatic percussive music. There was great interplay between the many musicians, with plenty of movement. The drumming was exceptional and it is considerable complimentary to say that it evoked memories of the Kodo drummers from Japan, despite the former’s smaller instruments. The solid cymbal –like instruments were also a wonderful contrast to the drums and the whole electrifying performance was greatly enjoyed by the audience.
It was left to Malaysia to round off a very varied evening with their performers from the Raja Dr Nazin Shah College at the University of Malaya. They had the largest contingent of both dancers and musicians and brought the evening to a colourful and vivid close.
This was in many ways a most successful event and thanks are certainly due to the many sponsors and to the organizers for a chance to enjoy such a wide range of traditional music played with authenticity and skill. All with free admission into the bargain. But at the risk of being churlish (and in the hope that it will be an event that is repeated) a few words of criticism.
Inside this important celebration there was an excellent musical happening struggling to get out. Thanks to the charm and skill of the performers it largely succeeded, but at times it sank under a welter of commentary and conversation. The two hours or so of music from 7.30 p.m was supplemented by something like another hour plus of interpolation.
Accepting that the opening speeches and the presentations to the groups were necessary (7-7.30 p.m.), why did the audience need to endure constant explanations and interruptions (sometimes as long as the shorter musical offerings) which made the actual concert drag on until well past 10.30 in the evening? The result was that many audience members left well before the concert ended. The extreme coldness in the auditorium was possibly an extra factor in sending people home. So please, next time, and let us hope there is a next time, please, please set the thermostat level higher and keep the conversation level down.


Imam Yahya Hendi PhD - religious integration, knowledge and humility

Elena Edwards
The Pornping Tower Hotel was the venue on August 13 for a seminar aimed at sharing strategies for the peaceful promotion of religious, ethnic and cultural diversity within society. The event, ‘Integration of Religious Teachings for Reconciliation and Peace’, was organised as part of the U.S. Speaker Programme and hosted by the US Embassy in Bangkok and the US Consulate in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai deputy governor Chumporn Saengmanee and US Consul-General Michael Morrow  welcomed the eminent speaker and expert in comparative religion Imam Yahya Hendi PhD,  the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University, USA.. Imam Hendi is one of the US Muslim community’s leaders who met with President Clinton and with President Bush in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy and later, and serves as a member of the Islamic Jurisprudence Committee of America. His focus is on issues related to world peace, economic and political justice and interfaith dialogues and issues. He has travelled worldwide to present a multitude of interfaith programmes. 

Imam Hendi, pictured talking with Elena Edwards after the ‘Integration of Religious Teachings for Reconciliation and Peace’ seminar at the Pornping Tower Hotel on August 13.

The seminar was held in two parts, with the morning session attended by over 100 representatives from 5 different religious communities; Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Sikh and Brahman-Hindu. The afternoon session was for local young people and students.
During the morning seminar, quotes from the major religions were given; Buddhism: ‘Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful’; Christianity: ‘In everything, do unto others as you would have them do unto you’; Islam: ‘None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother and sister what he wishes for himself’; Hinduism: ‘Do not unto others what would cause pain if done to you’; Judaism: ‘ What is hateful to you, do not do unto your neighbour’; Sikhism: ‘I am a stranger to no-one and no-one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all’; Bahai’: Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid on you’. Following was the request that all should learn from the spirituality and peace-building resources of other faiths. ‘There is no way to peace – peace is the way, and humility is the admission that one does not own the whole truth’. 
After the event ended, Imam Hendi kindly agreed to talk with the Chiang Mai Mail, noting first that all of us must face up to the same challenges; poverty and economic issues, racism, war, violence, sickness including HIV/Aids, abuse, trafficking, drugs and religious extremism. Only then will the true voices of peace in all traditions and religions be heard.
Imam Hendi stressed that ‘our worst enemy is ignorance, and our best friend is education’, adding that the ability to realise our ignorance is all-important and that Muslims and Christians, for example, have a long way to go before they understand the truth of each others’ religious messages. Describing his own experience, he said that he had studied comparative religion because he wanted to find the way forward for society, but eventually realised that the more he studied, the more obvious it became that he knew nothing! Finally, he realised that to truly learn and truly ‘know’ one had to become very humble.
He believes that all humans have ‘blood on their hands’ and that no-one is perfect. The ability to acknowledge ignorance begins with education and the engaging in dialogue of educators, the media and clergymen and women across all faiths. He stressed that ‘theological differences do not mean that we are enemies, as theology is what theology does – it gives dignity and respect’. To begin to deal with issues such as human trafficking, child abuse, corruption and the impact of HIV/Aids, people must begin at the beginning – with interaction between friends and neighbours, whatever their religious beliefs. ‘Do as you would be done by’, he said, is an essential concept for all religions.
For Thailand itself, the Imam stated he would like to see full integration of all three regions, the north , the centre and the south, with stability, wealth, jobs, resources and an end to discrimination for all. As an example he quoted the movement begun by Martin Luther King, which was soon to include not just black Americans but people from every race whose forbears had settled in that great country. People of all colours and creeds came together to right the wrongs which began with the development of the great Southern plantations and resulted in the introduction of slavery into a country founded on the need for freedom of religious and political expression.
‘Liberation’, the Imam said, ‘should become the aim of all’.
To this reporter, Imam Hendi’s most significant statement was, ‘Countries meet at their borders – religions meet at their hearts. The heart of all religions is love and compassion’.
After the Chiang Mai seminar and Imam Hendi’s visit to four religious communities in Chiang Mai, he visited the South for three days to speak at another seminar held in Pattani, ‘The US and the Muslim World: Implications for Peace in Southern Thailand’, organised by Chulalongkorn University’s Institute of Security and International Studies and the American Studies programme.
During his talk he advised local Muslims not to focus on the past and allow this to  fuel separatism, but to focus on demanding government recognition for their culture, identity and equality, adding that mistrust between the Buddhist and Muslim communities was perhaps given too much prominence.
The government, he said, must be ruled by policies of justice, community well-being and equity for all, and urged all ethnic communities in Thailand to raise their concerns with their representatives in order that the government may recognise the pluralistic nature of Thai society and formulate a way forward for integration, understanding and acceptance.

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