Saturday, June 14, 2014


A superstitious Indonesian domestic maid once worked for me and my family. She said that her village was entirely Muslim and her first experience being in the company of non-Muslims was when she came to work for us. You would have thought that she would have been a Muslim extremist but she was not at all. Although she was schooled in a madrasah, she had a very tolerant view of religion and she held the view that Muslim suicide bombers would all be sent to hell. But in her village, she had recently witnessed the burning of a witch. I asked her if the witch was an old woman who lived by herself, a widow perhaps? She was surprised and asked how I knew. I told her our human history had seen many old widows being burnt to death for alleged witchcraft and it was nothing new. But she insisted the old woman was a witch and she claimed she had magical powers. She said if they hadn't burnt her, Allah himself would have done so and probably burnt half the village as well.

One day I was driving the car with her on an errand when the sky turned black and flashes of lightning could be seen accompanied by loud peals of thunder. She was cowering in the corner in fear. I asked her if God had the power to strike us with a lightning bolt. She tried to hush me but I went on talking.  From asking questions about God's power, I went on to questioning if God had the courage to strike us and what if I threatened him with physical violence? And then I crossed the line into outright blasphemy.  She told me that was the end. There was no way we would reach our destination safely. God simply would not allow us to escape with impunity after what I had just said. But of course we reached our destination without any incident.

On the return journey, she told me that this was the first time she had seen anyone who had so much courage to challenge God. She claimed that nobody in Indonesia would dare to do that. I asked her where she thought God was. She replied that God was at that point in time driving a car and talking to her. And she burst into laughter. I asked her if she wasn't afraid that God might strike her down with lightning. She replied laughingly that if God had no ability to do it during a thunderstorm when there were lightning flashes everywhere, he couldn't possibly have the power to do it when the rain had stopped and the sun was shining.

That was the moment for me to seize my opportunity. I told her it was all right to believe in God and in religion but the moment someone was going to be killed, that was the time to put the foot down. I told her there were no witches and witchcraft was all fictitious but even if there were witches, she should leave it to God himself to punish them. If he doesn't do anything, his followers should not do his dirty job for him. Leave it to God. It didn't matter if someone blasphemed God or if he were an apostate or witch or whatever he might be accused of being. If God did nothing, his followers must not attempt to play God themselves.

I'm just hoping that my blasphemy will save the next old woman from being burnt to death in her village. If I succeed in saving just one old woman from such a horrid death, I'm sure even God himself would be delighted that I could blaspheme better than any cranky old foul-mouthed sailor.

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