“Religious leaders should find a common ground for all religions to be partners in formulating new ethics for restraining identity politics shattering national unity, abuse of religious issues for narrow political gain, threats to our health from big industries, beating of war drums around the world, biodiversity loss and climate change.

SCIENCE in the 21st century is presenting all religious teachers with two options: confine adherents to a parochial exclusivist vision of their faiths with every centre of religious learning focused on the defence and propagation of one faith only or begin introducing a multifaith curriculum that instructs adherents to appreciate the value of religious diversity and collaboration.

Scientists know that humanity can achieve more when there is a global endeavour transcending differences of nationality, ethnicity, culture or religion. Last June, scientists across the world announced they had made a breakthrough discovery.

Hundreds of scientists using radio telescopes in America, Europe, China, India and Australia found strong evidence of low-frequency gravitational waves that roll through space like background noise. These waves could be the sum of all the supermassive black hole binary systems whirling around each other at the cores of galaxies everywhere in the universe.

Have you noticed that America and China are on the list? Two political enemies collaborating in scientific research. As collaboration benefits everyone, there is growing fear that the nationalistic rivalry between them may lead to the detrimental scrapping of their science cooperation pact called the Science and Technology Agreement.

Do you spot a lesson here for Malaysia’s religious leaders? They should be finding common ground for all religions to be partners in formulating new ethics for restraining identity politics shattering national unity, abuse of religious issues for narrow political gain, threats to our health from big industries, beating of war drums around the world, biodiversity loss and climate change. The new pathway for every religion is collaboration with all other faiths to help build a better future.

Is there a threat of one’s religious purity being contaminated by proximity to another faith’s rituals? Let us just examine one famous ritual – the Hindu “Om” chant that has been adopted by Buddhists as well. Is it a prayer to some deity that may lure you away if you hear the chant?

Surprising as it may be, this 4,000-year-old mantra is meant to represent the vibrational sound of the cosmos. Recited in a low pitch (ohmm-mmmm), “Om” mimics the rumbling cosmic hum produced by the merger of two neutron stars – a stunning event that was first discovered in 2017.

As the wavelength of the gravitational waves set off by this merger is about the same as the wavelength of sound that the human ear can detect, researchers can convert these waves into a sound wave that we can hear. The inner purpose of “Om” chanting is to create humming vibrations in your body that calm your emotions, maintain internal health and stabilise your mind.

This is just one example to demonstrate the need for Malaysians to shed their fears of one another’s faith rituals and learn instead to appreciate their values. There are also moral lessons with life-touching implications that we have to learn from science.

Abortion is the most heart-jerking issue. In Malaysia, anti-abortionists exercise a stranglehold, and the Penal Code forbids abortion under any circumstances, including rape and incest. Exemption is granted only where continuance of the pregnancy involves risk to the life of the pregnant woman or injury to her mental or physical health. The Penal Code does not appear to recognise rape trauma as a sign of mental health injury.

In America, the issue has become a sharp focal point of acrimonious wrangling that divides the nation into two – “us versus them” halves, with 13 states imposing total bans on abortion from the time of conception, nine states making exceptions for rape and incest victims up to between six and 18 weeks and the rest allowing abortion or remaining undecided.

While anti-abortionists claim that they are defending the sanctity of life enshrined in religion, the socio-medical context is that in scriptural times, human birth was hazardous and infant mortality rates were very high. Adults too died young because of unsanitary town conditions and warfare. Keeping all foetuses alive until birth was essential to maintain a population balance.

In modern times, some nations, such as Pakistan, forcefully maintain high birth rates as the national goal is to have a population as big as that of its arch-rival India.

Many biblical scholars believe the idea that abortion is the murder of an unborn child contradicts the stand taken in one scripture, the Torah (known to Americans as the Old Testament).

Although the Torah lays down this commandment: “If someone hits another and death results, the penalty is death”, it does not apply to the foetus. The Torah does not grant personhood status to the foetus, considering it to be valuable but less than fully human as this verse clearly shows: “When there is a fight, and in the fight a pregnant woman is hit so that she miscarries but is not otherwise hurt, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands, and the court allows.”

This is a fight resulting in miscarriage, and the penalty is only a fine, so long as the woman suffers no other injury. Clearly in the Torah, an existing life outside the womb takes precedence over a life that is only potential inside the womb.

It follows that the mental and physical well-being of an already-born takes precedence over a potential life. If we insist that human life begins at conception, then we should issue conception certificates and not birth certificates. Should we also grant human status to every sperm and ovum?

This contest between abortion and no abortion is not a battle of good versus evil: that such a divisive contest exists represents society’s fixation on moral absolutes that lean completely to one side of the argument and the failure to find higher ground in a larger moral whole.

In nature, all dualities are complementary and transitory. This is shown by the wave-particle duality at the quantum level wherein a particle comes into existence only when there is a collapse of the wave function, and the two are interchangeable.

A wave can turn into a particle, and so can a particle turn into a wave. Neither are permanent states of existence, and there is a larger whole that in Taoism is called Tai Chi (grand energy).

What is the larger moral whole in the case of human births? It is that living beings seek happiness, and for humans as for all higher animals, this requires a bond of love between mother and baby. There is good reason for prioritising love because of an abundance of situations where the denial of abortion causes great moral harm to society.

In June last year, four newborns in Malaysia were found abandoned by their mothers within days of each other. One was found covered in ants and bundled into a box at a bus stop in Taiping. An infant was found abandoned underneath a house in Sabah’s Papar district, a newborn with its umbilical cord still attached was found floating in a water village near Tanjung Aru Lama, and in Lahad Datu district, a newborn was found on top of a chicken coop.

In 2022, a 15-year-old rape victim in Terengganu was charged with murdering her newborn child. That same year, a 10-year-old rape victim in the American state of Ohio was denied an abortion. She crossed state lines and got an abortion in the neighbouring state of Indiana.

However, a 14-year-old rape victim in Jambi, Indonesia, was not so fortunate. Abortion is illegal throughout Indonesia as in Malaysia. The girl aborted her eight-month-old foetus and was jailed for six months. South American nations routinely deny abortions to rape victims as young as 10.

Why do rape victims seek abortion? You must ask: How can a rape victim forced to have a child she does not want ever be happy raising it? If she cannot abort, she will abandon the newborn.

There is no happiness for the newborn either. Not only does it carry the stigma of having no acknowledged father but it stays unloved throughout its childhood, and this denial of love will also ruin its chances for happiness.

In 1992, a young Englishman courageously told a newspaper that he was born to a 15-year-old rape victim. Given the circumstances, “I should never have been born,” he said.

Here is an excerpt from the British newspaper report: “From the moment I was born in a London hospital, my mother never wanted to see me. Seeing me brought back the rape again. She wanted an abortion at the time and she was right. I agree it is the right of a baby to be born but only to parents who love each other.”

In all disputes, the lesson of nature is to find conciliation by seeking higher ground.

The writer champions interfaith harmony. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com