by Hilmy Nor
According to the constitution of Malaysia, a Malay is a Muslim. Yet Hilmy Nor is a Malay Christian.
Kairos Research Centre, 19B Jalan SS 22/19, Damansara Jaya, 47400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia, 99 pages, RM 20.00 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
—Reviewed by Miriam Adeney, associate professor of World Christian Studies, Seattle Pacific University. Seattle, Washington.
According to the constitution of Malaysia, a Malay is a Muslim. Yet Hilmy Nor is a Malay Christian. He came into a close relationship with Jesus as a young salesman for an oil company. Eventually his witness landed him in jail for fourteen months, two in solitary confinement. Circumcised Heart contains his meditations during incarceration.
This is a very human book. Hilmy writes honestly about the pain of being in jail. The hardest part was being separated from his wife, knowing she suffered too. We meet Hilmy’s mother, who struggled to grow tapioca on abandoned mining land to sell at her vegetable stand. We meet the father who abandoned them. We watch Hilmy walk blindfolded to interrogations so often that when he leaves a room he automatically extends his wrists for handcuffs. It is a gesture he will have to unlearn later. We observe him lose thirty-five pounds.
Still, there is humor. The Muslim inmates arrange for him to cook Christmas dinner for the whole unit, because they want an extra holiday meal. A friend smuggles in a beer in a soda can: “brewed Pepsi.” A noted political prisoner later describes Hilmy as “the jovial Malay Christian convert and Shell executive who looked as if he was on an office outing, being obviously completely apolitical.”
After Hilmy was released he hosted a lunch for his two interrogators. “How could I forgive them? Love them and pray for them? Ridiculous. Yet the Lord taught me how,” he says. When he was in his cell, he had prayed not just that they would be kind to him but that they would be “good officers of the law, men we can trust to do their duty well.” For himself, he prayed “that God will guide me to be an exemplary member of the community and the pride of my family and my race.”
This is not an abstract, theoretical book. It is about what happens inside an ordinary man when suddenly he is confined, cut off from everyday life and bereft of all that is dear. It is about growth of a human spirit through the grace of God. “I had a choice: To turn my eyes to Him for hope, or to turn away and ignore his presence, and sink into depths of self-pity and anger. I chose to accept His invitation,” Hilmy says (17). “The handcuffs were not strong enough to hold me from God’s love…Every experience was another rope tying me more firmly to the cross” (45,7).
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