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Controversy over book shows need for greater dialogue

 | May 21, 2017

An exchange of ideas should add to one’s understanding of religious beliefs of others, says Amanah’s Mujahid Yusof Rawa.


KUALA LUMPUR: The stir caused by a university lecturer over the autobiography of Selangor speaker Hannah Yeo, from DAP, has raised again the question of Islam’s relations with other religions in the country.

Universiti Utara Malaysia’s (UUM) Kamarul Zaman Yusoff recently claimed the book “Becoming Hannah” promoted Christianity, saying it had too many references to the Bible that could “persuade, influence and instigate” non-Christians to become followers or be inclined towards Christian teachings.

Critics of Kamarul, however, say the book deals with Yeo’s life journey and it would be inevitable that as a Christian, her narrative would link her life with her beliefs.

Amanah vice-president Mujahid Yusof Rawa said Kamarul’s argument was not reasonable and insulted the intelligence of Muslims.

“That book is about her life journey and being a Christian. It would certainly narrate the role of God and religion in her life.

“Don’t just simply accuse it of being an attempt to convert Muslims,” he told FMT.

Shortly before the incident, the presence of controversial preacher Zakir Naik had drawn displeasure, especially from Hindus, as he had been accused of misinterpreting and insulting the religion.

The main argument from the party that supported Naik’s presence in Malaysia was that he had the right to free speech and that the subject of his talks was on “comparative religions”.

Article 3 of the Federal Constitution states that “Islam is the religion of the federation, but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony”, while Article 11(4) says the propagation of any religion among Muslims may be controlled or restricted by state law.

These provisions are often used as justification every time issues involving the relationship between Islam and other religions erupt.

“It seems that on one side there is freedom (in religion), but on the other side there is a caveat,” Mujahid said.

Lawyer Syahredzan Johan said the provisions showed non-Muslims also held the right to express their feelings about their religions.

“What is restricted is their promotion. If the expression does not have any element of proselytization, it is not proper to restrict it.”

Even then, how far are articles 3 and 11(4) correctly interpreted in Malaysian religious life today?

The controversies over Naik and Yeoh have made it seem as though only Muslims can interfere in the affairs of other religions, while non-Muslims can observe their faiths but only among themselves and cannot speak openly about their religions.

Does this not reek of double standards?

Commenting on this, Mujahid said the constitution is not specific and therefore has to be interpreted in the appropriate context according to the cases faced in the present scenario.

“Article 11(4) needs to precisely interpreted, based on the case at hand and most importantly without going overboard.”

On Dec 31, 2009, the High Court ruled that the Catholic magazine The Herald had the constitutional right to use the word “Allah” for instruction and education of Christians, pursuant to Articles 11 and 12 of the Federal Constitution.

This decision was later reversed by the Court of Appeal. It was then followed by the Federal Court not allowing the Catholic Church to appeal the new ruling.

Mujahid said inter-religious relations can be improved by establishing greater understanding among people of different faiths.

“Islam itself encourages two-way dialogue.”

He said while there have been contentious debates like those engaged by Naik, there have also been rare instances of dialogues that resulted in greater harmony among different religious followers.

“It should be an exchange of ideas that does not seek to show who is more correct, but instead add to one’s understanding of the beliefs of others.”

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Becoming Hannah


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