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Tolerance is a two-way street

May 14, 2014

FMT LETTER: From Yusri Jamaluddin, via e-mail

I am Malay. I am also a Muslim. I was born into a Malay family, in a Malay environment.

As I grew up, I went to a Sekolah Kebangsaan, which comprised mostly Malays with a small number of non-Malays. Then, I went to a Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan. There, I met my first Chinese and Indian best friends – Khai Yoong and Kugeshan. We were known by our classmates for our mischievous activities in class. Sometimes we would skip classes together, and other times we played fire crackers when the teacher was not in class.

Sometimes we got caught, other times we would get a free pass. I remember once, we were called to the disciplinary room together. There were two Malays, one Indian, and one Chinese. We stood shoulder to shoulder in front of our disciplinary teacher while she continued to ‘straighten’ us up. At that moment I thought about how picture perfect it was. If not for the fact that we were breaking the rules, it would’ve made a very good 1Malaysia poster.

After PMR, I was accepted into a Malay school. The three of us were separated but we maintained contact. I spent two years with 700 other Malays. There, I met with Malays from so many different cultures, but yet we were all Muslims. Some of them were more fortunate than others. It was also at that same school that I became active in debate. We were trained day and night by our Chinese teacher, Miss Mei Yoke, and we took part in many competitions.

It was her guidance that propelled my colleague and I to be recognised into the Top 20 National Best Speaker list during IIUM’s National Inter-school Debate. It was at the same competition that I met this one unique Indian. His name is Terence. He spoke Bahasa Melayu better than any other Malay. If you were not able to see who you’re speaking to, you might not have guessed that he was Indian.

It was during that same year, the vice chairperson of DAP, Teresa Kok, shocked Malaysia with her provocative demand to remove Jawi from road signs and deemed it no longer relevant to our diverse culture. The issue was eventually swept under the rug regardless of its lack of respect towards the Malay-Muslim culture, and the diversity of Malaysian culture.

In 2010, I was accepted to a preparation college where I mingled with very competitive Malays and non-Malays. Most of the non-Malays were from vernacular schools. There, I met John, an ambitious friend who forced himself to speak Malay with us to avoid discomfort and he believed in the affirmative action which emphasises equity, not equality.

He made me realise that the lack of connection between Malays and non-Malays all this while was mostly due to language barriers. He was open and at the same time, respectful of the Malay culture. In return, I respected his culture as well. As the saying goes, respect is earned, not given.

It was during that same year when I joined Toastmasters International. Upon attending the first meeting, I was surrounded by non-Malays. In fact, I was one of the very few Malays who was  in the club. Later, I was elected president of the club. The vice president and I were the only Malays in the high committee. During my term, I’ve had the opportunity to engage with poor and orphaned Christian boys of Chinese and Indian background.

Our team met with the boys and our goal was to inspire them to speak in public and to pursue their biggest ambitions. At the end of the programme, I delivered a speech in front of all of the boys in hopes that they would be motivated to work hard and succeed in the future. I hope that in this blessed country, they are able to explore their fullest potential, as Chinese and Indian businessmen have flourished and become some of the richest people in Malaysia.

That same year, MCA president, Chua Soi Lek issued a statement that hudud is counter-progressive. A statement that I felt was very insensitive to the Muslim majority. The same call was chanted in 2014, where Chinese political parties from both sides dubbed hudud as bringing Malaysia ‘back to the dark ages’ as reported by the Malaysian Insider.

What is the difference between the two incidents? Anwar Ibrahim was more keen to regard the former’s comment as a ‘brazen attack on Islam’ while he kept silent when his own coalition member decides to do the same. What else should we expect of those seeking political gains?

2011, the Malay community was shocked again by a statement from Chong Eng, the chairperson of Wanita DAP. She issued a statement which said that the Malays are immigrants of the land and she quoted the same book that defined Malays as a race that existed only for political purposes. She was regarded by many as exercising her freedom to be opinionative.

A few years afterwards, DAP’s Tony Pua ridiculed a Valentine’s Day fatwa by Muslim scholars by making sarcastic remarks on his Facebook. I see his actions as nothing but a deliberate attempt to disrespect Muslims. Again, such an act was easily accepted by many. I can go on and on to mention many other incidents, but I hope what has been mentioned is enough to get my point across.

I have always cherished my Chinese and Indian friends. I am thankful for the contributions of my Chinese teacher which had brought me far in life. I will continue to maintain close ties with them. My friends and teachers are the building blocks of who I am right now. I am grateful for the contributions of our athletes such as Lee Chong Wei, Nicol Ann David, Pandalela Rinong, Alex Yoong, M Magendran and many others.

Throughout my life as a Malay Muslim in a multiracial nation, I have lived side-by-side with non-Malays with absolutely no friction. We cherish our differences and enjoy each other’s company with respect. I have now understood that racial tension has never been a problem due to racial coexistence in its entirety; instead it has always been the issue of loyalty to the country and to our past agreements.

History has shown that Muslims and non-Muslims have peacefully lived under the ruling of Islam for centuries in various regions across the globe. Islam is just, it protects all that lives under its system, but it does not tolerate disloyalty. It celebrates those who uphold agreements, and at the same time, it does not comply with the breaching of contracts.

Isma adheres to the same principles and is consistent in upholding those values with no intent to seek political gains. Such is the reason why our membership consists of Malay, Chinese, and Indian origin. For us, our faith is thicker than blood.

Bear in mind that this call for loyalty is not just for the Chinese. Isma is also against disloyal acts of everyone who seek to show disrespect to the social contract. This includes those who seek to undermine the position of Islam as the religion of the federation, through means of seeking foreign intervention such as the ‘civil’ society groups of Sisters in Islam, the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) and their counterparts.

Perhaps, now is the time for DAP to reconsider its policies on ‘the abolition of the division of “bumiputera” and “non-bumiputera”’ which is completely against our agreed social contract. Or perhaps now is the time for DAP’s supporters to reconsider moving their loyalty away from the party’s policies, to the agreed principles of our country. It is time for all of us to keep our distance away from the line that our country’s forefathers have drawn for us so as to avoid unnecessary confrontation. As the law of physics goes, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

It is time that we stand and say ‘no’ the disloyal acts of DAP or its counterparts which have clearly been challenging the social contract and the spirit of the constitution. I hope that all Malaysians understand by now, how important it is to adhere by our agreed contract in pursuing racial harmony and to continue to coexist in this blessed country.

Tolerance is a two-way street. There should be give and take from both ends.

The writer, an Isma activist, holds a Masters in Business Analytics from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York.


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