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Whither go the nons?

 | May 24, 2017

Does proselytization mean we cannot talk about our beliefs in any way, shape, or form?

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The uncomfortable tension between Malaysia’s religious majority and the various minorities is once again threating to come to a head, this time over the accusation by UUM lecturer Kamarul Zaman Yusoff that Selangor Speaker Hannah Yeoh’s autobiography contains elements of proselytisation for her Christian faith.

Yeoh, well known among her constituents as an avid churchgoer, released her biography back in 2014 and the authorities placed no restrictions on the sale of book.

Kamarul claimed to have bought the book for political insight, but allegedly found references and testimonies to Yeoh’s faith that shook his own beliefs. This of course prompted him to lodge a police report against her, complaining there were too many Christian references in the autobiography.

Naturally, he came under siege. Various politicians and social media enthusiasts have branded him “too stupid to be a lecturer” and an “extremist”, and he has spent much time petulantly rejecting the labels.

Now, many non-Muslim Malaysians are used to the double standard of treatment Yeoh is now receiving when it comes to matters of faith. Islam’s constitutional supremacy as the official religion of our constitutionally secular country has long been used to cow minority religions, with many restrictions placed upon the practice of worship, such as the edict forbidding churches from displaying crosses on the outside of their buildings.

However, to take aim at a political figure for her non-political autobiography, one that touches upon her personal religious values and beliefs, is an overreaction of gargantuan proportions.

Kamarul’s complaint ostensibly rests upon the wrong assumption that Yeoh is not allowed to discuss her faith in any public format because she is a politician in public office and there would be Muslim interest in her autobiography. He claims that her references to Christianity may sway the faith of readers looking for political insight into her career.

Certainly, there are laws against proselytisation that any good non-Muslim keeps in mind for fear of being bundled off to a corrective facility somewhere, but does this mean that a person cannot discuss his or her faith? Or should we live in constant fear that somebody will take offence?

The book has been marketed as the personal autobiography of one of the most dynamic, young politicians to have won public office in decades, one that revolves around her struggle as a person. At no point has it been suggested that it would provide insight into Yeoh’s political life. Can her expression of gratitude for the teachings and blessings she believes she has received be considered proselytisation?

It’s time we had an honest conversation with the government and its proxies, agents and servants. What is defined as proselytisation, and what are the boundaries allowed non-Muslims? At present, it seems that what is acceptable in public is more of a guessing game as to whether or not some right-wing snowflake somewhere will take offence at someone’s profession of faith.

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