By Ravinder Singh
There is mischief in the decision to bring in religious speakers who are touted as experts to speak on topics like “Similarities in Islam and Hinduism” in a multi-racial society.
It is heartening to note that one minister, Nazri Aziz, has seen through this mischief and said, “It is unnecessary for a controversial preacher such as Dr Zakir Naik to come to this country and create a mess which the public would have to clean after.”
Thank you, Nazri, for your forthrightness on this issue even though some quarters may have the audacity to say you are not defending Islam. You were right when you said, “It’s not about freedom of speech. What’s most important is the harmony between the different races and religions.”
It is surprising that some lawyers have defended the freedom to talk on such an incendiary subject. They appear to have ignored the Penal Code, which contains a section on “Offences Relating to Religion.” Section 298A (1) states that punishment is due to:
“Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations, or by any act, activity or conduct, or by organising, promoting or arranging, or assisting in organising, promoting or arranging, any activity or otherwise in any manner:
“(a) causes, or attempts to cause, or is likely to cause disharmony, disunity, or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will; or
“(b) prejudices, or attempts to prejudice, or is likely to prejudice, the maintenance of harmony or unity on grounds of religion, between persons or groups of persons professing the same or different religions.”
This provision of the law unequivocally puts a limit to freedom of speech and actions.
A topic such as the one originally proposed by Zakir is for discourse among philosophers and definitely not for the ordinary men in the street who live in a multi-religious, multi-cultural society and whose education, knowledge and level of understanding is far from being philosophical. A teacher must talk to children at the children’s level of understanding and perception of a subject. He must not say and do things that would leave certain children so swollen in the head that they might bully others who they have been made to believe are inferior to them.
What’s the motive for such a talk in a multi-racial society? If there are similarities in Hinduism and Islam, then expounding on them to a multi-religious audience would mean telling them that they could choose to be either Hindu or Muslim because they would receive the same favours from God. It would mean telling the audience of their right and freedom to choose their religion, if they want to have a religion.
Obviously, that was not the message Zakir intended to convey. His message would have ended with the pronouncement that a certain religion is the one and only true religion. So of the supposedly two similar religions, one ends up as the true religion and the other false.
The title was cleverly chosen to camouflage the motive, which was to deceive the public.
The talk is now going to be on “Islam, Problems and Solutions to Humanity.” For this talk to achieve anything meaningful, it should focus on real-life problems. There are so of many these to address, especially in the Malaysian context. For instance, just a few weeks ago, a minister lamented that all the mat rempits were Muslims and he couldn’t understand why. Several high ranking persons were arrested recently for corruption, Muslims among them. Why are Muslims involved in corruption? Almost all incest cases involve Muslims. Why? Almost all baby-dumping cases involve Muslims. Why?
It would be useful to the country if the causes of these maladies could be identified and practical solutions provided by the speaker.
Let’s begin by solving the problems at home before talking of the rest of humanity. Please advice the Malaysian government on what it could and should do to solve such problems. The Muslims involved in them, though small in number, give a bad name to Islam and embarrass the good Muslims.
Ravinder Singh is an FMT reader.
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