Time for our learned brethren to get a grip on things

Hannah-YeohBy Azrul Mohd Khalib

The views of the Centre for Human Rights Research and Advocacy (Centhra) CEO Azril Mohd Amin in his Utusan Malaysia essay and those of Institut Kajian Strategi Islam Malaysia (IKSIM) Fellow, Dr Kamarul Zaman in his recent remarks regarding Hannah Yeoh’s book are unfortunately not new or alien to us here in Malaysia, especially if you are from the Malay Muslim community.

We have heard all these assertions before, some of us, from primary school to adulthood.

These views highlight and again bring to the forefront two main problems: their ignorance and lack of knowledge of Christianity and the Christian community in Malaysia in general, and the need for organisations such as Centhra and IKSIM to continuously find bogeymen to feed into the irrational fear and paranoia which they keep alive among those of the Islamic faith.

It must be hard going to sleep at night for these self-anointed champions. They see bogeymen and enemies everywhere. There are just so many things for them to be afraid of.

It is an unfair, erroneous and frankly, insulting assumption by this lot that Muslims in this country (who are the majority) have faith which is somehow forever vulnerable, timid and fragile. That the Muslim community must forever feel insecure, afraid and suspicious of those of other faiths in the belief that the latter are out to get you.

Such arguments often hinge on fear, bigotry and compulsion instead of reason, understanding and discussion. One such example is Azril’s essay.

Suggesting the introduction and use of anti-evangelicalism laws, and looking at Russia’s Yarovaya Act as a role model, is hateful and fuels suspicion, mistrust and hostility towards the Christian community, and to evangelical Christians in particular.

Every citizen has the right to profess and practise his or her religion, without being restricted or denied by the State. What guarantees this right? Last I checked, it was the Federal Constitution.

Deputy Home Minister  Nur Jazlan Muhammed is correct in saying that such a move would also be counterproductive, even harmful. His recommendation for dialogue between Muslims and Christians as the way forward to end interfaith suspicions should be taken seriously by all parties.

Nur Jazlan’s suggestion of the establishment of a faith protocol based on individual choice would also be ground-breaking and would go a long way towards healing relations and restoring inter-religious harmony.

Malaysians have had enough of wild and unsubstantiated accusations and paranoia which have, in the past, resulted in mobs, threats, physical violence, cancelled worship events, raids by religious authorities and banning of holy books.

Speaking of wild accusations and paranoia, Azril has urged the government “to take action before disaster strikes”. What does he mean by that? What is he implying and hoping to achieve with such fear-mongering?

Over the past ten years we have seen and heard again and again the hysterical and irrational accusations of proselytization to and conversions of Muslims from individuals and organisations who are self-anointed and self-appointed champions and defenders of the faith. Now, we hear them again.

They appear to be increasingly unrestrained and unconcerned in their zealousness to be seen to protect the faithful from all threats, real, perceived or imagined. What has become particularly strident is the call to protect their faith from another faith. Listen to what Dr Kamarul had to say about Hannah Yeohs book.

Muslims in other countries are busy making Islam accessible, friendly and inclusive. In Malaysia, those holding learned positions of knowledge and authority who should know better are sounding arrogant, irrational, suspicious and disdainful of other religions. They are sowing suspicion, fear and even hatred which have manifested themselves in recent ugly incidences. They increasingly demand exclusivity over practices, concepts and even words (e.g. the word puasa can only be used by Muslims).

Exclusivity results in misunderstanding, ignorance, conflict, bigotry and irrational fear. It breeds contempt for others and arrogance.

Something has gone wrong with the practice and teaching of Islam in this country.

I would argue that these individuals and organisations are actually the ones who are actively threatening Malaysia’s peace and harmony.

To Centhra and IKSIM, I recommend that you go and learn a bit more about Christianity from our Christian sisters and brothers. Find the humility and courage to visit a few churches and congregations, talk to their clergy and community leaders, and serve in their soup kitchens and outreach programmes.

After all, Islam encourages its faithful to seek knowledge as it is one of the great acts of worship which leads to the path of righteousness and paradise.

We often hear the stern rebuke to shut up, especially when a person is neither of the religion or if they are, presumed to be insufficiently learned and knowledgeable.

Perhaps if Centhra and IKSIM are not willing to learn then they too should stop shooting their mouths off, since they are not from that faith or knowledgeable. As it is, they are embarrassing themselves and fellow Malaysians.

Azrul Mohd Khalib is a spokesperson for Bebas.

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