It is rumoured that Islamic Studies teachers in Chinese schools wield great power over their Muslim students. Islam is a domain that the authorities of those schools would not want to venture into for fear of being accused of interfering in Islamic affairs. So the ustazs and ustazahs are left on their own.
The same can be said of DAP-held Penang. It seems that the handful of Muslims tasked with speaking on Islamic matters can do so without much intervention from the chief minister. Why should he intervene? After all, his party has for so long been vilified as anti-Islam and Chinese-centric.
And so we get people like the exco in charge of religion, Abdul Malik Kassim, and the newly appointed spokesman for the CM’s office, Wan Ji Hussein, telling everyone what is right and wrong in Islam.
Both men dismissed the public outrage over a local preacher’s recent speech, which essentially promoted a kind of apartheid flavoured with his version of Islam.
To these two, Shahul Hamid’s exclusivist and racist take on how a good Muslim should deal with people around him is a trivial matter and something that comes under the realm of free speech.
Shahul is against everything that a typical Malaysian Muslim does daily, from saying “hello” to offering birthday greetings to letting the typical Hindu barber touch his head.
But it’s okay, say the two Muslim spokesmen from PKR. As long as Shahul did not preach “deviant teachings” violating the Islamic creed, he is free to say what he wants.
In other words, as long as Shahul or anyone else believes in the One God and in Prophet Muhammad’s status as God’s final messenger, he is allowed to give a speech that promotes a confused mix of Islam and apartheid, one that tells Muslims not to deal with non-Muslims and encourages them to be socially stiff at birthday parties.
“It would be different if he had said that pork and alcohol were permissible in Islam,” Malik said.
Really? Is telling Muslims that they may eat pork more dangerous than telling them to stay away from 90% of Penang’s population?
Whatever happened to the spirit of Maqasid al-Shariah and the Islamic principle of preserving the greater interest of the public?
Malik and Wan Ji are obviously unclear on free speech, as are a section of human rights activists who struggle to explain this concept to Malaysians.
Nobody is questioning anyone’s right to free speech, but if there was a law against hate crime, Shahul and his ilk would have long ago been thrown into jail.
To each his own. One can dress in whatever garb he likes, or grow his beard to whatever length he wants or walk with three or four tents trailing him.
But that freedom stops at my nose. And at the tip of that nose is my right to be treated as an equal, not as an untouchable just because I don’t believe in your religion.
Abdar Rahman Koya is Editor-in Chief at FMT.