A Muslim’s defence of atheists

Hanipa-Maidin_law_6004By Hanipa Maidin

As a Muslim, of course atheism is not desirable to me. It goes against the very basic tenets of my religion.

Nevertheless, in discussing the subject of freedom of religion under our Federal Constitution, we unfortunately have to set aside our religious sentiments. Our religious adherence should never cloud over another person’s freedom or right to his or her own religious beliefs.

Freedom of religion, to begin with, should never be approached from the prism of truth or legitimacy of such a religion. If we do that, any meaningful discussion on freedom of religion would be unduly frustrated. As a result, it would reduce the sacred right to freedom of religion to a fruitless exercise.

This is what has happened in the ongoing debate on atheism in our nation. As far as I am concerned, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki was clearly in error when he concluded that atheism was not protected under the Federal Constitution.

He erroneously stated that atheism was not safeguarded under the principle of freedom of religion enshrined under Article 11 of the Federal Constitution.

His logic, or rather his rhetoric, was that there is freedom of religion but no freedom from religion.

With such political rhetoric, he was in fact driving home this message: atheism is not a religion, thus the issue of protecting atheism does not arise.

Was he right in implying that? With the greatest respect, I am of the view that he was plainly wrong. His view, with respect, is not only alien to constitutional protection but also foreign to the very concept of freedom of religion enjoined by the Quranic injunction.

His biggest mistake, in my humble view, was that he seemed to approach the issue of atheism from his profound adherence to his own religion – Islam – thus blurring his perspective. He seemed to subscribe to a view that any belief professed or practised by others that is against his own belief should not be given due recognition.

I submit that such an approach would be detrimental to the noble idea of freedom of religion. Religious freedom deals with our capacity to appreciate the highest level of tolerance which is, as Asyraf should have known, the hallmark of his own religion.

Another mistake Asyraf unfortunately committed, I submit, was this: he failed to appreciate that a religion is closely attached to one’s inner belief or conscience. Such a belief has nothing to do with any elements of truth or accuracy of such a belief.

The business of determining the truth or accuracy of such a belief, if at all so important, ought to be left to the person holding the belief. The state should not police such a belief, regardless of whether it may have problems with that religion.

I truly believe that this is equally the position of Islam, which zealously promotes that sacred right or freedom. As we are fully aware, freedom implies that there is not an iota of coercion.

Hence, freedom of religion simply means nobody has any right to question my belief, irrespective of whether my belief may collide with your belief. Any individual or even the state should respect and honour my belief. That is basically the crux of Article 11 of our supreme law.

I am a Muslim, and I have no problem defending the right of any atheist to profess or even practise atheism.

My only caveat is that by professing or practising such a belief, he or she must not create trouble with public morality, public security or public health. For doing so would offend Article 11 (5) of the Federal Constitution.

Hanipa Maidin is Sepang MP and Amanah central committee member.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.