Perlis mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin might be a controversial figure on a variety of matters, but he could be open and progressive on some.
Unlike other state-appointed religious officials, Asri is not a person who will blindly toe state-sanctioned religious directives as he has a mind of his own.
When it comes to the controversial Islamic preacher from Mumbai, Dr Zakir Naik, Asri might support him on Islamic matters, but is not willing to condone his interference in domestic politics.
I met Asri a few months back in Putrajaya on the matter of Naik, and I found him to be reasonable and open-minded. At least, we could have an intelligent conversation.
However, what I find objectionable is his recent statement that Malaysia belongs to Malays and the non-Malays must find ways to adapt to the Malay language and customs.
This statement, I think, was made as a result of the Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools’ opposition to the introduction of khat calligraphy.
Rather than saying that Malaysia is for Malaysians, his anger towards the Chinese and Tamil school groups got the better of him.
I can understand such kind of narrow nationalistic argument during the earlier decades when independence was a political issue, but surely not in the present era where countries are embracing pluralism and liberalism on citizenship matters.
Asri is not saying that non-Malays have no place in Malaysia, he is merely reiterating the point of Malay ultranationalists that non-Malays being immigrants must accommodate to requirements of the dominant ethnic group – the Malays.
To buttress his thesis, he gives the examples of the United States, the United Kingdom and others to show that despite talks of human or equal rights, these countries cannot hide the fact that ethnic minorities have to come to terms with the majoritarian requirements.
I don’t think non-Malays have rejected in toto Malay culture and language.
They have accepted without question the provisions that Malay is the national language, the special positions of the Malays, the position of the Malay rulers and matters that are inter-related. So it is wrong on the part of Asri to say that non-Malays have not accepted certain features of the dominant ethnic group.
Vernacular schools exist in Malaysia in a legal and constitutional basis.
If there are ill-thought-out attempts to introduce certain measures that might have the tendency to dilute and change the character of these schools, then the opposition is something normal.
What is so anti-national about this? How can opposition from Dong Zong be unfairly characterised as racist?
In a superficial sense, the argument that Malaysia is for the Malays might be a dangerous one. If such a point is pursued, then what of non-Europeans residing as full-fledged citizens in predominantly white nations?
Will Asri not defend the full rights of non-whites in North America or Europe? Will he ignore the rights of non-white Muslims in these countries?
Are Muslims, Christians and other minorities not entitled to equal rights as the Hindus in India?
P Ramasamy is the Penang deputy chief minister II.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.