Sticks and stones don’t put food on the table

In a narration by Anas ibn Malik, it was reported that a man once passed the prophet and said to him, “Death be upon you!” When the prophet’s companions heard what happened, they became angry and offered to kill the man. The prophet, however, prevented them from doing so.

The prophet did not harm nor take revenge against those who insulted him.

Closer to home, the recent incident with Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah demonstrates just how highly strung certain sensitivities have run — to a point where the police have taken to rounding up people who “insulted” the queen on social media.

In the face of insults, Tunku Azizah gracefully shows how one can easily rise above the negativity simply by reminding herself and others that, “Allah knows who (she) really is”.

As such, she neither lodged reports on the insults nor had she given any directive on any action to be taken by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).

Upon hearing that two people had been arrested for insulting comments towards her on social media, she demanded their immediate release.

In the wise words of Tunku Azizah herself, people should really chill.

Our country has gotten into the bad habit of getting angry on behalf of others and thinking that punishing them with heavy sentences would teach them a lesson about respect.

In March this year, Ayea Yea was sentenced to 10 years and 10 months jail, and Mohamad Yazid Kong Abdullah was sentenced to seven months’ jail for insulting the prophet and Islam via social media.

In the same month, Jakim announced that they had set up a special hotline to monitor what it deems to insult against the prophet and Islam.

This move not only surrendered a golden opportunity to gently educate others about the beauty of Islam, but it also opened the floodgates for people to start finding faults in others simply by being offended on behalf of what is actually a truly compassionate and forgiving religion.

According to the minister in charge of Islamic affairs, Mujahid Yusof Rawa, the unit sometimes received up to 10,000 complaints a day.

Since March, Malaysia has had multiple arrests, charges and sentences meted out for “insulting” Islam and the prophet every month.

The seven-year sentence against 22-year-old Sarawakian Alistair Cogia recently represents the latest in this string of prosecutions.

At least four more are currently awaiting trial.

What is more disturbing is how this fear-mongering, silencing of free speech and denial of basic humanity is creating barriers against unity in our country. The most worrying evidence of this growing mistrust has manifested itself in the form of economic boycotts against non-Muslim products.

Sisters in Islam is worried about the deepening economic stress experienced by society today, and how it is caused by social paranoia fanned by political greed.

What is more disturbing is how, unless both these tensions are alleviated as soon as possible, they will form a vicious cycle which feeds off one another — a trend that we observe has already begun to happen in Malaysia.

Urgent policies and reforms are therefore needed in order to ensure that justice is upheld in the best interest of all and that economic accessories provide the means for financial independence, especially for the underprivileged, marginalised and vulnerable communities. These policies and reforms should also promote unity, understanding and friendship among all Malaysians.

More importantly, they must focus on recognising and restoring the dignity and humanity of all Malaysians.

Surah Al-Araf, verse 199 tells us that we should, “show forgiveness, enjoin what is good, and turn away from the ignorant” [7:199]. While it is easy to demand heavy punishments and put away those who we disagree with, we are reminded to seek the good in all.

Respect cannot be forced. Respect must be earned.

Majidah Hashim is the communications manager for Sisters in Islam.

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