Shackled by the rhetoric of ‘Rahmatan Lil Alamin’

On Oct 2, Mujahid Yusof Rawa, the minister in charge of Islamic affairs, announced that the working paper on the “Rahmatan lil Alamin” (mercy to all creations) policy was ready to be presented to the Cabinet.

Mujahid announced that this was the country’s new Islamic administration policy. This sounds very promising and progressive, given that the policies of Muslim leadership throughout much of the Muslim world are currently in a deplorable state.

Another recent development is the United Arab Emirate’s (UAE) hosting of the 2nd World Tolerance Summit, which was held on Nov 13-14 in Dubai. This was in conjunction with the UAE’s declaration of 2019 as the “Year of Tolerance” on Dec 15 last year by its president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed.

Previously, in November 2017, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE vice-president, named the pedestrian bridge over the Dubai Canal the Tolerance Bridge. It was done symbolically on the 22nd anniversary of the International Day of Tolerance.

All these pronouncements and activities were based on the Emirati desire to continue welcoming over 200 nationalities, who live in the constitutional monarchy of seven federated emirates.

Of a population of about 9.2 million, only 1.4 million are Emirati citizens. The other 7.8 million are expatriates, which explains the leadership’s concerted efforts to project the aura of “harmony without racism, discrimination or intolerance”.

A well-kept universal and blatantly open secret is the fact that the UAE has not been very tolerant of fellow Muslims in many parts of the war-torn Middle East.

It makes sense to latch Mujahid’s Rahmatan lil Alamin policy to the UAE’s tolerance manifesto. However, compassion towards religious minorities in Malaysia, especially how Shia Muslims are perceived and treated, is still a work-in-progress that our state and federal authorities persist in ignoring.

There is a clear, fine thread of hypocrisy that connects the religious worldviews of both UAE and Malaysian administrations.

While UAE continues to have diplomatic relations with Iran, there are none with Israel. Yet, The Wall Street Journal recently reported that this past August, the US had arranged secret talks between Israel and UAE over Iran.

Last year, The New Yorker revealed that such talks date back to the 1990s. It would have been a profound show of global leadership for Malaysia if Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad had critiqued this at the last United Nations General Assembly (Unga).

Instead, he continues to criticise the Jews and weep figuratively for the plight of the Palestinians. It would have been more respectable if his 2019 Unga speech included the duplicity game played by many Muslim nations of the Middle East.

This way, at least, Malaysia would be considered less of a hypocrite.

The current Malaysian leadership is busy declaring how compassionate Islam is at home, while taking no action against racist and bigoted remarks made by individuals at the Malay Dignity Congress.

After 18 months of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, there is still a lack of a united official voice to dispel the myth that Malays and Muslims are “threatened”.

Without a change in narrative, we will continue to fall into an abyss of intolerance. This is exactly what has happened in the Middle East.

Various countries in the Muslim world are not united in their perception of the geopolitical imperialism facing Muslims. Many countries in the Middle East have separate vested interests.

It has become tiresome to read the superficial rhetoric about Muslim compassion and Islam as a tolerant religion emanating from the speeches of these leaders. Mujahid himself, during a recent interview with BBC Hardtalk’s Zeinab Badawi, tried to address the issue of worsening racial and religious tensions since PH took over last year.

When asked how serious the racial and religious divide is in Malaysia, Mujahid robotically rattled off Articles 3 and 11 of the Federal Constitution. He reiterated that other faiths are free to practise their religion, but that Islam is the only religion that can be promoted.

When pressed further, the all-too-familiar blame game surfaced: that this apparent divisive racial and religious climate was inherited from the previous administration.

Not only was Mujahid unable to answer the question posed, he avoided addressing the reality in Malaysia. The fact that a Turkish family of six had been recently deported to Turkey, or that private Shia homes were raided by religious authorities in Selangor during Ashura, was explained in the usual defeatist manner.

Citing the dry legalities of how Islam is administered in Malaysia, Mujahid explained that religion is the responsibility of the individual states, under the purview of the sultans. As a result, the PH government has no authority to handle these issues.

If so, how can Mujahid’s commitment to the Rahmatan lil Alamin policy be taken seriously?

Just as the world should not take UAE’s World Tolerance Summit seriously, Malaysia’s commitment to “mercy to all of God’s creatures” will be tossed into the dustbin of useless rhetoric.

PH suffered a massive defeat in the just concluded Tanjung Piai by-election. Mujahid’s internationally aired declaration that Malaysia upholds universal Islamic values of tolerance and compassion has done more damage than good to ordinary Malaysians. Tanjung Piai’s election results are proof of this.

First, he has managed to anger a lot more Malaysians who cannot reconcile his talk of compassion with the worsening economic conditions. Government-linked companies and government-linked investment companies have been transferred to PPBM-controlled ministries. They have not been reformed. Political appointees continue to be made. After 18 months of PH administration, the B40 are still waiting anxiously for relief from the rising cost of living.

Second, the consistent PH response has been to blame the previous government’s cronyism, the 1MDB crimes and the huge debts the government inherited. Yet, not a single criminal has been punished.

Mujahid’s blaming the Barisan Nasional (BN) government for the current racial and religious tensions is unacceptable. The public is no longer tolerant of these excuses, yet Mujahid talks persistently of Rahmatan lil Alamin, of a tolerant Islam in Malaysia.

Malaysia under PH seems to have a lot in common with the rest of the intellectually backward Muslim world. Let us not be fooled by the appearance of UAE’s wealth and tremendous economic development. The reality is the concepts of tolerance and compassion should only be applied to ethical and morally upright nations.

It is an utter sin when a nation boisterously declares it is compassionate by invoking Islam, and yet is blatantly oppressive to its own community.

As one of Saudi Arabia’s allies interfering in the Yemen civil war, UAE has also been a supporter of the US-led hostilities towards Iran. It is obvious that the ulterior motive for the World Tolerance Summit was to attract foreign investments which use UAE as a gateway for their export commodities throughout the region.

Placing economic reward above the sincere desire to solve humanitarian crises facing fellow Muslims in the region is not representative of a compassionate Islam.

It is equally reprehensible that Malaysia’s leadership deliberately partakes in domestic identity politics despite knowing that it is accelerating racial and religious divisions our society.

There is no more time to waste. The PH government must be serious if it is truly committed to upholding Rahmatan lil Alamin.

On the international stage, Malaysia is perceived as a laughing stock with our dual approach to governance.

Ordinary Malaysian Muslims tend to look up to the more developed nations of the Arab world. We hail UAE, for instance, as a progressive, comfortable, economically vibrant and successful country. It is about time though, that we see through this veneer of wealth, and expose the hypocritical and sinful use of religion to fool masses of Muslims.

It is about time we realise our own leadership is doing the same thing.

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