From Adli Saad
Malaysia is truly unique. We are a nation of different races and faiths living together, making us one of the world’s most diverse societies.
Respect has been instrumental in safeguarding this harmony even as other societies implode with violence and prejudice. Malaysians live harmoniously, barring a few incidents, because we are a tolerant country where people have the right to worship what they believe and observe their respective festivals and traditions with no interference from other races or folks of other faiths.
Indeed, respect in Islam is at the core of its belief: Muslims are commanded to respect their parents, elders, colleagues, neighbours – even animals and the environment. Respecting the beliefs and values of others has allowed Muslims to safeguard and honour the rights of others.
The problem now is that many Muslims feel that our values and beliefs are being challenged. We are provoked by interference from non-Muslims.
Take the Bon Odori tempest. Why are non-Muslims commenting on guidance from a Muslim minister and scholar that is specifically for Muslims?
We’ve never interfered. Therefore, we ask for the same courtesy.
How would you feel if we asked a Hindu to help the Muslims in the slaughter of cattle during the festival of Aidiladha in the name of harmony? But, Muslims have never done that and asked others to abandon their beliefs or forced our beliefs on non-Muslims.
You may say Bon Odori is just a cultural festival with no religious connotations. But here’s what my Japanese friend has said: “Bon Odori began as a memorial service for the spirits of the ancestors. It has now evolved into a festival featuring a choreographed dance that emphasises the movement of the feet, where stepping on the ground is a ritual to send out the ancestors to find their way home.”
Islam is clear on what is permissible or otherwise. Supplications for the dead are fine, but ritualistic dances are a no-no.
Muslims are guided by divine laws: the commands of Allah and the examples of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It’s not about opinions, or what I say, or what this or that scholar says.
Muslims don’t look to the Middle East just because it’s the birthplace of Islam. Muslims don’t follow the Arabs just because Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is one of them.
Although the Middle East is now inviting Western ideals to be seen by the world as being liberal, inclusive and pragmatic (hello, BTS concert!), these are not Islam’s values. Everything a Muslim does needs to be guided by the Quran and evidence exemplified by the Prophet (peace be upon him).
But what about harmony, you ask? Islam encourages us to embrace other people’s traditions and cultures as long as they do not go against Islam.
See Surah Al Kafirun 109, verse 6, meaning: “we worship not what you worship, nor do you worship what we worship”. Thus, Muslims in authority, such as Jakim and the religious affairs minister, Idris Ahmad, have the responsibility to advise fellow Muslims on the guidelines of how to live in accordance with Allah’s and the Prophet’s commands.
Again, the guidelines are for Muslims. Whether or not they are followed is up to each individual Muslim. People of other faiths are free to observe the festival and do as they please.
But my liberal Muslim friend says Bon Odori is fine! Just like many people, Muslims in general always conflate religion and what is considered culture and tradition.
Opinions will always be there. But for Muslims who only want to please God – without needing approval in the court of public opinion – we know what we need to do.
Muslims as followers are not perfect, but Islam is a perfect religion from the Almighty Creator. The Quran says: “Today I have perfected your religion for you” (Al-Maidah, verse 3).
For anyone to say anything about Islam, they should be learned and guided by the Quran and the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) examples and have knowledge about the religion.
In conclusion, we hope Malaysians will learn to respect Muslims’ rights. Religious harmony means equal respect for each other’s faiths and beliefs, not stirring up controversy by force-feeding your opinions and ideas without, as the Sultan of Selangor said, an “in-depth study of the matter”.
Adli Saad is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.