Mustafa Kamal Anuar reminds us of the importance of embracing humanity and building justice. He points out that human misdeeds have poured scorn on the Grand Design that has created diverse ethnicities, communities, cultures and nations.
We live under one big roof – if one may safely use this metaphor these days – because we belong to the larger family of human beings. Underscoring this notion of the human family is the fact that we are all God’s creation. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us all to treat one another with respect and equality, justly and with compassion primarily for the long-term goal of achieving social justice, lasting peace and prosperity.
The teachings of most religious traditions call upon us – especially those with the means – to help the needy, the orphans and the dispossessed simply because they are part of the human family. Political leaders and the governments they lead are entrusted by their people to work towards the material and spiritual betterment of society as a whole, irrespective of political, religious and ethnic considerations or affiliations.
In Islam, political leaders are exhorted to provide good governance and to be righteous and accountable to the very people whose trust is given to them. The Quranic verse in Surah Al-Nisa (4:58) reminds them:
“Allah doth command you to render back your trusts to those to whom they are due; and when ye judge between man and man, that ye judge with justice…”
And, if we need reminding, Islam Hadhari, which is promoted by the Abdullah administration, has three (out of 10) fundamental principles that are informed by the above Quranic injunction:
(a) a just and trustworthy government;
(b) balanced and comprehensive economic development; and
(c) a good quality of life for the people.
The Ijok “buy-election”
Yet, recent events in Malaysia beg the question as to how much of this religious and political principle of accountability and justice has been closely adhered to by the powers-that-be.
Take Ijok, for instance. This off-the-beaten-track town in Selangor, which had been outside the state government’s radar for a long, long while, finally received development projects in the run-up to the recent by-election, which the ruling coalition won.
In other words, these development goodies came after so many years of neglect by the state government – only because there was a by-election. Such development should have been rolled out gradually over the years, thereby avoiding untold misery for some of the people, irrespective of the colour of their skin.
Millions of ringgit in the form of development projects and inducements were poured into Ijok in that short spell for the construction of mosques and religious schools, the refurbishment of a mosque, the maintenance and construction of public facilities such as roads, and the construction of a new hall for a Chinese school.
The Ijok residents, like many other citizens in the country, certainly deserve such development projects. However, the manner in which these projects and allocations were announced and disbursed by the government smacked of political cynicism because it was seen to be lacking in human compassion. Worse, it degraded the humanity of the residents, who were regarded as potential voters by the incumbent party and were thus reduced to mere pawns in this electoral battle.
Put another way, development projects that were meant to tackle poverty, social inequity and other related social problems – and eventually to achieve social justice – were turned into a vulgar form of bribery. This so-called act of helping fellow humans thus became hypocritical and had the effect of destroying the self-esteem of the intended beneficiaries of this rushed development assistance.
Indeed, to turn of a community of human beings into political football is to demean and denigrate God’s creation. This can even be construed as an affront to the very teachings of most religious traditions, especially Islam. Needless to say, human dignity is of vital importance and nothing must be done to demean it if you are a God-fearing and justice-loving human being.
The saga of the Chinese mosque
To be sure, when we say that we belong to the human family, it also implies a diversity in God’s creation, which should be appreciated and indeed celebrated. We come in various shapes, sizes and colours and this is divine beauty that awaits our appreciation. In Islam, this is diversity in unity as all these human variations eventually point to the one Creator.
Hence, humans are reminded in the Quranic verse in Surah Al-Hujurat (49:13):
“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).”
This verse suggests that it is part of the Grand Design that we humans are made up of different ethnicities, communities and nations. The differences are meant to be celebrated in appreciation of Allah’s divine and diverse creations. And therefore we are expected to treat each other, i.e. God’s creations, with respect, dignity, love, compassion and justice. This verse also implies the universality of Islam.
And yet in multi-ethnic and multicultural Malaysia, despite the touristy slogan of ‘Malaysia truly Asia’, ethnic and cultural differences are often treated with disdain in contradiction to Allah’s divine message.
Take the controversy over the building of Chinese mosques, which became an issue early this year. It involved what was claimed by the Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association (MCMA) to be the difficulty of getting approval from state authorities for the Chinese Muslims to build mosques of their own.
MCMA vice-president Mohd Ridhuan Tee Abdullah said his organisation had been trying to build a Chinese mosque in Selangor for about a decade but claimed that the religious authorities were not even interested in hearing their proposal.
Some of the state religious authorities argued that building Chinese mosques could split or disunite the Muslim ummah in the country. This argument is apparently based on the misconceived premise that to be Muslim is to be Malay and therefore to build a Chinese mosque is to erase the so-called Malay essence of the Muslim ummah.
As Perlis Mufti Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin rightly put it, it was unfair of state governments, particularly religious departments, to deny the right of the Chinese Muslims to build their mosque based on the misunderstood conception that Islam could only mean Malay language, customs and traditions. “The idea that Islam in Malaysia must be Malay in all forms is wrong,” he said.
To deny the right to build mosques for ethnic communities other than Malays is not only racism garbed in religious idiom but also symptomatic of an inability to comprehend the universality of Islam and the failure to appreciate human diversity, which is divine in nature. What is even worse is that this faulty thinking subsumes the universal Islam under the particular and smaller rubric of ‘Malay’.
If one may add here, the denial of the right to build other houses of worship also runs counter to the Islamic principle of religious tolerance and understanding.
Human episodes such as this one also suggest that racism and discriminatory and unjust practices are the antithesis to religious teachings, particularly those of Islam. If anything, these human misdeeds pour scorn on the divinely created diversity of human beings.
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