Moderate peace-loving Malaysian are standing up to challenge the misguided and irrational views spewed out by groups such as Isma and Perkasa, writes Henry Loh.
In just over a week, Christians all over the world will be celebrating Christmas Day. In the past, irrespective of one’s religious beliefs or affiliation, there would be hardly any hesitation in wishing each other Merry Christmas and compliments of the season.
The multi-religious and multi-ethnic nature of Malaysia’s population had for much of our history been a cause for celebration, and Muslims and those of other faiths embraced and welcome each religion’s festivities with great cheer and goodwill.
Quite unfortunately, that social fabric which held the adherents of different religions together has become somewhat frayed. There is a school of thought which advise Muslims that it is not “Islamic” and, as such, improper to wish Christians “Merry Christmas” or to greet Hindus “Happy Deepavali”. How has it come to this?
In the same vein, under sub section 48 (3) and (4) of the Penang Islamic Religious Administration Enactment 2004, it was legislated and subsequently gazetted in 2010 that 40 words and phrases, including the word Allah, are not to be used by people of other faiths as they are for the exclusive use of Muslims.
>This matter has placed the Chief Minister of Penang in a spot of bother: he recently announced that the ban on the use of the word Allah does not apply to non-Muslims in Penang. The CM was responding to a challenge by the MCA for the state to remove the ban on the use of the 40 words by non-Muslims. The CM argued that the rulings only apply to Muslims.
In turn, up to nine police reports have been lodged against the CM over his statement that the word Allah can be used by non-Muslims in the state. The Penang police chief announced that the CM was being investigated under Section 504 of the penal code “with an offence of having the intention to insult and provoke breach of peace”.
In early January 2014, the late Karpal Singh, had already advised the Penang Government to seek legal advice on the ruling that non-Muslims in the state cannot use 40 “Islamic words”, including Allah. Its better late than never; so perhaps the state should act on the late Karpal’s advice.
And as that controversy in Penang rages, we also have the case where a Catholic priest in Muar, Johor was temporarily detained for having had in his possession hymn books which contained the word Allah. Fr Cyril Mannayagam mentioned that the hymn books entitled “Kepujian Kepada Tuhan Allah” (Praise Be To God) were meant for the use of the Orang Asli parishioners in Bekok, Tangkak. All 31 hymns books seized by Johor police were finally returned to the priest almost two weeks later.
Many Malaysians in particular moderate Malaysians of all religions find these controversies disturbing and alarming. Hence the open letter issued by the 25 moderate Muslims was most timely and struck a chord with many citizens who believe in, support and subscribe to a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation that upholds harmony and peaceful co-existence.
The letter has called on the Prime Minister to assert his leadership and initiate meaningful consultations and “champion open and coherent debate and discourse on the administration of Islamic laws in this country to ensure that justice is done. We especially urge that the leadership send a clear signal that rational and informed debate on Islamic laws in Malaysia and how they are codified and implemented are not regarded as an insult to Islam or to the religious authorities.”
It is therefore not surprising that since the release of the open letter, support for what the 25 moderate Muslims represent has been overwhelming to say the least. Lyana Khairuddin, spearheaded an online “I am #26 petition”, and the group aims to get as many Malaysians as possible to sign the petition before submitting it to the Prime Minister.
Aliran was among almost 100 NGOs that came out in support of the call by the 25 moderate Muslims for debate and dialogue on Islamic laws in this country. This is yet another strong representation that many in this country hunger for constructive public discourse on Islamic laws within the framework of the Federal Constitution.
Another group who referred to themselves as “Kami juga #25” or “We are #25 too” are urging Malaysians to sign an online petition, take a snapshot of themselves and to post it online to signify their support for open dialogue and consultation to improve inter-religious relations.
The group “Kami juga #25” calls upon “the leadership of this country to stand with other fellow Malaysians in delivering on the belief and promise of a common vision and a shared destiny: a just, free and caring nation of ideas, of dreams and of promises which promote inclusiveness and celebrates the unity of its people through diversity”.
Indeed it is timely and appropriate for moderate Malaysians to step up to the plate and call for open rational debate, discourse and consultation on issues that affect all Malaysians. We should not sit idly by and allow religious bigots and extremists to dominate.
As Abdul Rashid Hanafi points out, like everyone else, bigots and extremists are entitled to their views and can criticise accordingly but they do NOT have the right to be intolerant, promote hate and call for violence. He warns that if we fail to challenge them then such fringe groups will continue to act with impunity.
Moderate peace-loving, concerned Malaysian must therefore stand up and challenge the misguided and irrational views so often spewed out by groups such as Isma and Perkasa.
18 December 2014