It is in the name of justice that religious minorities in Muslim-majority societies must be accorded their right to practise their respective faiths, asserts Mustafa K Anuar.
It is said that the degree of sanctity and stature of a religion should not be judged by the misbehaviour and misdeeds of a few of its adherents.
While the religion concerned should not be faulted, it is nonetheless imperative that the misconduct of this group of followers be unpacked because this could provide a clue or two as to what’s gone wrong within the religious community concerned and also in the larger social context.
Furthermore, such an examination of these misdeeds needs to be conducted urgently especially if the misdemeanour is of the extreme or violent type that could give rise to deaths, maiming or torture of innocent people – as in the case of the so-called Islamic State militants, whose actions have always been taken rather erroneously in the name of Islam.
Besides, unless this transgression is put under the microscope, actions of this nature will be repeated to the point of becoming favourite fodder especially for the international media. And this in turn would only reinforce the negative stereotypes of Muslims – which doesn’t help in providing a better understanding of Islam and Muslims. This is apart from them possibly causing unnecessary pain and tension among non-Muslim communities.
The recent Muslim protest against a Christian cross at Taman Medan is a case in point. Apart from giving the impression that their faith is brittle, their action seems to suggest that, among other things, the religious education that they went through had misplaced emphases, or that they themselves somehow couldn’t understand and appreciate the underlying universal values that Islam preaches to humanity.
Religious education in Malaysia in the formal sense, it would appear, requires a re-assessment of the curriculum of sorts so that those who benefit from it eventually develop into human beings who are not only God-fearing, but also just, compassionate and loving towards their fellow beings, animals and Nature.
While the mandatory prayers and other spiritual activities are indeed important to Muslims, the way they treat their fellow beings ― irrespective of their skin colour, blood ties, religious beliefs, political ideologies and class ― and Nature are also vital as it forms part of piety, particularly when human beings are supposed to be vicegerents on this Earth with responsibilities as well as rights.
In the case of the Taman Medan controversy, justice, compassion and love are of the essence. There are many Hadiths and verses in the Qur’an that express the importance of these universal values in our daily life. For example, the following Hadith recorded by Imam Abu Dawud is instructive: “Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad SAW) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgement.”
This Hadith, to be sure, enjoins Muslims to treat non-Muslims with care, respect, justice and compassion. The fact that the Prophet Muhammad SAW promised a complaint against a transgressor on the Day of Judgement indicates the seriousness of the commandment to the Muslim ummah when dealing with non-Muslims.
It is in the name of justice that religious minorities in Muslim-majority societies must be accorded their right to practise their respective faiths. And it is incumbent upon right-thinking and conscientious Muslims to honour this right. For they surely would frown upon attempts to restrict the right of minority Muslims to practise their faith in Christian-majority countries, if they were to be in the shoes of the minority Other.
At the risk of playing God here, let it be known to whomever has committed such a misguided deed that a divine response awaits him/her. Pulling off a cross from a church building is not only disrespectful but also sacrilegious to the Christian adherents.
The brute presence of a mob in evoking fear among the church congregation isn’t quite an expression of respect and compassion that is expected of a good Muslim. If anything, they should be shameful of themselves for having brought Islam to disrepute in this manner.
And it doesn’t help either ― at least at the time of writing ― to witness the deafening silence of the Islamic authorities pertaining to this unfortunate incident. This is both sad and worrying as it may give a wrong signal to other Muslim groups or individuals that it is kosher to commit similar misdeeds.
These authorities should instead be forthright in their condemnation of such an act against the Christians because by doing so they’d protect not only the image of Islam, but also the safety and freedom of religious minorities to practise their faith in the country.
If the image and stature of Islam in the country is deemed important enough to be protected and promoted as far as such a group of Muslims is concerned, then it is incumbent upon them to behave in a manner that is consonant with the underpinning values fostered and enshrined by the Islamic faith – namely justice, compassion, mercy and love. Applying bully tactics against the Other by sheer force of the majority clearly isn’t Islamic.
The fear which was articulated by a Muslim online commenter is instructive: the existence of a church in the midst of a Malay community would draw attention from the destitute and hungry (who are Muslim among them) who’d come to get food and financial assistance from the church ― and alas, expose themselves to possible proselytisation.
This acutely begs the question: don’t these poor and destitute Muslims get assistance and care from Islamic institutions in Malaysia that have the wherewithal at their disposal? Haven’t these unfortunate people been taken care of adequately in terms of their health, food and shelter?
If indeed not enough is being done for the betterment of this sector of society, then the religious authorities, apart from other state institutions such as welfare departments, may want to boost endeavours towards addressing this and other pressing issues. These include the GST, the increasing cost of living, health care that is inaccessible to the poor, lack of education among poor children, the lack of welfare for single parents and inadequate professional counselling for the distressed. Needless to say, all this goes a long way towards enhancing human dignity in society.
It could also be that many of the needy and destitute are not aware that such institutional assistance and services are offered by at least some of these religious institutions. They may not be aware of this perhaps because too much media attention has been focused on the moral policing conducted by these institutions.
For surely, these religious bodies do more important things other than checking up on unmarried couples in the middle of the night, the “wandering” faithful on Fridays and those tucked in remote corners of restaurants during the holy month of Ramadan and drawing up guidelines on how entertainers should dress and what to sing.
As for the Muslim individuals, they ought to be guided by the eternal values of justice, compassion and mercy to stand by, for instance, their fellow human beings of various kinds who fall victim to the state’s neglect or violation of human rights or transgression of their civil liberties. They should also be sensitive to and concerned about, say, the persistence of abject poverty or impoverishment among those hidden in society’s underbelly.
To do so is to live the values preached by religious leaders and upheld by Islam, which is one of the acid tests of Muslims.
On the other hand, to bury one’s head in the sand metaphorically when confronted with social injustice and gross disregard for the poor is to neglect one’s moral duty of being a good Muslim.
Indeed, the struggle for a just and compassionate society is a long and arduous task in our collective life. To stay away from this noble cause is clearly to cross out one of the major responsibilities and qualities of being a vicegerent.