Members of the majority community ought to make an effort to get to know the cultures of other communities and vice versa, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
It seems commonsensical that living in a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious country such as Malaysia requires the ability and willingness to accept differences and celebrate diversity.
Not really. It appears that such a notion goes over the heads of certain politicians, among other Malaysians.
Recently, Pas assemblyman Razman Zakaria asked the Perak government about steps it could take to mitigate Muslims’ supposed unease with the Songkran Festival that is celebrated by the tiny Siamese community in Pengkalan Hulu – as well as in the northern states of Perlis, Kedah and Penang.
Razman claimed that the festival, which ushers in the Thai new year, touched on issues of faith.
In response, state Tourism, Arts and Culture Committee chairman Tan Kar Hing rightly insisted that the Perak government cannot meddle in the Songkran Festival.
It is incumbent upon Razman and others of his ilk to realise that the cultural needs and rights of minorities, such as the Siamese community, must be respected, promoted and protected by the authorities, as it involves the vital issue of cultural identity.
Hence, “meddling” in the Songkran Festival, as implied by the Pas rep, is certainly crossing the line, as doing so will obviously cause unnecessary hurt, fear and suspicion among members of the community concerned.
If anything, members of the majority community ought to make an effort to get to know the cultures of other communities and vice versa – as this would go a long way towards fostering inter-ethnic and intercultural communication and harmonious relations.
There should not be a conscious attempt to browbeat a community simply on the basis of it being a minority, for to condone such a practice is akin to giving excuses for the marginalisation, if not suppression and subjugation, of minorities in other societies.
Surely, the water splashing among participants in the Songkran Festival does not easily wash away the beliefs of the Muslim faithful.
We are reminded here of an incident in Selangor some time ago, when a group of Muslims demanded that a cross be brought down from a house of worship. This begs the question of whether the mere sight of a symbol held dearly by Christians could shake the spiritual foundation of the said mob.
In other words, the remark made by Razman – as well as others who are easily “disturbed” by the cultural practices of other communities – runs the risk of giving the false impression of a Muslim community that is insecure, unsure and unstable. In short, feeble in faith.
Instead, they should take a leaf from Muslims in societies where they are the minority. Armed with spiritual strength and intellectual vigour, the group steadfastly faces the many challenges in its daily interactions with other communities.
In these societies, Muslims normally do not have designated official protectors of their faith. Their deep faith is the only bulwark against elements considered inimical to their belief system.
A community as a collective will not be ab;e to grow and gain strength and confidence if it is constantly subjected to a siege mentality often crafted by those with vested interests.
Neither can it derive true strength, political or spiritual, from the act of suppressing the rights of others.