It appears there are quite a number of Malay-Muslims who have been ‘intoxicated’ with the festival called Oktoberfest, prominent of whom is Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department for Religious Affairs Idris Ahmad.
Known recently for courting controversy over the Japanese festival Bon Odori, the senator is very much opposed to the German-linked fest as he feels that beer drinking does not gel with his notion of an Islamic Malaysia.
He is not alone, to be sure. There are others, such as Amanah national committee member Muhammad Faiz Fadzil, who are of similar wavelength.
What they seem to miss or ignore an important point here is that Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country, with substantial minorities whose faiths and cultural practices are different from those of the Malay-Muslim community.
This means that as citizens of this country, the non-Muslim communities also have every right to practise their respective religions and cultures.
To poke your nose into other people’s cultural practices and force your values on others, as Idris and like-minded individuals did, is not only rude and divisive in a diverse society as ours but also violates the rights of the affected community. It is also undemocratic.
It is also important to note that when non-Muslims question or criticise such interference into their cultural life, it should not be regarded as an attempt to undermine Islam. They are only defending their rights as citizens of this country and as members of their own cultural communities.
If this would help Idris and friends empathise with the predicament of non-Muslims in the country: try visualising the hardship suffered by Muslim communities in practising their religion and culture in certain countries where they are a minority.
Similarly, non-Muslims also have the right to protect and defend their respective faiths if insults are hurled against theirs by Muslims, such as certain Muslim preachers.
In other words, the majority community should not ride roughshod over the minorities. In Malaysia, where being a Malay makes one automatically a Muslim, such action on the part of certain Malay quarters is concerning in terms of ethnic relations, because it could be perceived as the majority community flexing its muscle in the spirit of so-called ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy).
It is also crucial to remind ourselves that Muslims are invoked by Islam to protect and honour the rights and obligations of Muslims as well as non-Muslims in society, as evident in the Medina Charter that was drawn up by Prophet Muhammad after he and his followers escaped persecution by fleeing from Mecca and subsequently settling in Medina.
The exasperation expressed by civil society group Global Human Rights Foundation over an alleged delay of the Attorney General’s Chambers in prosecuting a Muslim preacher who was accused of having insulted Hindus in the country, should be seen in this wider context.
This may sound like a tired expression, but Malaysians need to be reminded that coexistence in a multi-ethnic and multicultural society necessitates tolerance, respect and mutual understanding if we value harmony, happiness, progress and peace.
Ignoring this fact, as Deputy National Unity Minister Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal did in calling for a ban on the Oktoberfest, is doing a disservice to efforts that have been made in various ways to foster national unity.
Lest we be misunderstood, the attempt to defend – as done by Muslims such as Amanah’s Sepang MP Mohamed Hanipa Maidin – the rights of minorities to their cultural practices, particularly beer drinking, is not to be construed as encouraging fellow Muslims to also have bottoms up.
Besides, Idris and others of his ilk should have enough faith in Muslims to keep their faith intact and stay away from alcohol. It is sheer patronising to assume their faith is so weak as to require moral policing.
The Idrises of the world should look beyond beers and skirts to ensure that, for instance, poor, single mothers, orphans, the disabled and victims of injustice are taken care of in the spirit of raising and protecting human dignity. – The Malaysian Insight