Acceptance of the diversity of viewpoints in Islam, particularly from the various schools of thought, is largely wanting in Malaysia, observes Mustafa K Anuar.
Differences of opinion are part and parcel of democracy to the extent that one could, and should, agree to disagree, peacefully.
It is therefore highly disturbing that those who opposed the Amman Message seminar instead reportedly resorted to a bomb threat. As a result, organiser International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies was compelled to cancel the event that had been planned for 10 July 2019.
Given such a dangerous scenario, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad rightly condemned the threat, which purportedly came from an anti-Shia group, as the government must exercise zero tolerance for disagreements that are violent in nature.
Such an exclusivist view of the world – and combative at that – is bound to bring about social friction and fissures, which is perilous to a society as diverse as Malaysia’s. Diversity in society can only be appreciated if and when there is civilised communication and understanding.
Indeed, such a violent approach to differing ideas is very much anti-intellectual and repulsive for it devalues the social significance of dialogue, discussion and debate, which requires cool heads. Mutual understanding and respect obviously cannot come from hostility.
Stifling views that are not in line with one’s own is an affront to the principle of freedom of expression. And it is, of course, ghastly if this clampdown is effected in a way that causes physical harm to our detractors.
The suppression of ideas is politically unhealthy as it would lead to the frustration of people whose ideas are curtailed, especially when they are eager to open up for discussion.
Furthermore, such an uncompromising attitude towards differing views jars with the teachings of Islam that promote peace, co-existence and the principle of no compulsion in the sphere of faith.
It is most unfortunate that this Amman Message seminar which has the noble aim of uniting Muslims of various schools of thought, is responded to with so much vehemence from certain quarters in Malaysia.
The theme of the seminar was inspired by the Amman Message issued by King Abdullah II of Jordan in 2004. It had three basic points: to recognise the validity of all eight schools of thought; to forbid the act of takfir (declaring another Muslim apostate); and for scholars to prescribe the subjective and objective preconditions for the issuing of edicts.
These three points are endorsed by 200 Islamic scholars in more than 50 countries, and they have been subsequently adopted by political leaders, including former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, PKR president Anwar Ibrahim and Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin, at the Organisation of Islamic Conference summit in Mecca in December 2005.
And yet, acceptance of the diversity of viewpoints in Islam, particularly from the various schools of thought, is largely wanting in Malaysia – as exemplified by the violent refusal to allow the seminar to proceed.
It begs the question, for instance, of whether the narratives in established Islamic discourse demonise other schools of thought, particularly Shia, to such an extent they encourage hate among the faithful in Malaysia.
Would these narratives then serve as fertile ground to breed violent responses in the long run?
It appears that political will is much needed among Muslim community leaders to foster unity via the path of embracing diversity.
Those who have publicly professed concern for Muslim unity in recent years may want to rise to the occasion.