Malaysia at a crossroads – take the path inspired by common spiritual values

In recent weeks, we have had to face brutal murders and an act of senseless terror in Kuala Lumpur.

Jul 15, 2016

By Anil Netto
In recent weeks, we have had to face brutal murders and an act of senseless terror in Kuala Lumpur.

Then we had the Pahang mufti coming out to label the DAP as kafir harbi over its opposition to the implementation of hudud laws. This term, historically, was used to refer to nations that were enemies of Islam and those who rejected Islam.

The mufti later defended his statement, saying he never urged Muslims in the country to wage war with those within the country who oppose Islam. “Resist them with arguments in a wise manner, not with guns or machete.”

It is important to realise that it is not just non-Muslims and civil society groups that responded to the mufti’s initial remarks; a string of prominent Muslims and Muslim groups have criticised the mufti’s remarks.

Take for instance Maszlee Malik, PhD and Musa Mohd Nordin, FRCPCH, writing on behalf of the Muslim Professionals Forum.

They noted that the Muslim scholar Fathi Osman had written:

“I do not think Muslims have any legal problem with regards to full equality with non-Muslims in rights and obligations. What emerged as the status of ‘dhimmis’ (non-Muslims within the Muslim state) was historically developed rather than built in the permanent laws of the Qur’an and Sunnah. Many scholars, including the Westerners, admit that the status of non-Muslims in the Muslim world during the Middle Ages, was better than what the Jews or other religious minorities received in the Christian countries in those ages.” (Human Rights in the Contemporary World. Problems for Muslims and Others.)

They also added:

“Many contemporary Muslim scholars, the likes of Syaikh Muhamamd Abu Zahrah, Syaikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, Syaikh Dr Yusuf Qaradawi, Syeikh Wahbah al-Zuhayli, Dr Fahmi Huwaidi and Dr Muhammad Emarah Syakh has opined that the categories of kafir harbi and kafir dhimmi are no longer relevant and applicable within the socio-political structure of the modern world today.

“Instead, under the framework of constitutional modern state that has been acknowledged by most Muslim prominent scholars, it should be replaced by the term ‘Muwatin’ which denotes citizens, who are granted equal rights, similar to the majority Muslim population of the contemporary Islamic state.”

The other perhaps related issue that should concern us today in Malaysia is the general intolerance of diversity of views and dissenting voices in our national discourse.

Sure, we have the online media to present more critical diverse views especially to folks in the urban areas. Unfortunately, many rural Malaysians, relying mainly on television, radio and newspapers, are unable to access such views.

So the narrow ethno-religious nationalistic worldview finds a ready audience. Some of our state-run or state-funded universities or college are also holding talks and forums showcasing such an exclusive narrative.

Given the lack of accessible alternative views, it doesn’t come as a surprise that 31 per cent of Malaysian Muslim respondents in a Pew Global Attitudes Survey last year were more worried about Christian extremists and only 8 per cent were worried about Muslim extremist groups.

Meanwhile, a relentless crackdown on dissenting, critical and ‘seditious’ views has been ongoing for the last half a dozen years. Many of the targets have been opposition politicians and activists, investigated, arrested, even charged in court. Even former premier Mahathir has not been spared investigations for allegedly ‘seditious’ remarks.

Whether intended or unintended, the overall effect is the creation of a climate of fear that has enveloped the length and breath of the nation.

With more vocal alternative or critical views now being muted, the attempt to dictate a dominant ethno-religious narrative to drum up support for the establishment has gathered pace — and now finds the Islamic party as a useful ally on the outside. Hadi’s private member’s bill may be seen in this light.

Unfortunately, other opposition parties have not been able to promote a genuine people-centred alternative to the dominant neoliberal economic ideology that puts the interests of Big Capital and their profit-driven mega projects first.

With rampant corruption unchecked, with 1MDB under investigation in seven countries and many now feeling the pinch of the rising cost of living, the nation is at a crossroads.

The dominant ethno-religious narrative laced with corruption and injustice has brought us to where we are — and the outlook is not pretty. We can continue along the same road — more of the same, or even worse.

Or we can take the fork towards a more inclusive national discourse that will showcase our unity amid diversity. This discourse needs to be inspired by the universal spiritual values that can be found in all the spiritual traditions in our land if we look deeply enough.

This road will lead us to a more inclusive nation built on a platform of justice and solidarity, economic policies for the common good and care for the ecology.

We can pray, reflect and do our bit to promote this more inclusive narrative wherever we are and in whatever situation we find ourselves in.

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