Prominent Malays plead for rational dialogue on Islam in Malaysia

As the mercury rises over race and religious relations in Malaysia, 25 prominent Malays have penned an open letter asking for a rational dialogue on the position of Islam in a constitutional democracy.

Dec 11, 2014

As the mercury rises over race and religious relations in Malaysia, 25 prominent Malays have penned an open letter asking for a rational dialogue on the position of Islam in a constitutional democracy.

Race and religious relations have frayed further after GE13 last year when the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) blamed its heavier losses on the Chinese minority, fuelled by Malay-Muslim groups that seek more puritanical Islamic laws across Malaysia.

"Given the impact of such vitriolic rhetoric on race relations and political stability of this country, we feel it is incumbent on us to take a public position," Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin, former Malaysian ambassador to the Netherlands, said in a statement issued on behalf of the 25 signatories last night.

The 19-paragraph statement was signed by prominent people, including former secretaries-general, directors-general, ambassadors and prominent individuals.

Noor Farida, who was once director-general of the Foreign Ministry's Research, Treaties and International Law Department, said she and the others "are deeply concerned about the state of the debate on many issues of conflict on the position and application of Islamic laws in Malaysia".

"It is high time moderate Malays and Muslims speak out. Extremist, immoderate and intolerant voices as represented by Perkasa and Isma do not speak in our name.

"Given the impact of such vitriolic rhetoric on race relations and political stability of this country, we feel it is incumbent on us to take a public position and urge for an informed and rational dialogue on the ways Islam is used as a source of public law and policy in Malaysia.

"More importantly, we call on the prime minister to exercise his leadership and political will to establish an inclusive consultative committee to find solutions to these intractable problems that have been allowed to fester for too long.

"We also urge more moderate Malaysians to speak up and contribute to a better informed and rational public discussion on the place of Islamic laws within a constitutional democracy and the urgency to address the breakdown of federal-state division of powers and finding solutions to the heart-wrenching stories of lives and relationships damaged and put in limbo because of battles over turf and identity," she said.

In the statement, the signatories said: "As moderate Muslims, we are particularly concerned with the statement issued by Minister Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, in response to the recent Court of Appeal judgment on the right of transgender to dress according to their identity.

"He viewed the right of the transgender community and Sisters in Islam (SIS) to seek legal redress as a ‘new wave of assault on Islam’ and as an attempt to lead Muslims astray from their faith, and put religious institutions on trial in a secular court.

"Such an inflammatory statement from a federal minister (and not for the first time) sends a public message that the prime minister's commitment to the path of moderation need not be taken seriously when a minister can persistently undermine it."

They added that "these issues of concern we raise are, of course, difficult matters to address given the extreme politicisation of race and religion in this country. But we believe there is a real need for a consultative process that will bring together experts in various fields, including Islamic and constitutional laws, and those affected by the application of Islamic laws in adverse ways.

Among those who signed the statement were Tan Sri Datuk Abdul Rahim Haji Din, former secretary-general, Home Affairs Ministry; Tan Sri Ahmad Kamil Jaafar, former secretary-general, Foreign Affairs Ministry; Tan Sri Dr Aris Othman, former secretary-general, Finance Ministry; Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican; former director-general, Health Ministry; Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, former secretary-general, Finance Ministry; Tan Sri Dr Mustaffa Babjee, former director-general, Veterinary Services Department; and Hendon Mohamad, past president, Malaysian Bar.

Source: The Malaysian Insider

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