The Harmony Cluster of the CSO Platform For Reform expresses grave concerns on the recent fatwa that was issued by the Johor Islamic Religious Council (MAINJ) that prohibits Muslims in Johor from observing the Thaipusam procession and taking part in Pongal celebrations.
Fatwa are ruling points of Islamic law that are issued by a qualified authority. Considering that religion is under the purview of the state and its respective leader, we fear that this may lead to inconsistencies in procuring a fatwa in accordance with the advancement of the different states in Malaysia.
This concern is supported with the issue of the Bon Odori festival last year. The people, Muslims or not, were taken for a whirlwind by the various decisions, arguments and commentaries made by the state and federal religious authorities which penultimately allowed Muslims to partake in the Bon Odori festival.
While most leaders of the country call for mutual understanding and respect towards the different religious and cultural practices of the various ethnicities in Malaysia given its celebrated diversity, the fatwa raises a discrepancy towards that messaging which doesn’t foster an environment that is needed for that mutual understanding and respect, in the first place.
The fatwa also raises issues of individuals who convert to Islam, such as through marriage. Are they not allowed to attend religious services for deaths, weddings and other celebrations of their families and friends? This act of marginalisation if left unaddressed would lead to animosity between Muslims and non-Muslims which could result in racial tension.
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Our immediate concern is perhaps in the future, non-Muslim religious events can only proceed if adequate steps are taken to ensure that Muslims do not attend or those attending adhere to the new fatwa. This is not a far-fetched idea as presently, questions could be asked as to how the religious authority ensures compliance with the fatwa that is issued.
Besides that, we are also appalled by the timing in which the fatwa is released. The people, ethnic Indians in particular, were troubled with the racism portrayed during the recent AR Rahman concert in Bukit Jalil.
Whilst most were impressed with the performance of Malaysian icon Siti Nurhaliza, distasteful comments from an influencer and a national hockey player left most if not all Indians feeling bitter about the treatment they receive in a country they poured their heart and soul to. To add insult to injury, this fatwa that was pronounced toe along the racist line that is once again targeted at the Indians in Malaysia.
Finally, we are discouraged that the “Malaysia Madani” slogan is paraded on mass media and social media while decisions such as this, if turned into a precedent, will create another level of fear and potential intimidation that will serve to keep communities separate.