Such a movement could give voice and support to counter extremist views and help maintain peace and harmony in the country, suggests John Inbaraj.
theSun’s report on 5 May indicated the “unhappiness” of 19 Muslim NGOs, calling themselves ‘Pembela’, over the handling of the Bible issue, claiming it had threatened the position of Islam in the country.
Pembela claimed discomfort over the way Christian groups had pushed the issue of imported Bibles; which was in fact the result of the Home Ministry’s tampering of the Bibles. Pembela chairman Dr Yusri Mohamed claimed the Al-Kitab contains the word Allah and causes confusion to Muslims.
The following day the President of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism, Rev Dr Thomas Philips took pains to clarify that no person or organisation had ever questioned the position of Islam as enshrined in Article 3 of the constitution. Article 3 guarantees the rights of others to freely practise their respective religious beliefs.
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But this right has often been trampled upon by “Little Napoleans” within and outside government. The request for permission to build churches and temples leads to unreasonable stress from the authorities and various groups. Recently two journalists blatantly desecrated the Holy Communion (described by the Catholics as the Body and Blood of Christ), the heart and soul of the Catholic religion.
What is extremely saddening is the lack of a powerful voice in the government to defend the rights of other religions against these extremist acts. It is worrisome that, perhaps, more groups are lending their unscrupulous voice to Malay and Islamic extremism.
At a recent United Nations meeting, Prime Minister Najib Razak called on the international community to establish a global movement of moderates. On that note, Mr. Prime Minister, I call on you to initiate a “national Movement of Moderate Muslims”.
What do I mean by “moderate”? There is no doubt at all that most Muslims in this country are moderate and practise their religion with faith. No religion advocates violence or intolerance against other religions or peoples.
This movement, I suggest, should give voice and support to counter extremist views and help maintain peace and harmony. In this regard, I must voice my appreciation to “Sisters in Islam”, which has gained international recognition for their alternative views on Islam. “Sisters” is indeed a classic example of a “moderate” movement.
The DAP has emerged as the second strongest party in the country next to Umno. The media and the government have wasted no time in portraying the DAP as a Chinese chauvinistic party. The government has also been steadfastly wooing Pas to join Umno for the sake of Malay-Muslim unity.
Utusan Malaysia’s front page drama claiming that DAP and Christian groups are working together to turn Malaysia into a Christian country with a Christian Prime Minister smacks of a very cheap shot aimed at provoking sentiments and unease amongst the Malay Muslims. Will such provocation of religious fears be able to gain back the support from among the Malay Muslims through votes?
Looking at this aspect, Utusan Malaysia appears to have acted as a sort of state apparatus to stir up sensitive controversies. Government responses to these controversies have not been appropriately managed.
The Prime Minister should have responded to the latest controversy by issuing an immediate reprimand to Utusan Malaysia and by conducting an immediate investigation into the article. Journalistic sources have condemned the writer for failing the ethical test. My point is that this episode is extremely volatile and a heavy hand should have been used to clamp down on it.
As I talk to fellow Christians, I find many of them fear that their religious practice is under siege by undesirable hands. Over the years, churches and Christians have been subjected to various forms of action by various authorities, individuals, and groups. Christians have largely remained peaceful, resorting to prayer and dialogue with the authorities for solutions.
These methods have so far worked but things will get more difficult to handle if the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and the government do not take the necessary action against parties that are responsible for provocation. More importantly, the rights of non-Muslims as enshrined in the Federal Constitution of Malaysia must be upheld.
There can never be national unity if there is no religious harmony. Thus, the freedom of all peoples to freely practise the religion of their choice should be of paramount importance for nation building and to ensure the the success of 1Malaysia. Let us all pray… as a Christian, I pray, ”Dear God, bless this nation and let its peoples prosper in peace and harmony.”
John Inbaraj is an Aliran member based in Penang