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Move towards spiritual values, not ethno-religious exclusivity

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The future of Malaysia should be determined by progressive political parties that embrace love, compassion, justice and reconciliation rather than communalised religion, writes Ronald Benjamin.

The invitation by Umno Youth leader Khairy Jamaluddin to Pas leaders to join hands to fight for Islam after the rally protesting against a film that insulted Islam produced in the United States is another example of how faith is articulated and practised purely in terms of ethnicity, symbols and emotions, instead of reason and authentic living.

The Umno Youth Leader has not specified clearly what would be the end result for the survival of multiethnic Malaysia through fighting for Islam.

To my understanding, the unity call is ethnically and politically motivated, because honest Muslims would testify, that there is no such thing as ethnic unity in the philosophy of Islam that can be construed as exclusive.

There is such thing as unity of ummah that transcends and precedes ethnicity and sectarianism. The invitation by the Umno Youth leader comes in the context where Umno is aggressively courting the majority of Malays to vote for it by portraying itself ethnically as a true defender of Islam, by accusing the Democratic Action Party of being anti-Islam whereas the ulama-controlled Pas tries to distinguish itself from Umno by presenting a hudud-type Islamic state. For many discerning Malaysians, the question that comes to mind is what would happen a few years from now in an ethnically divided society if ethno-religious emotions are going to be used as a political tool for survival?

In a genuinely democratic society, it is vital for the state to be neutral in terms of religious belief so that it can play an effective role in creating an inclusive society. In Malaysia, Islam has been linked to Malayness and this has been legitimised by the Constitution.

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This does not auger well for the future of the nation because as long as an ethnic party like Umno is strong there is stability; the moment its power its threatened it would resort to kindling the emotions of the Malay Muslim electorate that non-Muslims would usurp power and the Malay-Muslim community would lose its privileges. This type of political reasoning has a damaging long-term effect on the country.

Religion should play a public role in forming the conscience of political leaders and the people so that a that they gain a sense of right and wrong that respects universal truths and that would lead to greater collaboration among political groups of diverse beliefs. This would lead to a common interest on certain issues, which could help in nation building.

On the other hand, if a religion is politicised or linked to ethnicity as in Malaysia, it would create a dichotomy between ethnic groups because the major political parties are basically championing their respective religions or ethnic groups for political survival. In such a situation, the sense of truth that comes from authentic religious faith is sometimes compromised for political expediency. In the long term, we could see another Iraq or Pakistan in the making where intense rivalry among sectarian religious politicians for power has led to senseless violence, and the minority are targeted because they are regarded has a hindrance to ethno-religious hegemony.

Therefore its time for Malaysians to take a serious look at political candidates that are ethnically and religiously inclined and reject them at the ballot box. To be fair there are politicians in Umno and Pas who take inclusive look at the nation, but the core ideologies of their political parties are geared towards ethno-religiousity in different shades.

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The future of Malaysia should be determined by progressive political parties that are religiously concerned, by not fighting for religion but rather living spiritually by articulating and practising faith that embraces love, compassion, justice and reconciliation. The common good and citizenship should take precedence over communalised religion.

Ronald Benjamin is an Aliran member based in Ipoh.

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