In a climate where race and religion have been exploited for political purposes, people are naturally suspicious of any attempt to subtly impose beliefs on them, observes Ronald Benjamin.
There are those who believe that this subject was introduced with an ulterior motive on the part of the government with its creeping Islamic agenda.
NGOs such as Abim believe that teaching Islamic civilisation would prevent another case like that of Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee, who have been accused of insulting Islam.
Many students from private universities believe even if they study this subject it would be merely to pass exams, besides being an additional burden on their already heavy study load (The Star, 20 July 2013).
The question is will the study of civilisations undertaken in the abstract foster inter-ethnic harmony in the country? How does one create interest in such a subject where there is a tendency to impose an authoritarian kind of understanding of religion rather than being persuasive in highlighting the spiritual essence of a religion through the deeds of the present?
This is the core issue that has brought dissatisfaction among thinking Malaysians; in reality, they find it difficult to accept any authoritarian imposition of religious edicts and political rhetoric which tries to impose a win-lose situation that is simplistic rather than a win-win situation that would address complexity.
Rational Muslim and non-Muslims in the country are concerned that the essence of religion has been placed at the periphery with too much emphasis on ethno-religious glory, superiority, ideology and legality. It is in this context that one should analyse the resistance among non-Muslims to Titas being made compulsory in public and private universities.
The study of civilisations should be encouraged because learning of pass achievements and failures of civilisations can be a learning process to improve the present. There should be a genuine effort in the present to foster inter-ethnic understanding by gradually dismantling structural barriers of race and religion, which are reflected in the present-day political parties and institutions.
The unfortunate situation in Malaysia is that race and religion have been exploited to the maximum for political purposes, creating division among society through exclusivity. This creates a situation where people would naturally resist any attempt to subtlety impose beliefs on them.
Therefore the promotion of a proper understanding of civilisations through history ought to be followed by the deeds of the present so that people can relate to them and see that religion is not just about mere symbols, identity and institutions but based on a spirituality of love, justice, compassion and mercy of the present.