Home Web Specials Hannah Yeoh’s head scarf turns political heads

Hannah Yeoh’s head scarf turns political heads

The willingness on the part of Malaysians to embrace diversity in society is crucial

MP Hannah Yeoh wearing a head scarf - HANNAH YEOH/FACEBOOK page

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MP Hannah Yeoh’s donning of the headscarf during her recent visit to a mosque in her Segambut constituency has become a bone of contention not only for certain quarters in our society but also a few of her DAP comrades.

Her critics see her action as appeasing, if not submitting to the dictates of, the majority Malay-Muslim community, which they fear would alienate the base of the ethnic Chinese-dominated party.

The Segambut MP, however, contends she is only giving respect to her Muslim hosts and Islamic tradition while visiting the mosque, as well as trying to forge moderate politics in the country.

To be sure, she, like many other considerate Malaysians, would give similar respect to other places of worship.

Furthermore, her move is emboldened by the fact that, as she assures her co-religionists, wearing the headscarf does not sway her Christian faith. On the contrary, it gets reinforced.

Similarly, we would expect those, particularly non-Christians, who want to foster inter-ethnic communication and goodwill to not have their faith shaken by the mere sight of the cross.

In a society where the cultural practices and religious obligations of the majority community are perceived by members of the minorities to have gradually encroached into the latter’s cultural terrain of late, Yeoh’s initiative is likely to be construed as a contentious endeavour, if not a betrayal of her own kind.

A case in point is the ban on selling liquor at grocers, convenience stores and Chinese medical halls in Kuala Lumpur enforced on 1 November. While customers can still buy beer at such premises, it can only be sold between 7am and 9pm.

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Another example is the government’s recent decision to disallow the Thaipusam chariot procession for the festival next month. Critics argue that, in contrast, football matches in Kuala Lumpur drew tens of thousands of fans into packed stadiums.

In other words, it is the kind of social context that gives rise to suspicion and fear among the minorities.

The situation is made more intricate when identity politics becomes entrenched, as some politicians employ it over the years for their own political survival at the expense of ethnic relations.

Yeoh’s act at the mosque may be symbolic, but it is politically significant.

It is a crucial step towards building bridges in a diverse society such as ours, especially at a time when our social fabric appears to be frayed by bigotry and religious extremism.

Indeed, it is an example of reaching out to the “other”, although this can also be read, rightly or wrongly, by some as an attempt to gain political mileage.

Still, the willingness on the part of Malaysians to embrace the diversity that our society has to offer is crucial.

There are, of course, other forms of inter-ethnic engagement that go beyond the symbolic. Some of them are more fulfilling, such as providing financial and other forms of assistance to the needy and marginalised, irrespective of their ethnic and religious backgrounds.

That said, what is more important is that MPs, like many other ordinary Malaysians, should not only be open to diversity but also respect fellow Malaysians so that their dignity as humans is honoured and protected while their basic rights as stakeholders of this country are not violated and trampled upon.

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There can be no greater respect than that. – The Malaysian Insight

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Dr Mustafa K Anuar, a longtime executive committee member and former honorary secretary of Aliran, is, co-editor of our newsletter. He obtained his PhD from City, University of London and is particularly interested in press freedom and freedom of expression issues. These days, he is a a senior journalist with an online media portal
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J. Omar
J. Omar
31 Dec 2021 5.32am

It’s excruciating how the term “Malay Muslim” gets thrown around when not all Malays are even Muslims. Branding it as such also denigrates the Muslim of other races as though Islam is the prerogative of only the Malays… which is totally unIslamic.
Hannah Yeoh described herself as a Christian – not as a Chinese Christian. Are we to differentiate between Malay Muslims, Chinese Muslims, Indian Muslims etc. as though each carries a different level of prominence? Islam is for all, not just the Malays. The Muslim Malays don’t practise Islam any different from the Muslim Indians in terms of the basic principles. Don’t associate Islam with the evils & inadequacies of the Malays.

A. Hess
A. Hess
15 Dec 2021 9.09pm

Hannah Yeoh is a leader by example. Her action is admirable, although others like the PM of NZ dressed similarly during her visit to the Muslim community after the shooting/killing at a local mosque a few years ago. I as a Muslim would similarly adhere to the practices/etiquette at a Christian wedding at a church. It’s just common sense and being sensible and sentive to our cultural and social diversity.

Benedict Lopez
15 Dec 2021 2.57pm

Way to go Hannah. In a multi religious country, we must always respect each other’s religious values, customs and traditions. Only the bigots will be critical of Hannah.

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