It is terrifying when a handful of miscreants, including Home Minister Zahid Hamidi, can threaten the peace and sanctity of the country.
Malaysians can only wonder at the insanity that is going on in Kota Tinggi, in Johor, where incidents have portrayed Islam as a brutish, intolerant and unforgiving religion. When Syed Ahmed Alkaff, the 45-year-old owner of the Tanjung Sutera resort offered the use of his premises to a group of Buddhists, he was merely emulating the kindness exemplified by the Prophet Muhammad.
Syed Ahmed had opened his heart and extended his courtesy, just as the Prophet had done when he offered his al-Nabawi mosque in Medina to a group of visiting Christians, who had nowhere to pray.
In Umno Baru’s version of Islam, acts of kindness and tolerance are unimportant, because Syed Ahmad was then treated like a common criminal, hounded by fanatics, abused, vilified and tried by the Umno Baru media.
Was it not the Prophet who said: “Do you know what is better than charity, fasting and prayer? It is keeping peace and good relations between people as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind.”
Days after the story broke, 100 villagers from Tanjung Sedeli Besar and NGOs staged a protest. They waved banners which said, “outsiders should leave Johor and Malaysia” and shouted “roboh, roboh”, urging the authorities to destroy the building. The Johor Perkasa president Samat Atan demanded that the resort owner apologise to all Muslims and that his Malaysian PR status be revoked.
The mob culture baying for blood worked, and Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi cancelled the PR status of the resort owner. It is terrifying when a handful of miscreants, including Zahid, can threaten the peace and sanctity of the country.
If Islam has gained a bad name and the nation looks like it is heading towards perdition, the blame lies squarely with Umno Baru and their cohorts like the National Fatwa Council, the Kota Tinggi Municipal Council (KTMC) and the Johor Islamic Religious Council (MAINJ).
This is the state of Malaysia today, when fanatical Muslims rip apart the heart of the nation, where the Umno Baru mob demands vengeance, where tolerant and thinking Muslims are despised for keeping silent, and where non-Muslims are fearful of speaking about injustice.
Few are prepared to criticise the idiocy of the fanatics, because Umno Baru will accuse them of sedition and non-Muslims of interfering in Islam.
We are subsequently told that the surau did not conform to building regulations and that it would have to be demolished. This resort started operation before 2009. Who issued the certificate of fitness?
Surau need not be demolished
For years, the KTMC appears to have been sleeping on the job, but when a controversial video was posted on YouTube, all officials in KTMC suddenly perform their jobs with the utmost urgency and demand that the building be demolished within 21 days.
Will the religious authorities go after errant husbands who refuse to pay maintenance to their former wives, with the same ferocity as they hounded this surau owner? Will the council inspect all suraus and Muslim orphanages throughout the land, to check for building violations?
The surau need not be demolished, if the owner is able to repair the building, so that it conforms to specifications. If the necessary measures are taken, the building can still be used as a surau, or for any purpose the owner deems fit.
The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul started life as an Orthodox Christian church, then became a mosque but is now a museum. The Brick Lane mosque in London was once a synagogue and many mosques in Europe as well as the middle-east, were once churches.
What the men in the National Fatwa Council and MAINJ fail to appreciate, is that the choice of building is not as important as what you believe.
It is also time that the officials in the National Fatwa Council, KTMC and MAINJ show some intelligence rather than acting with vindictiveness and supreme idiocy.
All good Muslims remember the saying “Ignorance is the worst kind of poverty, intellect is the greatest of riches, and thought is the best form of worship”. Anyway, most good Muslims are familiar with the hadith, “Seeking knowledge is the duty of every Muslim”.
Perhaps, the move to revoke the owner’s Malaysian PR and destroy him financially is another ploy to enable the compulsory purchase of his land at a reduced price. Is the call for demolition an excuse for Umno Baru crony companies to construct a new building and gain kickbacks at every stage of the process?
If we step back and examine the furore surrounding the surau, we would see that the person who posted a YouTube video had the intention of inciting hatred within the community.
If non-Muslims think that this is directed against them, they are wrong. This is another tactic used by Umno Baru to rein in the moderate Muslims – the girls who dared challenge the fatwa against Muslims competing in beauty contests, followed by Maznah Yusof and her dogs.
Moderate Muslim nation image a farce
Umno Baru uses race and religion to divide the nation and the only people who can stand in the way of Umno Baru zealots are the moderates, who are however, too scared to act.
In the early 80s, former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad was caught unawares by the resurgence of Islam which swept around the world after the Iranian revolution. When PAS threatened to break the power Mahathir had over the Malays, he was forced to introduce measures to forcibly Islamicise the nation. Today, the same effect is being observed, especially as the Umno Baru elections are approaching.
Umno Baru president Najib Tun Razak has forgotten his claim that Malaysia is a nation of moderates, and he has dispensed with any semblance of reconciliation. His silence is seen as a gesture to appease the Umno-Baru baying mob, and he has neglected to use constructive dialogue to integrate people of different faiths.
Zahid has adopted a belligerent stance. He wants to be seen as the defender of Islam. He has said that the use of the word Allah by Christians is non-negotiable. He has sanctioned the punishment on the surau owner.
When he approved the demolition of the surau, was he implying that syariah law can supercede the law of the land? If so, Zahid is effectively using syariah law.
How ironic that Umno Baru should use syariah law, when for years they have been whipping-up a frenzy of fear about syariah law. Umno Baru has been demonising PAS, and saying they would institute syariah law.
This misinformation was an attempt to scare the Chinese from voting for a PAS candidate. PAS is a democratic party and would not attempt this without debating the issue in parliament.
Malaysia’s international image as a moderate Muslim nation has become a farce, because of Najib’s timidity and inability to censure his lieutenants. He is more worried about the looming Umno Baru elections than he is about the well being of this nation.
Malaysians may think this is a small matter involving a surau, but if the fanatics are not stopped today, we are setting a dangerous precedent for the future.
The Taliban wanted to remove all traces of other religions when they destroyed the two Buddha sandstone sculptures which had stood for 1,500 years in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. We have seen how crucifixes were removed when a prime minister visited a Catholic centre for a Christmas tea party in Kuala Lumpur, a few years ago.
What if one day, the heretics in Umno Baru decide that idols, temples or cave-structures would desecrate the sanctity of Malaysian soil? More non-Muslims and moderate Muslims must speak out now, before they are made to hold their tongues forever.