Monday, August 22, 2016

No way out for Muslims in Malaysia

S Thayaparan     Published

“I will not change my ethnicity. I was born Chinese and I will die Chinese, I will not become Malay.”
- Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association (Macma) Malacca president Lim Jooi Soon

Of the latest Court of Appeal decision in dismissing the attempts of three bumiputera converts to renounce Islam, DAP’s Zairil Khir Johari, the honourable gentleman from Bukit Bendera, claimed, “Central to this issue is the question of whether the civil or syariah courts should decide in such cases.”

I beg to differ. In my opinion, the central issue is how Islam has been weaponised in this country (and many parts of the world) by the state. This is not a legal issue but a political issue. Nowhere is this clearer in a constitution that privileges one community over the others.  Nowhere is this clearer when on the eve of an important election, the head of a ruling coalition makes it clear that he will use his influence - influence that I may add is supposed to be anathema to an independent judiciary - to correct a grave injustice that was the Rooney Rebit case.

If this was not clear enough, state PKR chief Baru Bian clearly states that the Rooney case was resolved politically which would mean - my opinion not his - that any such cases could be resolved politically. Of course, this whole issue brings up the question as to why Malaysia even needs a judiciary if the executive is going to step in whenever it is politically expedient to do so, but perhaps that is an issue for another article.

Baru as a Sarawakian has been in the forefront of the Umno’s state’s provocations against non-Muslims in this country. Unlike other oppositional politicians who find themselves shackled by allegiances or political correctness, the PKR operative has clearly articulated stands against the mendacity of the clerics and bureaucrats who would impose Islam on Malaysians even though many of us do not profess the faith.

An example of this would be the “dress code” advocated by Perak mufti Harussani Zakaria on non-Muslims out of “respect” for Muslims. Here is the exact response from Baru - "(There is a) mistaken belief that it is the duty of non-Muslims to remove all temptation from Muslims so that they are spared the necessity of mustering their self-discipline to resist normal urges of the flesh. Is this what the practice of Islam is about?"

Unfortunately, for Baru and many of us, this is exactly what Islam is about. There are laws which could be introduced by Muslims courageous enough to propose them which would end this tyranny, however merely introducing more legalese into the matter would never suffice.

There are many Muslims in this country like Zairil, who because of religious beliefs, seek out justice for their fellow Malaysians when it comes to the way how Islam is practiced in this country. For example, Thasleem Mohd Ibrahim from Jihad for Justice in the Indira Gandhi conversion cases was quoted in the press as saying, “I’ve categorically told the Perak Islamic Religious Department that the unilateral conversion of the kids is haram because it’s an injustice.”

However, I am sceptical of Zairil’s proposed amendments to our current legal procedures. As I said this has more to do with the way how Islam is practiced in this country and the fallout from living in a country where race and religion are not mutually exclusive.

The converts

Furthermore, I wish Muslims would stop quoting verses from the Quran as evidence that there is no compulsion in Islam. I understand the need to speak the same religious language but has it ever crossed the minds of the so-called “liberal” Muslims that the people who control the religion, the people with actual power, are not speaking the same language?

A few years ago, I wrote this in one of my numerous articles about Islam: “What exactly is a ‘true’ Muslim or ‘true’ Christian for that matter? Someone who believes that religion should not be politicised? Someone who believes that you should not mock another’s religion? Someone who believes that religion should not intrude in the private lives of members in any given society? Someone who believes that there should be a separation of church/mosque and state? These are not ‘true’ religious values but rather true secular values or secular humanist values, if you like.”

It all goes back to how race and religion are entwined in this country. Last year, the Malay Mail ran an interesting article on Chinese converts resisting attempts to change their names upon conversion. According to one convert, “My name may change but my face remains the same. Here, Malaysians say that if someone converts to Islam it means they’re becoming Malay. If I do not change my name, then I remain Chinese.”

However, this goes beyond mere changing of names as another convert observed, “This cultural celebration does not go against Islamic law; the Mooncake Festival, the Dumpling Festival, the Chinese New Year celebrations, these are more cultural than religious… Judging from history when Ibn Waqas preached in China, he easily accepted the culture since Islam did not kill the culture; the faith changed, not the culture.”

As Hew Wai Weng observes in this article, “Unlike conventional dakwah activities, which aim at strengthening the faith of Muslims, Chinese Muslims dakwah movements aim to universalise Islam and invite non-Muslims to get closer to the Islamic faith. Differentiating Chinese ‘cultural’ traditions (budaya) from religious rituals (agama), Chinese Muslim leaders argue that Chinese culture does not contradict with Islamic principles. Instead, it can facilitate the spread of Islamic messages, which I call here ‘dakwah pendekatan budaya’ (preaching by using [Chinese] culture) or ‘cultural dakwah’.”

And while there have been moderate Muslim entities on a state and federal level who have embraced some of these activities as the article articulates, the tension between those who convert and the keepers of the faith are deepened by bureaucrats whose agenda is in keeping with the Arabisation of our country.

Furthermore, this cultural exchange through conversion when it comes to Islam in Malaysia is a one-way street. In 2006, the BBC did a piece on the life as a secret Christian convert. The article exposed the so-called “sensitivity” of those who leave the religion.

An interview with a secret convert revealed the danger of converting which Muslims converts are not exposed to. “If the authorities find out, I will be in big trouble. They will create hell between me and my family, and hell in my life so that I will no longer get any privileges or employment" not to mention the loneliness of her struggle “My church says if the authorities come, they are not going to stand up for me. I have to stand up for myself.”

But why doesn’t this convert just migrate? “I could migrate, but the problem is I want to stay in Malaysia, because this is my country. And I love my family. I just want to live peacefully.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to the way how Islam is practised in this country, living peacefully means never leaving the faith.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

No comments: