Separation of mosque and state
|Azrul Mohd Khalib works on HIV/AIDS, sex and human rights issues. He is becoming cynical and is in danger of losing his sense of humour and mind. He also runs and is battling an addiction to the "A Song of Ice and Fire" book series. Azrul can be contacted at [email protected]|
APRIL 12 — I was at first saddened and then began to be really angry (unfortunately, this is becoming more and more frequent as of late) at news of a seminar originally titled “Pemantapan Aqidah, Bahaya Liberalisme dan Pluralism Serta Ancaman Kristianisasi Terhadap Umat Islam. Apa Peranan Guru? (Strengthening the Faith, the Dangers of Liberalism and Pluralism and the Threat of Christianity towards Muslims. What is the Role of Teachers?)”, the seminar involved 300 teachers in Johor being indoctrinated on their role in strengthening the Islamic faith.
Once again, we and those who we entrust are held hostage by people who see a phantom menace in the shadows of their own inadequacies, fear and bigotry.
Explain to me how it is acceptable for a religious body to collaborate with a government agency dealing with the educating of children and young people, to organise a seminar for educators with the intent to cultivate fear, distrust and suspicion of another faith.
How can we tolerate people educating our children to point their fingers at a group of people of a different faith and say that, because of who they are and based on unsubstantiated accusations of proselytisation, they are a threat to us and our way of life?
Unless I am wrong, Muslim and non-Muslim taxpayers pay for the salaries of the officials of the Johor Mufti Department, the Jabatan Agama Islam Johor and the Johor Education Department. How is this sort of seminar acceptable or even tolerated? This seminar was allowed to continue, with no censure or rebuke uttered by the government. Many have therefore concluded that this was a government sanctioned event.
Not too long ago, I wrote about religious fascism in Malaysia. The fact that this seminar targeted educators suggests an insidious motive and agenda on the part of the organisers. By targeting the teachers of our national schools, they are aiming to inculcate their prejudicial and bigoted values into the students of these schools. These students are our children. Why are we allowing this to happen?
Make no mistake. Islam in Malaysia is not under attack by the Christians or any other faith. It has nothing to do with Islam and being a Muslim. But what was done that Saturday and other similar activities have everything to do with bigotry and the need to dominate and subdue others.
Being conservative is not a bad thing. But these people give conservatives and Muslims a bad name.
Religious leaders are expected to behave in a way as befits the position entrusted to him by his congregation and community. By fanning the flames of paranoia and distrust, they betray this trust. They undermine the spirit of harmony, co-existence and social contract in which Malaysia was and continues to be built upon.
The unrepentant behaviour and sentiments of the Johor Mufti Datuk M. Tahrir Kiai Samsudin and his department are extremely regrettable and does not reflect in the majority of Muslims in this country. We need to denounce their dogma, reject their hate and let them know that they do not speak for us.
The administration of religion may have been a state affair but the federal government was entirely within its right to instruct the 300 teachers to not attend such a seminar. Yet, the Ministry of Education did not do so.
The deafening silence from both the prime minister and the education minister is unacceptable.
It was also disappointing that the best that the head of the Special Committee to Promote Inter-Religious Understanding and Harmony, Datuk Azman Amin Hassan, could manage was a change in the title of the seminar. The seminar should have been cancelled. The issue was also not resolved as he believed.
The title may have changed but the “niat” or intent as well as the content remained in the spirit of the original. This clearly suggests that when a group wields the bludgeon of the Islamic faith, we are helpless, impotent and must comply. They feel no need for apology. They believe that they have done no wrong.
Maybe this is exactly why the founding fathers of the United States of America found it necessary to ensure the separation of church and state. It was to protect and prevent individual faiths such as Islam from being abused and misused by persons and entities intent of using one’s religious beliefs to dominate, impose, bludgeon, intimidate, subdue and threaten others.
In our country, we find that a small minority of unelected individuals who bestow upon themselves as champions of the faith and feel that they are unaccountable to anyone, are basically attempting to hijack relations and sow distrusts and fear between communities particularly between Muslims and Christians. They have intruded into public policy making far beyond their scope and mandate of religious affairs. Where and when does it stop? Where is the separation of mosque and state?
The paranoia that exists is one of our own making. We have allowed a group of ill-informed, ignorant and bigoted individuals to lead us down the yellow brick road towards their vision of a future where one ethnic group and one faith dominates above all.
The original seminar title clearly indicates that the organisers saw pluralism as a threat to Muslims in this country. They don’t believe in pluralism and diversity. They don’t believe in a modern Malaysia. So why are we allowing them to be in the driver’s seat?
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.