Side Views

Freeing the Malays and Muslims from religious mind control — Pak Sako

SEPT 12 — There appears to be a Malay-Islamic Inquisition in Malaysia.

It does not involve burnings at the stake.

It comes as ostracism at school, the workplace and in the community for failing to comply with rigid parameters. Not wearing a headscarf is frowned upon. Transgenders are institutional pariahs.

Religious arrogance and zealotry are norms. Muslim leaders can assuredly rebuff equal partnership on inter-religious discussion panels. The Islamic moral police is free to raid churches and insult the Malay person’s dignity and autonomy.

Refusal to play along with another community’s passion for its customs is condemned as chauvinistic or unconstitutional — the fate of elected representatives in Sarawak who chose the customary suit and tie over expensive uniforms and songkoks for a state assembly opening.

Closing the gap with South Korea or Singapore at the top of quality-of-life indicators such as the UN Human Development Index is a minor national concern.

We are prouder to have been ranked by the Pew Forum’s Government Restriction Index alongside Saudi Arabia and Iran as world champions in constricting religious freedoms and other civil rights.

The time has come to face the facts. “Moderate Malaysia” and “moderate Islam” are as good as dead. If our interest is to revive moderateness, we do not flog dead hypes. We must address the causes of death.

The problem

Two pervasive mentalities stand out among the chief culprits. They are racial and religious supremacy.

Racial supremacy expects non-Malay citizens to be eternally grateful to the Malay race for granting their forefathers citizenship at Independence. It demands from the non-Malays unquestionable deference to the Malays, their culture and arbitrary declarations of Malay rights or privileges.

Religious supremacy is the conviction that the Islamic belief is superior to all other beliefs and that it is the only path to true spirituality. Its adherents must not compromise on officially stipulated Islamic ideas and practices and cannot opt-out of the religion. Non-believers are fodder for conversion.

A set of underlying reasons drive these mentalities. Political motives aside, there is a historical fear of disenfranchisement; a concept of entitlement as an exclusive birthright; envy; low self-esteem; a craving for a source of self-pride; a fear of the new or alien; meekness; and narrow-mindedness.

Supremacism is sold as the cure-all. But it only adds to the problem.

The projection of cultural or religious might becomes a pretext for the powerful to impose conformity and thereby control upon a majority. Behind the false security of religious dogma or ethnic nationalism, it is spiritually and psychologically defeating. It turns what should be a happy bazaar of exchange between cultures into a cautious tightrope walk. It sabotages nation-building, whatever the unifying slogan or initiative devised.

Consider how this plays out in Malay-non-Malay relations.

The ordinary Malay in Malaysia is kept at a near constant state of anxiety by the tirade about the non-Malays seeking to usurp Malay political and economic rights. The Malays are repeatedly called on to be united in the name of race and religion to fend off this imagined strike. To alleviate his insecurities the Malay is offered:

• A political guarantee that national policy will be dictated by the Malays (or Muslims) and economic concessions in the form of government jobs for the unemployable etc. These are promised in exchange for support for certain political parties and obedience to hierarchy;

• Supposed spiritual salvation by thorough religious submission. This is codified in law, taught in religious education, enforced by religious bodies and reinforced by social and peer pressure; and

• Financial incentives such as easy loans and credit for material intoxication by retail therapy and a temporary relative wealth effect vis-à-vis the non-Malays.

There is no commensurate effort to unleash the Malay mind and encourage the Malay person to seize the day, excel, question, take charge, propose or dissent. Political leaders and the religious bureaucracy do not favour this; an empowered people puts at stake their political influence and economic privilege.

The outcome is a large class of Malays that is averse to thinking, recoils from taking responsibility and content with following instructions. Ennui, the deep weariness and dissatisfaction stemming from mindless satiety and boredom, is a common affliction.

It is to this oppressive vacuity that the non-Malays are portrayed as “threats”. It is also implied that the non-Malay cultures and attitudes can weaken Malay religiosity or morals (see, for example, Jakim’s “Guidelines for Muslims celebrating religious festivals of non-Muslims”).

The Malays, for their part, are seen by the non-Malays as being exclusive and hegemonic with their loudspeakers and educational and economic quotas.

The result is isolation between the communities, the straining of social ties under the slightest provocation and the successful thwarting of real solidarity between the races.

The usual prescription is for the non-Malays to toe the line, to adapt without protest, or— told more gently by a prominent Malay DAP member— to be “responsive” to the Malays’ “primordial sentiments of culture and religion”.

This misguided paradigm must go.

A proposal

Since the primary point of attack is the Malay psyche, the remedy must as a matter of course focus on the Malays. Liberating the Malays from mind control is key to improving the Malay lot and normalising race relations.

There is however a limited window of opportunity for action. This window is closing with the increasing Islamisation of Malaysia. A new way of seeing and doing is therefore urgent.

It must culminate in new rules of engagement that redefine the attitudes of the Malays and non-Malays, the relations between these communities and the institutional setup encompassing these.

A blueprint would read as follows:

1. For the Malay individual:

(a) To do what is necessary to be confident. Self-esteem must arise primarily from character and ability, not from external sources such as racial and religious hubris.

(b) To be outgoing and socially inclusive. To expand one’s company beyond just one racial or religious community in as many settings as possible.

(c) To take action instead of simply reacting. To not restrict oneself to old activities or ways of doing.

(d) To be able to evaluate and decide a personal response to matters of custom and religion. To not capitulate under coercion and social pressure to conform to a fixed way or idea.

(e) To be receptive to new information, ideas and values. To be able to reflect on them critically, and fairly (to give equal consideration to the pros and cons).

(f) To be able to be critical of one’s own cherished ideas and beliefs. To be able to accept outside criticisms and see them as opportunities for learning and improvement, not as a call to war.

(g) To be above viewing the world purely in black and white. To acquire the vantage that enables one to see that a diversity of ideas and beliefs can and do co-exist, and that this is natural and not wrong.

2. For the Malay community:

(a) To boldly review customs and belief systems that might function to enslave or disadvantage the community or its members. This would involve beliefs and practices that condone blind faith in an idea or decree and blind allegiance in a leader or a scholar.

(b) To cultivate amongst its members the habit of questioning norms and authority. To not accept rules or statements out of fear or mere confidence in an authority. To be able to verify the rationales behind rules and remarks and judge whether they are just or not.

(c) To accept the individual’s right to consider his practice of customs and religion as a personal matter; that advice or guidance may be provided by religious bodies for a community, but that these beliefs and practices should not be forced upon any member of the community. To encourage individuals to evaluate religious precepts and advice by reference to their intellect and own sense of what is right or wrong.

3. For both the Malay and non-Malay communities:

(a) The non-Malays must treat the Malays as fellow brothers and sisters, with dignity, understanding and compassion. Effort should be made to communicate and interact with, not shun, the Malay community.

(b) The Malays must reciprocate. In addition, the Malays must rightfully regard their non-Malay brothers and sisters as equal citizens.

(c) To overcome cultural hypersensitivity. To be tactful in making suggestions or be gracious in receiving suggestions pertaining to the so-called “sensitive issues” (for example, matters relating to places of worship).

(d) To cease to see the preferences or cultural particulars of another community as slights or threats. To cultivate instead an appreciation for the value of diversity. To be able to partake in the festivities of any community without excessive anxieties or scruples.

4. For the progressive and liberal Malays:

(a) To inspire their fellow Malays to break out of restrictive thinking and habits.

(b) To take the initiative to speak out against policies, laws and actions which inhibit their people’s material and mental progress.

(c) To support Malay or Islamic organisations and movements that are progressive.

5. For political leaders, institutions and other authorities:

(a) To refrain from speech and action that sow suspicion and division between the Malays and non-Malays or cause a community to feel excluded.

(b) Religious bodies and leaders in particular may educate the public but should never engage in actions that humiliate their targets or compel them to do what is not in their hearts.

(c) To ensure that religious laws and regulations do not discriminate against people by gender, sexual orientation or religious denomination. To disapprove biased interpretations of these laws and regulations.

6. For political parties:

(a) To resolutely uphold and espouse progressive living and thinking. To favour inclusive values and ideologies over narrow and exclusive ones.

(b) To cease from propagating or condoning any form of religious chauvinism (the act of putting one religion ahead of or above all others) because of the political expediency of securing votes.

7. The social environment:

(a) To create an environment that allows cultural, intellectual and physical interaction between the races that is free from fear, prejudice and other obstructions.

The foregoing is by no means complete, but it indicates the general spirit that any such “social contract” must have.

It must in essence motivate the Malays to take control of the wheels of their destiny. The immediate implications are for the Malays to free themselves from religious programming and assert their authority from the grassroots upward.

The prospect may be scary. But the old way of being led by the nose is destructive. The Malays should no longer remain as feudalistic subjects of the political and religious elite. The elite owe the Malays that dignity. —

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.


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