Why even bother with religious dialogues? - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Saturday, November 17, 2018
Malaysiakini : “One good schoolmaster is of more use than a hundred priests.” ― Thomas Paine, ‘The Age of Reason’
COMMENT | An irate Malaysiakini subscriber emailed me about Abdul Hadi Awang’s callfor
Christian priests and Christians to have a dialogue with Muslim
preachers like Zakir Naik to find the “truth” instead of distributing
Christian literature. I have no idea what having a dialogue has to do with proselytisation, which is illegal to do to Muslims in Malaysia anyway.
is easy to caricature someone like Hadi – I have done it a couple of
times. But what Hadi said is calling for an SOP (standard operating
procedure) for the Islamists in this country. I am also talking about
the Islamists within Pakatan Harapan and political operatives (including
non-Muslims) who profit from sustaining a particular narrative of Islam
in this country.
What Hadi said is exactly the kind of rhetoric
coming out from New Malaysia politicians. Every time when a question of
religious policy or trespass crops up, the federal government makes a
big show and dance about how they will consult with religious scholars
to determine the best Muslim outcome available.
Never mind that
religious policy should be set forward by the political body and
enforced by the religious bureaucracy. To argue that nominal heads of
religion set religious policy is disingenuous considering the way how
the legislative body has set the religious agenda in this country.
normally means caving into the “group think” that purports to be the
sole Islamic narrative in this country. This also means that the
so-called moderate, liberal or whatever else kind of Muslim in this
country is left out in the cold. I have often argued that the Harapan
government is not setting the Islamic agenda in this country but instead
allowing the Umno-PAS combo to define the narrative.
understand the kind of flip-flopping that goes on in the establishment
when it comes to Islam in this country, consider the brouhaha that
erupted when Islamic Affairs Minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa was offended by
headline in The Star that (gasp!) implied that the Harapan
regime was, by implication, a moderate Islamic entity because it would
cease intruding into the private sphere of Muslims.
I said this
earlier: “The prime minister backing up Mujahid's stance that the
federal government will not intrude into the private sphere of Muslims
in this country is a good first step. Reading the old maverick's rather
forceful defence of Mujahid policy intent and the kind of Islam Harapan
wants to promote is a positive indication that (perhaps) this was really
a new-ish Malaysia.”
The above is important for various
reasons but the most important of which is that the prime minister was
actually attempting to change the narrative
– even though there is ample evidence when he was prime minister the
first time around, he played footsie with Islamists – and this
opportunity was lost when a supposed moderate Muslim (with federal
power) decided it was better singing an Umno-PAS tune instead of coming
up with another one.
Harapan fails to capitalise on its power
A couple of months ago, I took a swipe at Bersatu’s Rais Hussin for justifying moderate stances using Islamic dogma. I
cannot remember exactly where I said this, but I said it. At the time,
it made perfect sense to me. However, of late, I have been talking to
many young Muslim religious operatives and I can sense their frustration
when it comes to Islam and politics in this country.
where they operate, Islam has a far greater pull than the various
pecuniary scandals that brought down the Najib regime. While these
young Muslims worked in various political parties and aligned with
various factions within Malay power structures, they could all agree on
one thing - that “secular” Muslim narratives were doing more damage to
the Harapan-Islamic cause than the machinations of Umno-PAS.
you, they were also concerned about the influence of Umno political
operatives upon Harapan, but I think this has more to do with political
survival than any principled stand. Anyway, the consensus was that
Harapan had failed to capitalise on its power and introduce a moderate
alternative to the hard line of PAS and now, Umno. The problem was that Harapan was failing to use Islam to project a moderate Islam because:
those moderate Islamic preachers, activists and intellectuals were not invited to the table and,
Harapan politburo was more interested in covering their asses when
provocations were thrown their way, instead of justifying their moderate
stand using religious sources.
One of young Islamic
activists who is involved in student politics said that while people
such as lawyers Latheefa Koya and Siti Kassim were needed, what was more
important is that the Harapan political elite be brave enough to
confront the Islamists from PAS and Umno using interpretations of the
Quran which highlighted the “good side” of the religion.
To say I
am sceptical of this, would be an understatement. I wrote this when
questioning the moderation of Mujahid: “Would someone like Mujahid ever
say ‘no parent can ever unilaterally convert a child’? He may find it in
some obscure Islamic jurisprudence, or who knows, maybe even consult
the work of the late Kassim Ahmad – but non-Muslims would still be at
the mercy of the possibility of him finding something ‘fair’ in the
Islamic canon or not finding anything at all.”
But who knows?
Maybe these young people have the right notion. What they are most angry
about is not that Islam is used in politics but rather that this
Harapan regime is not using Islam as a means of transmitting moderate
“Everything can be found in the Quran, Commander,” a young
Muslim activist told me. I do not know whether to be afraid or hope that
she is right. Harapan has, at its disposal, a vast array of
propaganda tools which it could use. These tools permit Harapan to
broadcast its so-called moderate agenda into the homes of millions of
Muslims in this country.
The question is, will Harapan politicians
do this? Will they create their own narrative instead of cowardly
allowing the likes of Umno-PAS to control the narrative because they
fear they will lose the Malay vote?
All I know is that the next
time someone like Rais Hussin uses Islamic dogma to justify a moderate
position or the prime minister makes a statement about Islam which is in
direct opposition to the mainstream narratives, I hope the Muslim
members of Harapan show a bit of cojones and back up the statements
instead of siding with the extremists.
Until there is an official
counter-narrative of Islam in this country put forth by the
establishment, there is no point in having “religious dialogues”.